The Teacher Leader Pilot Program Comes To Us Courtesy Of Rodelaware

The Delaware Department of Education continues their self-righteous Rodel led agendas.  In their latest corporate education reform press release, Godowsky and the gang announced the nineteen members of the Delaware Teacher Leader Pilot program kicking off this year.  I find it more than a coincidence that most of the districts who got these positions are very tight with the “Leader In Me” program.  The only districts selected were Capital and Appoquinimink.  Three charters are joining the bandwagon which are MOT, Kuumba Academy and Odyssey.

At their April board meeting, the Capital Board of Education tentatively approved going forward with this program.  But they had deep concerns about setting up competitions in schools.  They cited the very controversial Delaware Talent Co-op Program from a few years ago and how it caused many problems among teachers.  As well, the board was concerned with the amount of time the selected Teacher Leaders would spend out of the classroom and how additional substitute teachers would need to take their place.  The principals of these schools were very enthusiastic about the program.  Both are “focus” schools, one of the latest “turnaround” labels thrown at schools over low state assessment scores.  In a sense, I don’t blame these principals for doing what they can to get their schools out of these false labels put on them by the Delaware DOE.  If you go to the Capital board audio recording from their April 20th board meeting, click on the second audio recording link, and the discussion begins around the 1:22:03 mark.  When asked how much the program would cost, Superintendent Dan Shelton mentioned the stipend teachers would get but also that the training would take up the bulk of the costs.  A figure of $50,000 was thrown around.

The only schools in Capital who are instituting this pilot program are Towne Point and East Dover Elementary.  Towne Point is a huge advocate of the “Leader In Me” program.  Fairview Elementary in Capital also has this program.  Appoquinimink School District brought Leader In Me to Delaware.  Payments for this program are made to a company called Franklin Covey.  Many of the teachers at Towne Point who advocate for this program are also members of this Teacher Leader pilot program.  One of them is also very involved with the Rodel Teacher Council.  I have no doubt this teacher is an excellent teacher, but when you see one name associated with so many things I can not support, it is hard to draw the line between saying nothing and pointing it out.  I fully welcome any discussion with this teacher about anything written in this article, especially the part I write about later on.

The Delaware General Assembly passed their budget bill in late June with an appropriation of $800,000 in state funds going to the recipient districts and charters towards the Teacher Leader program.

SB285Sect362

What I don’t understand is how the DOE can move forward with a program that is contingent on approval in the State Budget.  The funds for this state grant weren’t approved until late June.  But here we have the DOE sending out invitations to apply after Spring Break.  For Capital school district, students came back after Spring Break on April 4th.  They gave schools a very short time to apply for this program, a matter of 25 days.  What was the insane rush behind this?  I will touch on this later, but for now check out the press release from Alison May at the DOE:

First teacher leaders announced

Nineteen teachers have been selected to serve as teacher leaders in a pilot program launching this school year. The program is among the first of its kind in the nation to take place at the state level.

Providing this kind of teacher leadership opportunity was among the recommendations of the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. During his administration, Governor Jack Markell has championed the creation of a compensation system that makes Delaware educator salaries more competitive with neighboring states and rewards teachers for helping their peers to best support our students.

“Through this pilot, teacher leaders are provided a career pathway that both rewards educators for excellence and provides opportunities in formal leadership positions,” said Markell, who recommended funding for the pilot in his Fiscal Year 2017 budget that was approved by the General Assembly on June 30. “Through these roles, teacher leaders will use their skills to support schools where they need it most: helping other educators develop their practices and better prepare Delaware’s students for college and careers —all while allowing teacher leaders to maintain a foot in the classroom and earn additional compensation without needing to take on administrative roles.”

The Governor joined Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky today at Appoquinimink High School in Middletown to participate with members of the pilot in a discussion about the coming year.

The five teacher leader roles to launch this year will support educators in the following areas:

·         Instructional practice leads will improve the instructional practice of fellow educators using a variety of high-impact support strategies focused on frequent, targeted feedback in educators’ development areas.

·         Digital content leads will help educators build their instructional technology knowledge so more students have access to technology that helps improve their academic outcomes.

·         Instructional strategy leads will introduce new instructional strategies into schools to help educators meet their learning needs and help schools meet their academic goals.

·         Community partnership leads will help students gain access to services designed to improve their physical and mental health, giving them a greater chance at academic success.

·         Instructional culture leads will help schools build a philosophy around culture, discipline and culturally responsive teaching.

Schools across Delaware were invited to participate in the teacher leader pilot. A nine-member committee representing educators, administrators and external partners selected eight schools and those schools created selection committees that designed a rigorous, multi-stage process to meet their schools’ needs and choose the 19 teacher leaders.

Each school is identifying a set of goals that teacher leaders will work toward. This summer, teacher leaders and school leaders came together to meet other pilot participants, plan pilot implementation for their schools, and learn more about teacher leadership to ensure a successful launch this fall.

“Being a novice teacher can be overwhelming at first, especially when it comes to lesson planning and classroom management. That’s why we want to use this new position to target support for our novice teachers in these areas,” said Kirsten Belair, who will work as an instructional practice lead at Odyssey Charter School.

The 2016-17 teacher leaders are:

 

·         Amanda Alexander, instructional culture, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Colleen Barrett, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Chelsea Baxter, instructional culture, Kuumba Academy (Charter)

·         Kirsten Belair, instructional practice, Odyssey Charter School (Charter)

·         Lindsay Bouvy, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Michelle Duke, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Carrie Howe, community partnerships, MOT Charter School (Charter)

·         Melanie Fauvelle, digital content, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Michele Johnson, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Kris King, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Heather Patricco, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Heather Mann, instructional practice, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Shana Noll, instructional practice, MOT Charter School (Charter)

·         Crystal Samuels, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Katharine Sawyer, instructional practice, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Krista Seifert, instructional culture, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)

·         John Tanner, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Kady Taylor, instructional strategy (K-8 reading), Kuumba Academy (Charter)

·         Tamara Walker, instructional strategy (K-8 math), Kuumba Academy (Charter)

Alison May

alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

Last May, educators were “encouraged” to apply for this program.  The Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware DOE issued an overview of the program along with applications and descriptions of the different categories teachers could apply for:

Based on all of these descriptions, the teachers selected into this program would receive a stipend ranging from $5000-$6000 depending on whether or not the school is a “high-needs” school.  Assuming all of the schools are “high-needs”, that would give each teacher a stipend of $6000.  With nineteen teachers selected, that is a total of $114,000.  So my question would be where the other $684,000 allocated for this program is going to.  I emailed the DOE about this earlier this afternoon.

This program spun out of the Committee to Advance Educator Compension & Careers Committee which spun out of the 147th General Assembly and Senate Bill 254.  In the beginning of this committee, Delaware teachers were outraged because the vendor for the committee, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), suggested Smarter Balanced scores should determine if a teacher could become a teacher leader.  Eventually, the committee ran out of time and the committee was extended through House Joint Resolution #7 in the 148th General Assembly.  The group was led by an employee in Governor Markell’s office named Ryan Fennerty.  This name may sound familiar to some readers.  Another member of the committee, Lindsay O’Mara, former wife of Colin O’Mara, is engaged to Fennerty.  She also worked in Governor Markell’s office as his education policy advisor before leaving last winter to get a job at the United States Dept. of Education.  Delaware or Peyton Place?  You decide!  But I digress…

If you look at the minutes for this committee, the last three meetings have no minutes.  This is where the final votes would be shown on what became today’s announcement by the Delaware DOE.  These last three meetings were held on 5/11/15, 1/29/16 and 4/22/16.  The Delaware DOE obviously jumped the gun on this a bit because Capital’s board discussed their two schools applying for this on April 20th, two days before the final vote took place.  I did email the chair of the CAECC, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, as well as Donna Johnson, the legislators on the committee, and Dr. Godowsky for a status on these minutes earlier today.  There was also an Educator Work Group as a subset of this committee, and this section of the CAECC website has NO minutes at all for the four meetings that were held between November 2015 to January 2016.  So much for transparency in Delaware.

This committee had a lot of familiar faces.  The heads of the Senate and House Education Committees for the 147th General Assembly were on it, Senator David Sokola and former State Rep. Darryl Scott.  Senator Brian Pettyjohn and State Rep. Joe Miro rounded out the legislative portion of the committee from the other side of the aisle.  State Rep. Kim Williams replaced Scott when he opted not to run again in the 148th General Assembly.  The Delaware State Education Association, Dr. Mark Holodick (Superintendent of Brandywine School District), and eventually, the Delaware Association of School Administrators had a seat at the table.  On the state financial side of things, Meghan Brennan represented the Office of Management and Budget and Controller General Michael Morton from his office.  It is important to note there were no actual teachers on the main committee. 

I’ve heard tales from these meetings and how DSEA fought against SBAC scores tying into these Teacher Leader creations.  I actually wrote about how teachers went to a Town Hall based on this at the Bear Public Library and many weren’t allowed entrance because the library had too many people.  But I can’t find the article.  But needless to say, teachers were VERY pissed off about this.

I have to wonder how many applications were received by the Delaware DOE for this and how many different districts or charters applied.  And yet, we only have two districts and three charters represented in this pilot program.  Appoquinimink is pretty much a grant whore and applies for every grant under the sun (and usually gets it) and is a proud member of BRINC and The Leader In Me program, Capital is an unknown quantity: heavily involved in The Leader In Me, just joined BRINC (the digital blended learning consortium representing 8-9 districts in Delaware), and now this program, Kuumba is one of the darling charters loved by the DOE, the Delaware Charter Schools Network and several legislators, MOT Charter School is one of the Smarter Balanced superstars with high scores (take a look at their demographics), and Odyssey Charter School is… I don’t know what they are.  They have been under my radar for a long time, but I have a sneaky feeling that will change in the coming months.

Now, to be fair, I don’t think every teacher involved with these type of things are evil or the Judas Iscariot of the Delaware teaching profession.  I think they are regular teachers who want to do more but don’t want to necessarily go into administrative roles.  They jump on things like this, or the Leader In Me program, or the Rodel Teacher Council, in an honest intention of diversifying their resume and their professional career path.  But, with that being said, I don’t trust Rodel, or a DOE sponsored program, or the Leader In Me.  I think a lot of them are not in it for kids and teachers and have bigger plans.  And behind all of this, we have Smiling Jack, leading the pep rally behind this latest pilot program.  But what I do take extreme offense to is the arrogance of people who knew 1) the CAECC had not approved the program when applications went out, and 2) the General Assembly had not approved the funding for the program before applications went out.

In the grand scheme of things, $800,000 for a Teacher Leader Pilot Program is not that much money considering the state spends a third of it’s budget on education.  But the danger is when it is labeled a success and the funds no longer flow freely from the state in the form of grants.  In a year or three, when the local school districts are asked to pick up a share and they jump on it because they don’t want to disrupt the program, that is when we will find out the true cost of a program like this.  And as we have more teachers jumping to become a Teacher Leader, spending less time in the classroom with less instruction they are giving students, what happens to the kids?  I believe the Capital board members should have pushed harder against having their two schools apply.  There were no firm answers about what to do with the vast amount of substitute teachers needed to make up for these teachers being out of the classroom.  Not only do you have the teacher’s salary, but you also have an ever-growing number of substitute teacher wages that the districts will  have to eat.  I truly don’t think it is a wise idea to have seasoned teachers out of the classroom up to half the day.  If they want to do this stuff outside of school hours, that is one thing.  But our students deserve better than to have half a teacher.

Oh yeah, there is just one more tiny, itty-bitty, little thing with all this.  On April 21st, Angeline Rivello, the Chief of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit and also an Assistant Secretary at the Delaware DOE, sent out an email to the Selection Committee of the Teacher Leader Pilot program.  I was able to get this email.  And it is a doozy of an email.

How does a member of the Selection Committee manage to get selected for this program?  Can you answer that for me Michele Johnson?  Why do I constantly see the names of the aforementioned Michele Johnson, Robyn Howton and Jennifer Nauman attached to so much Rodel/Vision stuff and now this selection committee?  Under whose authority did you allow schools to apply for this before any decision was made granting the authority by legislative decree to a public committee or before the funds were even appropriated for this program?  Can you answer that for me Angeline Rivello?  Or do you answer to Donna Johnson?  Because there is a crystal clear reason she was cc’ed on this email.  Who chose the selection committee for a program that, once again, wasn’t even approved?  Your email said there was a chance to get a “wide diversity” of schools but we have only one Kent Country district, one New Castle County district, and three New Castle charters.  How did that work out?  What was the rubric for scoring applications?  How many applications were received?  Did the selection committee read every single application or what it divvied up among the selection committee?

I think it is past time the DOE fessed up on their sneakiness and manipulation. Secretary Godowsky PROMISED a greater degree of transparency and open communication coming from this Department, and all I see are more lies, secret agendas, emails to select individuals with no public awareness, funds committed to things before they are even approved, focus groups or special meetings with no public notice, no minutes provided for certain things, or even links to certain groups (hello Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition).  Meanwhile, you allow charters and districts to allocate money wherever they want with no true oversight, browbeat the auditor’s office until a good woman is put on leave while charters get away with financial murder, manipulate the ESSA regulatory process by claiming to have true stakeholder input when it is really just school administrators and lobbyists, force a school report card scheme on our schools without any regulatory authority to impose it, and have our students take a test that judges everything and the students don’t even take the test.  Secretary Godowsky, I don’t care what anyone says, you are a HORRIBLE Secretary of Education.  This kind of crap makes even Mark Murphy look okay in comparison.  The rot in YOUR Department still exists, more than ever.  This happened under YOUR watch.  I hope the pieces of silver from Rodel and Markell were worth it… 

Angeline Rivello, when I announced Chris Ruszkowski was leaving the DOE, a lot of teachers in this state reached out to me and they expressed how they wanted to give you a chance and hoped the stink from the TLEU would disappear.  It is stronger then ever. 

Donna Johnson, this just once again proves what I have always known: you don’t believe in transparency and you are well aware of everything that goes on in the Townsend Building.  Does your beloved State Board know what you know?  How the hell are you even still employed there?  All of you are liars, plain and simple.  There is no other justification for your actions. 

Governor Markell, you tricked us again. You are a mastermind at turning something that looks good on the surface into a tangled web of lies and deception. If I had my way, I would impeach you even though you have less than five months in office.

If those in Delaware thought maybe I would temper things down eventually, my commitment to exposure in this state has NEVER been stronger.  Every single day I see the corruption and fraud going on in our state.  This isn’t a democracy.  We have the most corrupt and vile state government in the country.  None of this is about our kids.  It is about power, position, and money.  You all need to start coming clean before I find out about it.  Because if you think only a few Delaware teachers and parents read this blog, you are VERY wrong.  You have no idea, no one does, who is watching all of you.  Recording every single thing I come out with, just building a very large and thick file.

And I do have a final item to throw out there.  How can three contracts, which I can only assume may play into the total of $800,000 for Section 362is program which answers some of my questions for the funds involved in this sham, be signed on the following dates: 4/19/16, 4/21/16, 4/26/16, 5/2/16, 5/4/16, 5/10/16, 5/11/16, and 5/23/16?  If these are for this program, and the General Assembly had not approved the funds for this program, how can you have contracts starting before the Joint Finance Committee even released their budget?  Or should I assume the Rodel Foundation will be the one training these teacher leaders?  With funds from the Vision Coalition?  Or should I say Schools That Lead?  Because when I look up Schools That Lead’s IRS 990 tax forms, it comes up with 990s for 2012, 2013, and 2014.  Since Schools That Lead wasn’t really around then, care to take a guess what company comes up?  The Vision Network.  And if this description of their purpose doesn’t fit the bill for this Teacher Leader Pilot, I don’t know what does:

VisionIRS9902014

Care to take a close look at who Schools That Lead’s “partners” are?  Just look at this.  And if you aren’t aware of the backbone behind the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025, you need to take a look at this.  The Vision Coalition wants us to be “rethinking roles and responsibilities” and that includes teacher leaders and their compensation levels.  Take a look at the contracts above with Teach For America, University of Delaware and Supporting School Success.  Sound familiar based on all this?  Even more fascinating, even though Delaware has paid millions of dollars to the Rodel/Vision education incorporated enterprise, we never see any contracts with them listed on the awarded vendors portion of the state contracts website.  I would have to imagine this contract could land them anywhere from $500,000-$600,000.  Would that be a good guess Dr. Paul Herdman?  With an address at 100 W. 10th St. in Wilmington, DE, it stands to reason Rodel is somehow going to profit off this.

MakeOurChildrenDumb_zpsa514b437

When I first started digging into education stuff in Delaware, I remember reading an article on Kilroy’s where he wrote about talking with Jack Markell in 2008.  Kilroy wanted to support him, and he asked Markell flat-out if he was going to stop the spread of Rodel into Delaware education to which Markell said he would.  Jack lied Kilroy.  He lied to all of us.  Rodel runs the education show in Delaware.  They have for 12 years.  Every single decision made in Delaware education has been at the behest of the Rodel Foundation since Jack Markell took office.  Together with their order-takers at the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Governor Markell’s office, and the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, they have single-handedly turned Delaware education into a billion dollar corporation.  And our kids lose more and more every single day.  Because their minions have infiltrated every charter, every district, every state agency, and even our General Assembly.  We gave them this power.  Now, it is time to take it all back.

Good Luck Brian “Smarter Balanced Guy” Touchette!

DOEPersonnel81816SBOEMeeting

The Delaware State Board of Education released the agenda for their August 18th meeting, a week from today.  Included in the agenda was the Delaware Department of Education personnel changes.  One of the employees leaving the Delaware DOE is Brian Touchette.

I always felt kind of bad for Brian.  He was the front guy at the DOE for the Smarter Balanced Assessment when they were doing the field test for it and when they were determining accommodations for students with disabilities.  When the opt out movement started kicking up dust, Brian went from Assessment Director to an Education Associate in a very short time after two Delaware PTA Opt Out Town Halls.  I gave him a rough time at a Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting about accommodations a couple of years ago.

I haven’t heard much in the way of Touchette news since those opt out town halls and I wondered what became of him.  But it appears Touchette is no longer with the DOE now.  Good luck Brian!

 

Did Appo Shoot Itself In The Foot Tuesday Night?

Lastly, to the charge that money was transferred out of the tuition fund, Longfellow said that was true, but said that happens nearly every year and is a legal maneuver.

Additionally, Forsten explained that the money went to funds that help settle costs that aren’t part of the tuition tax budget itself.

Mr. Forsten, could you please tell me what the legal maneuver is that allows Appoquinimink School District to transfer funds out of the tuition fund and how it is legal?

I saw an item on Appoquinimink’s board agenda for last night that said “Tuition Tax Clarification”.  Assuming this was in response to my articles about their tuition tax warrant last month, I figured I would wait until their board audio recording to address this.  But as luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long because Kilroy just wrote an article based off WDEL’s article on the subject at their board meeting Tuesday night.  The above quote, taken from the WDEL article, clearly shows that Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows, Chief Financial Officer Dr. Charles Longfellow, and the Appo Board President Richard Forsten aren’t too familiar with Delaware accounting procedures and policies.

You can’t just take money from revenue collected through a tuition tax warrant and apply it anywhere you want.  That isn’t how it goes.  The law in Delaware is VERY clear about this:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

(d) Section 602(c)-(e) of this title shall apply to this section.

And let’s see what Section 602(c)-(e) states:

(c) The bill for tuition charges shall be verified by the Secretary of Education within 20 days after receipt of such bill. No bill for tuition charges shall be paid until such time as it has been certified by the Secretary of Education as being true and correct.

(d) For each pupil attending a public school of another district as of September 30, the receiving district shall bill the sending district and the sending district shall pay the tuition charges per pupil on or before January 1 of the fiscal year in which the bill is submitted to the sending district for payment. In the case of pupils attending the public schools of the receiving district for less than a full term, the tuition charge shall be prorated by reference to the period of time during which such pupils actually attended the receiving district’s schools, provided that attendance for part of any month shall be counted as a full month of attendance.

(e) Any reorganized school district sending pupils to the schools of another district shall levy and collect a tax to pay any tuition charges to the receiving district, and such tuition shall be collected by local taxation within the sending district according to the provisions of taxation as set forth in Chapter 19 of this title, except that no referendum shall be required. The sending district shall estimate the amount of, determine the rate for and levy the tax upon the estimate at the time that regular tax levies are announced to the appropriate taxing authorities, and the levy shall be adjusted annually to correct errors in the estimate as provided for in subsection (b) of this section.

So the tuition tax that caused the Appo board to issue a tax warrant last month is based on Section 604, and only Section 604.  There are additional areas where these funds can be used though, as per House Bill 1 from the Delaware 146th General Assembly:

House Bill 1, 146th General Assembly:

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Preschool unit:

v. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of special education and related services.

b. The following provisions shall apply to the Pre-K – 12 Intensive Special Education (“Intensive”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

b. The following provisions shall apply for the Pre-K-12 Complex Special Education (“Complex”) unit:

ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.

So districts can use tuition tax to pay  for their local share of special education and excess costs for each specific program.  But not for Basic Special Education students, just Preschool Special Education students, Pre-K-12th grade Intensive Special Education students and Pre-K-12th grade Complex Special Education students.

In Appo’s FY2017 preliminary budget, they state exactly what the Tuition Tax increase of $818,000 will be going towards:

FY2017AppoPrelimBudget

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Appoquinimink School District last month which I promptly received.  I had not gone through it extensively until now.

I can see the out-of-district placements for students with disabilities going to Special Schools or day or residential treatment centers going up by $100,000.  For FY2016, they spent $2,441,295 for these students.  In FY2017, they are projecting it will go up to $2,570,633.  That seems like a modest projection based on the history with these payments.  I have no qualms with those figures whatsoever.  What I do take issue with though is the appropriation section #99970020/99999999 Needs-Based going up from $7,148,711 to $7,863,582 without any justification for that increase.  As well, we can see their projected amounts for FY2018 which will generate another tax warrant next year but maybe 10% less than this year’s based on their projected numbers.  But Appo did supply two other documents in my FOIA request…

In this document, we see a seven year history with students in the category of Pre-K, Intensive, and Complex.  Also included are the teacher units generated from these increases.  Note the Pre-K units are going down each year.  On the flip side, Intensive and Complex special education students are going up which generates more teaching units as well as services related to those students, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so on.

Now the district was kind enough to give a breakdown of how much went to each category for FY2016.  I do appreciate that.  It does give quite a bit of insight into where they think the funds should go.  Now keep in mind Appo dated this document 7/20/16.

In their projections for FY2017, they based the FY2016 final figure at $9,590,006.  But in this document, it is $9,424,524.26.  That is a difference of $165,481.54.  So they are already way off on their FY2017 budget by having this amount wrong.  This is what they based their tax warrant on, the figure of $9,590,006 for FY2016, and they are basing their FY2017 budgeted projection off that number.  They are already off.  Even in their board meeting Tuesday night, they gave an amount spent as of 6/30/16 on Local Tuition Tax of $9,508,447.03.  This was the part of their board meeting where they approved the monthly budget as of 6/30/16 based on their Citizen Budget Oversight Committee recommendation.  Even they weren’t given the correct amount.  Do I go by a FOIA request, which has to be legal, or their preliminary budget, or the amount their CBOC provided to the board which comes from their CFO?  I’m sticking with the FOIA figure because that has the latest figures, as of 7/20/16.

Now look at the document and where it says “Indirect Cost” for an amount of $276,709.36.  These are funds they transferred out of their tuition tax revenue bucket into another bucket with no explanation of where it went or why.  So adding what they were already off and the “Indirect Cost”, we are up to $442,190.90, which is over half of their tuition tax increase of $818,000 going towards mathematical errors or shifting the money out of the revenue bucket it was supposed to stay in.  You can’t just transfer funds out and call that a legitimate expense.

Which brings us to legal costs.  In FY2017, Appoquinimink spent a total of $171,783.75 in legal costs for the entire district.  But we are expected to believe they spent $124,279.20 out of that figure just for special education legal costs?  Furthermore, should funds spent on legal costs in a special education dispute where a parent is suing the district be counted as legitimate funds to come out of a tax warrant?  Because I can see at least $28,500 going towards that purpose right off the bat.  That means the parents feel the school did not provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their disabled child.  And if the school is paying those attorneys, that means at the very least there was some type of settlement involved whereby the district paid the opposing attorney as well as their own attorney costs.  As well, we see a payment made to another school covered under legal fees.  This could be a case where a parent sued the district and the district agreed to pay the tuition costs for another school.  That was for $25,575.  So with these VERY questionable legal items Appo feels they can cover under funds generated from a tax warrant, we are looking at another $54,075 in questionable charges in their FY2016 tuition tax expenditures, which brings us up to $496,265.90.    We are now up to over 60% of their $818,000 tax warrant increase.  I won’t even get into the fact they are paying a school nurse under legal fees.  Shall I keep going?

There are legitimate expenses they put on this document.  Teacher salaries and their benefits are okay to have in there.  Related services, which means “Specialists”, according to House Bill 1, does have some caveats:

“(12) Specialists. All related services units are earned at the district or charter school level. Preschool, Basic, Intensive and Complex related services units earned shall be used to support related services needs of students in those units. Districts may use earned units to hire any related services staff necessary or alternatively choose to provide all or part of those services through a contractual arrangement with a public or private agency. When providing services by contract, the dollar value of the contract shall not exceed the authorized salary for a teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years and employed for a period of 12 months per year as provided for in 14 Del. C. § 1305 of this title, divided by the number of months in the terms of the contract. Partial unit funding is provided based on the dollar value of the unit. Any school district wishing to use funds under the contractual option set forth in this section shall make application to the Department of Education for that use, provided that the State Board may review any objection to the Department decision;”

So, as an example to this, Appo currently has two contracts with Therapy Services of Delaware for three occupational therapists and two physical therapists.  This contract is for FY2017, and I could not find one for FY2016.  But given that they keep projecting up with students who would need these services, it would stand to reason the contract for FY2016 was either similar or less.  But I will operate on the assumption it is similar.  That means, based on the above law, the district can’t pay out more than $60,558.00 for a full-time “specialist” based on the Appo Salary Schedule for a Teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years.  In the case of Therapy Services, the contracts call for three full-time occupational therapists and two full-time physical therapists.  So they can’t pay more than $302,790.  In FY2016, according to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo paid Therapy Services $302,442.63.  So it appears they are acutely aware of the laws surrounding these special education services given how very close to the maximum number they could go up to in the contracts.

The reason I brought up a situation where they are doing everything by the book was to illustrate they do know what they are doing.  But for some reason, maybe because of how they are audited by the DOE for certain special education costs, they are able to curtail other things that have a dramatic effect on what they are including in the tuition tax part of their budget.

I could go through more of these, but I believe you get my point.  Appo’s $818,000 tuition tax increase is based on very faulty math, bad accounting procedures, and violations of Delaware state code from their previous fiscal year.  The expenses they are covering under tuition tax don’t hold water with my tests in some areas but in others they do.  Yes, I do own the fact that when I originally wrote about this issues, I seriously questioned where $5 million disappeared to.  But I quickly corrected that a few days later when I found the missing $5 million in related services.  I just didn’t account for the related services amounts in my initial article.  But when I’ve already killed over 60% of your increase of $818,000, and I have barely scratched the surface of your entire tuition tax expenditures for FY2016, I have no doubt that percentage would increase.  So you are NOT justified Appoquinimink School Board of Education, to approve a tuition tax increase costing the Appoquinimink property owners an additional $7.76 per $100 of assessed property values based on this.  As a board, and some have done this in Delaware so they don’t raise the ire of local taxpayers, they can forego or decrease a tuition tax increase based on the projected increase.  But what you can’t do is charge more than what should be the budgeted amount.  Something Longfellow seems to think is the opposite case according to WDEL:

He said, not only is the district justified to increase the tuition tax based on enrollment, Appoquinimink isn’t even increasing the tax to the fullest extent permitted.

Would I expect the Appoquinimink School Board to know these facts?  Not really.  Unless you really do some digging like I have, you won’t just find these things on a piece of paper looking at it.  But should Longfellow and Burrows know these things?  Absolutely.  Let’s not forget, their board approved their FY2017 Preliminary Budget and the tax warrant before they approved a $500 increase for administrators in the district at their July board meeting.  I called that a sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part.  I believe he knew exactly what he was doing.  But the board just skimmed right past that part.

“It was just a case of someone not understanding everything,” Board President Richard Forsten said to WDEL after the meeting.

I will give Forsten that.  I knew something was wrong and I made some incorrect assumptions.  But my gut instinct still told me something was wrong even after I found my error.  And then I found Appoquinimink’s errors.  To be fair, I received the FOIA request two days after I requested it.  But did I get everything I asked for in the FOIA request?

719AppoFOIARequest

For the most part, I did.  But what the FOIA did not cover, and no one has been able to answer, is the breakdown of funds allocated in the categories of related services for intense and basic, as well as allocations for occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and so on.  By lumping so much of their special education costs into very broad categories of “consultants”, “other professional service” or “medical services” would not give any member of the public the ability to see exactly what is going towards tuition costs.

Furthermore, neither Burrows or Longfellow ever replied to my email requests to discuss these matters after my original article on July 14th.  Not one single email, phone call, or response.  Until their board meeting last night.

Part of the blame for this lies with the state.  We have a Division of Accounting within the Department of Finance.  We have a State Auditor.  We have an Office of Management and Budget.  We have a General Assembly.  They should all be keeping track of these things and providing oversight into not only what our schools are spending money on, but how they are spending money.  When I hear a Board President state transferring over a quarter of a million dollars out of an account earmarked for only certain things related to special education as a “legal maneuver”, that concerns me.

“All the numbers are there and they’re all justified, its just that you have to know what you’re looking for,” said Forsten.

Are they Mr. Forsten?  I beg to differ…

But the biggest concern I have is the extreme lack of oversight from the Delaware Department of Education in these matters.  When it comes to special education funding, especially tuition tax expenditures, they should be looking into these matters.  It isn’t a question of “may”, it is a question of “shall” according to Section 352 of HS1 for House Bill 225, the budget bill for FY2016.  While this mostly concerns out-of-district placements, the last line says it all…

HS1ForHB225Sect352

I’m fairly certain that special education lawsuits should NOT be covered in tuition tax payments.  Nor should Indirect Costs going out of this fund.  And tax warrants should be based on a specific amount based on the prior year spending, not the highest of three amounts (and most likely the most inaccurate amount).  I look forward to their response to this article.  Will I get an email, a phone call, or another special section of their board meeting?  Or none of the above?