Indian River Cuts $3 Million From Budget But No Audit Released Yet On Patrick Miller’s Activities…Hmmm…

SusanBunting

Indian River School District just cut $3 million from their budget earlier this week.  Where will these cuts come from?  Dani Bozzini with WMDT has the answer:

And with more students means more teachers. The district wasn’t getting enough funding to continue the same allocation of their schools budgets so they made some changes.

Instead of cutting teachers and staff’s salaries, the district decided to cut the discretionary part of the budget. The District office was cut by 50 percent and the schools’ budgets by 30 percent.

Here’s the thing though… most traditional school districts don’t cut their budget unless they are having some type of financial problem.  If a school district grows, the property taxes collected for local funds, as well as state and federal funds should compensate for that.  The district’s Chief Financial Officer was put on paid administrative leave in April and then he was able to retire in May.  The State Auditor’s office also began an investigation into the district’s finances.  No report has come out from the Auditor of Account’s office concerning Indian River School District.

I believe the school district should own up to whatever Miller is suspected of doing.  This isn’t the first time mysterious financial issues have come up with him.  He plea bargained his way out of something similar in Brandywine eighteen years ago.

I love how Superintendent Susan Bunting makes it sound so casual in the article with WMDT.

Dr. Bunting tells 47 ABC that students or parents won’t see much of any changes and it’s just little cutbacks to help with their growing population.

Yeah, okay.  You don’t cut $3 million out of your budget unless you are having some serious issues.  Now I have to start looking into Indian River too.  I don’t have time for this.  Just come clean Bunting!  Between charter-district payments, ESSA, being the non-paid watchdog for the Delaware DOE, elections, and everything else, can you just email me and show me what is really wrong with your budget?  That would be super!  Cause if what I’m hearing is true, you guys are going to have to come up with some new spin next month.  I’ll give you a few days, but then I’m getting the shovel out.

Or does this have anything to do with the charter-district payments?  How many students does Indian River send to Sussex Academy?  When did the CFO get put on administrative leave again?  April?  Hmm…

How many inspections are going on with schools over at Tom Wagner’s office?  Time to bring Kathleen Davies back Tom.  You can’t handle all this work!

Milford Tuition Tax Increase Sparks Outrage From Area Residents

Imagine getting your tax bill in the mail and it goes up by $500.00 for the year.  For citizens in the Milford School District in Delaware, this was the new reality they faced last week.  Much of the controversy surrounds their referendum which passed last year.  A referendum and tuition tax are two very different things.  With a referendum, that is asking citizens to support increased taxes for operating expenses or capital costs.  A Delaware school board can’t just raise those taxes on their own.  The people need to vote on it.  But for tuition tax, as well as what is called a match tax, the school board can vote on an increase for that.

For newer readers, tuition tax is based on special education costs that exceed the funding provided by the state, the feds, and what the local school district appropriated for these costs.  This could mean increased funds for teachers and staff to accommodate students with disabilities or it pays for out of district placements for more complex needs of students.  Delaware has seen a dramatic increase in students sent to either day treatment centers or residential treatment centers.  Some of these treatment centers are out of state which causes the costs to increase even more.  It seems to have risen dramatically in the last year, and I’m beginning to really wonder why this is going on.

What happened in Milford was their board passed on raising the tuition tax for a number of years.  Meanwhile, they passed their referendum which would give the average citizen in the district an increase of $120 in their tax bill.  But in June, the board passed a tuition tax increase.  This double whammy dramatically changed how much of an increase citizens saw in their new tax bill.

Milford Live covered this increase on August 23rd.  A big issue surrounding the tax increase at the June board meeting dealt with transparency:

A review of the addendum for the June 20 meeting that is posted online did not indicate that there would be discussion about a tax increase at the school board meeting. However, when visitors arrived at the meeting, there was an addendum to the agenda with the presentation included, something that is common at Milford School Board meetings.

Milford has its fair share of senior citizens, and the sticker shock caused them to speak out in large numbers.  One commenter on the Milford Live article stated that when their annual income is $6,000-$7,500, an annual increase like this really puts a dent in their wallet.  What makes Milford unique, along with three other school districts in Delaware, is that they are located in two counties.  This means residents of both Sussex and Kent County have two different amounts based on property assessments in each county.  For Sussex residents, their new tax bill went up to $5.39 for every $100 of their assessed property value.  Previously, it had been $3.56.  For Kent County residents, the burden wasn’t as large as it went from $1.26 to $1.90.

Back in July, I questioned Appoquinimink on their huge tuition tax increase.  While the information they gave to the press indicated one thing, the reality was very different.  Appo said the rise in special education costs was dramatic last year and put a large emphasis on out of district placements.  But the increase in out of district placements was not a large percentage of their increase.  It was mainly for in-district special education services.

In Milford, their budgeted amount for their tuition tax was $2,100,000 as of July 2015.  That would include both their out of district placements and in-district special education services that are in excess of state and federal funding.  What they spent in FY2016 was $2,676,902 for these placements.  While I can’t see the difference between what they budgeted for out of district placements and in-district special education services because their FY2016 budget is not posted on their website, the amount they paid in out of district placements is more than they budgeted for the entire category.  As a side-note, their website does not have their monthly financial statements for either June or July of 2016 which puts them out of compliance with state law.

It really worries me that all these students with disabilities are being sent to places outside of school districts, in rapidly growing numbers.  I hear a lot of people blame parents for student behavior.  While that could certainly play a factor, how come no one is talking about education itself.  Since Common Core came out, I am seeing a rapid rise in these placements.  And it seems to have really gone up in the last school year.  I would be very curious how these students scored on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in the 2014-2015 school year.  I hate to go there, but does it become easier to send a student out of district if they were not proficient on this test?  Is the “rigor” and “grit” having a bigger psychological impact than we think?

The price for these students may wind up being higher than the rise in tuition taxes across the state.  And I’m not talking financially…

$2,676,902 $452,780

In FY2015, $63.5 Million Went From Local Districts To Charter Schools In Delaware

I found something I’ve never seen before last week.  Ironically enough, I discovered these documents when I was doing my charter school inspection.  I was working on this article when I received a call about the the topic we have all been talking about for the past week: charter school payments from school districts.  Every year, around March, the Delaware Department of Education produces a report called the “Educational Statistics Report”.  This report shows district and charter revenue and expense totals for each calendar year.  It also shows information I’ve been looking for but haven’t seen until now: how much each charters get from local school districts for students who attend from those feeder patterns.  In FY2015, local school districts sent an astonishing $63.5 million dollars to charter schools.  This accounts for 38% of Delaware charter schools revenue.

According to this report, the charter school that gets the most local revenue is the charter school with the largest student population.  Newark Charter School, with the largest student population, received $7 million from local school districts in FY2015.  The State of Delaware provided over twice the amount to Newark Charter ($14.7 million) compared to the next largest charter school, MOT ($7.1 million).

But where things get really interesting is when you compare revenue and expenses with traditional school districts.

Charter Revenue FY2015

CharterRevenueFY2015

District Revenue FY2015

DistrictRevenueFY2015

Charter Expenses FY2015

CharterExpensesFY2015

District Expenses FY2015

DistrictExpensesFY2015

In FY2015, charter school students represented 9.3% of Delaware’s public schools.  With a total of 12,521 students, this represented less than 10% of students in the state who chose this option.  The total revenue they received was a little over $164 million dollars.  By contrast, districts received over $2.16 billion dollars in revenue.  This is a total of $2.32 billion dollars in revenue between district and charter schools.  In the interest of fairness and  all things being equal, charters should have received $215.8 million dollars at 9.3% student population.  Instead, they received $50 million less.  If we stopped looking at figures right now, the Delaware Charter Schools Network would be correct when they tell people charters get $3000 less per student than traditional school districts.  I’m not sure what  year they are basing those figures on, but it actually works out to about $4,137 less per student.  More meat for their argument.

But there are many other factors that go into this.  By their very nature, school districts are much larger than charter schools.  They have more buildings to take care of.  Their central administration has to be bigger to keep track of it all.  While some (and rightfully so in certain situations) complain about the sheer number of district administrators, I think we can all agree that districts need more administrators than charter schools because of the sheer volume involved.  Out of the total amount of expenses, charter schools spend 11.57% of their funds on administration.  Traditional school districts in Delaware spend 7.09% on administration.  Charter schools spend 14.36% on “plant operations maintenance”, which I assume includes rent, custodial duties, and expenses for the actual physical building(s).  Districts spend $9.66% in this category.  Percentage wise, districts do spend more on student transportation at 4.62% opposed to charter schools’ 2.88%.  But there is one factor that may not be included in these totals for the charters: does this include the surplus transportation funds they get to keep after what they spent?

The key figures in the above charter are the pie slices that show the percentage of funds districts and charters get from federal funding.  While some of these funds come from federal grant funds, the bulk of them are for Title I and IDEA-B funding.  Title I is funds for low-income schools while IDEA-B is for students with disabilities.  Note that districts have more than double the percentage of federal funds than charters.  This is because districts have more students in those two categories.  For some charters in Delaware, they have very high percentages of those populations.  But the ones that are on the opposite end bring that percentage way down.  Especially schools like Newark Charter School and Charter School of Wilmington.

I wasn’t going to publish this article after the whole district-charter funding war commenced a week ago.  But with everything that happened since, I feel it is important to get these numbers out there.  I do have further analysis based on this and how I intend to prove, that if Delaware were to go to a true weighted funding formula, charters schools would actually receive less local and state dollars as a collective whole than what they are receiving now.