Appoquinimink finally released the documents from their board meeting on July 12th yesterday… six days later. This morning they also put up the board audio recording from the same board meeting. We got a bit of insight into their “special education costs” tax warrant “increase”. And they clearly spell out how much of the money is going towards out-of-district placements and what is staying in-district. We also find out something the money is going towards for those in-district costs. Once again, the district is as quiet as a church mouse in a response to me. I guess they don’t feel answering questions in the state where “sunshine is the best policy” is important.
Now we know the Middletown/Odessa area is growing. I don’t think anyone is questioning that. But they aren’t using this tax warrant increase of 7.76 cents per resident for increased special education costs. They are using it to increase salaries as part of the FY2017 Delaware budget. Which is provided by the state and local funds. As well, they are also using it to increase benefits and pensions. Keep in mind that in FY2016, their amount for needs-based instruction was $6,500,000. Now we are expected to believe it has jumped to $7,860,000? Without a final student enrollment count which won’t come until after September 30th? I know, budgeting is predictive in nature. But in my mind, they still haven’t justified the original $6,500,000 number. They can say what it is for, but until I see a breakdown of exactly what these collected tax dollars in the form of tuition tax is going towards, I’m not satisfied. Of particular interest is the fact that their out-of-district placement costs actually went down between FY2016 and FY2017, even though this was a major thorn in the side for the Appo board just five months ago. I have to wonder who is calling the shots here and who knows about what. I want to believe the board isn’t aware of what is going on. Which is an issue in itself. But clearly Dr. Charles Longfellow would have some insight into this but thus far has not provided ANY information. Nothing. I suppose we are just supposed to take this at face value without any logical explanation whatsoever. How much does Superintendent Matt Burrows know about this?
The entire operating budget is going up over $11 million dollars. That is a lot of coin. That is also a 10% increase over last year. Did the district receive an additional 10% amount of students? They had 10, 378 in FY2016, 9,877 in FY2015, and 9,750 in FY2014 based on their September 30th enrollment counts for the past three years. But we are expected to believe this is about the students…
Now things like a carryover budget don’t really concern me. It is normal to have that. If everything wound up exact I would be very alarmed. That is to be expected.
To see the full presentation, budget, and the budget amendment to increase the FY2016 budget (done based on May 2016 numbers in the budget…very troubling in my opinion), see the below documents. Of particular concern to me is the budget amendment request. This is where it all gets very shady. On the original pdf, if you do the right-click thing for this document and go to properties, it shows the document was created on 6/29/16. But if the Appo Board of Education didn’t approve it until 7/12/16 how can their CFO write a letter like this before the board even voted on it?
After you read those, come back to see what the district wants to get in one of their schools. Keep in mind, they seem to want this more than adding programs to take care of the complex special needs students that live in the district but have to go out-of-district to get the special education services they are rightfully and legally entitled to.
FY2017 Preliminary Budget Presentation
Actual FY2017 Preliminary Budget
FY2016 Budget Amendment Request
While all this is going on, the district really wants a pool. Not just any pool, but a “shark tank”. An actual, indoor pool. While I don’t have an issue with any school having an indoor pool, I would think it wouldn’t be a priority until ALL students living in the district get what they need to succeed. Especially the very students the district doesn’t serve: complex special education students. Granted, this is just in the, pardon the pun, ground stages. But how about an RFP for something similar to the Delaware Autism Program or something like that? Nope, they really want a pool!
RFP for Nanotorium
In listening to the board audio recording from the July 12th board meeting, we once again hear there was not a quorum of their Financial Advisory Committee present at their last meeting, but the board once again approves their monthly financial report. Who is on this committee? Even more concerning is this comment from CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow:
I never budget for assessment growth.
So if we know the entire region of Delaware is growing rapidly, and their CFO doesn’t take this into account in any way, and the board is approving tax warrants based on this, what happens when the district experiences a surplus every year based on this growing population? If the CFO is going to set firm guidelines with his budget like that, why does he overestimate on charter school payouts? (This is the amount the district has to send to charter schools when a local student choices out to a charter school). We did find out that in this district, for every $1.00 they spend in salaries, spends an addition 31 cents to cover Other Employment Costs which covers benefits and pensions. The trailers the school is putting at select schools due to running out of room are all coming out of local funds. This was correctly referred to as “portable classrooms” by a board member and Longfellow. I found it very interesting that Longfellow stated the board couldn’t approve the budget if they didn’t approve the tax warrant for the tuition costs. He did state that was later on in the board agenda, but the two went together. The board is going out for a referendum in December. There was obvious concern from one board member about pushing these tax warrants now prior to a referendum. When asked what each revenue base goes towards, Longfellow said Tuition Tax pays for out-of-district placements and programs for students with disabilities. When asked by a board member if it was accurate to say the increase in tuition tax was based on the district receiving more students with intensive and complex special needs, Longfellow said that was accurate. Giving kudos where they are due, one board member did explain that assessed value and real value of homes are two different animals. He explained the assessed value formula hasn’t changed since 1983. Longfellow explained that the state gives local boards the “right” to increase tuition taxes to make sure students get what they need but it isn’t a “fun right to have”. At no point did the board ask for a breakdown of how this amount increased at such a dramatic rate. There was absolutely nothing put forth in the preliminary budget or the tax warrant request to the board. Just numbers without any justification whatsoever. The board voted unanimously on the tax warrant first and then the preliminary budget.
Later on in the meeting, the board approved an increase for all administrators and specialists of an additional $500 above the state increase of 1.5% or $750, whichever is greater. So at a minimum, specialists will be getting a $1,250 raise for the year. Note the board approved this increase after the preliminary budget was approved, not before. A very careful sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part…
Once again, I implore the New Castle County Council to ask for a full breakdown of these costs before deciding on the tax warrant. If the district fails to give that requested information, I would highly recommend not approving their tax warrant.
In adhering to the district’s policy on Fair Use:
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All graphics, links, and pdfs in this article, as well as the ones about the Appoquinimink School District I posted on 7/14/16 and 7/17/16 are used for noncommercial educational purposes. I hereby cite the district for ownership of all applicable material in all three articles. No document was modified or altered. The district did not notify me of anything associated with this but I felt it was prudent to inform my readers of this. All material can be found at http://apposchooldistrict.com/
This district and board can keep ignoring me but I will not cease publishing my findings and their extreme lack of transparency in regards to this and any other issues I find with them. As such, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Superintendent Matt Burrows and his office to obtain a full breakdown for each dollar spent on their tuition costs and where and to whom those costs are associated. I also included, in the request, any documents presented to the Appoquinimink Board of Education for their July 12th board meeting in regards to the tuition tax increase of $815,000 and their approval of a tax warrant.