My God! In a week where the crazy seems to have gone as far as I think it can go, I see this. And no, I’m not talking about Jack Markell getting honored by the National State Boards of Education today as the education whatever of the year. I’m talking about this. Sent home in a kindergartner’s backpack yesterday. Has DHSS ever heard of something called stamps? When did students become letter carriers for other state agencies? And for those who might have read this, did DHSS think what that could mean to a child reading it? I have seen some jacked up stuff in this state, but this one may take the cake. Really? The insensitivity behind this is astounding. What happens when a student reads this who may not who their father is? Or has issues with that? Or doesn’t come from a traditional family? Or maybe there is some type of protective order in place. When did state organizations turn into complete assholes?
Awesome. Simply awesome. A non-profit company incorporated in Delaware can get all their funding from tax-payer local school districts, have their 501c3 status as a non-profit revoked, not file tax returns, and the State of Delaware doesn’t care. Earlier this afternoon, I wrote about how this exact scenario happened with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA). Two hours later, I contacted the Delaware Division of Corporations. Delaware doesn’t seem to care if a corporation files tax returns or not. There is no oversight mechanism in the State of Delaware to enforce anything related to federal tax filings. The Division of Corporations advised me that someone would have to get an attorney and go through the courts. Excuse me?
So DSBA can gouge school districts out of tons of money, but they will go to bat for them on legislation and counsel school boards on how to make sure board members have the most up-to-date board training. But they fail to show any transparency for how much money they receive, how they spend it, and what their losses are. That is just wonderful. What exactly does this organization do for school districts? They are glorified lobbyists taking funds out of schools.
I attended my local school board meeting a couple of months ago. One of the items on their agenda was “legislative priorities”. One of those priorities concerned special education and due process hearings. DSBA wanted my district to advocate for something that had never applied to their district. Why does everything in Delaware have to have some type of “association” attached to it? Once we centralize every group in the state, who watches that centralizing group? I’m sure for the members of DSBA, and those who sit on DSBA’s board, it looks great on the resume. “Look at me, I’m not only on a school board but also on the board of DSBA.”
Please… spare me the righteous indignation. How ironic that in this National School Boards Association guidance to state associations they offer the following advice:
State school boards associations have been established to provide a state-level network for members of local school boards to achieve common goals, support shared improvement efforts, and explore such widespread issues as board member training, policies, statewide needs, state and federal initiatives, and state and federal funding. Improving student achievement also must be a goal since it is the top priority of the state association’s members.
I am pretty ticked off about this as you can tell. Is it any wonder our state is corrupt as hell? What does our state offer oversight on when it comes to financial matters and transparency? It’s not like DSBA’s Facebook page tells us a lot.
Apparently, it is a-ok for DSBA to instill certain codes of ethics on local school boards, but when it comes to that ethical thing like FILING TAX RETURNS FOR YOUR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION WITH THE IRS, those ethics aren’t important.
…the Code of Ethics is recommended by the Delaware School Boards Association as a guide to its members as they strive to render effective and efficient service to their respective communities.
But according to DSBA’s website, this is their role in Delaware:
DSBA offers their members:
- Developing statewide legislative and funding priorities for public education in conjunction with the Legislative Committee and member boards;
- Monitoring the impact and progress of legislation introduced in the General Assembly which may affect the programs, operation, funding or administration of school districts;
- Planning and presenting orientation and training programs designed to enhance the effectiveness of school board members;
- Providing local school boards with information concerning those issues and activities which affect school districts;
- Coordinating legal services or local board efforts in those instances where boards share common concerns and goals; and
- Serving as liaison between school boards and other educational organizations or State agencies.
Can I add one?
- Show no transparency for how we spend taxpayer funneled money but thanks for your contributions chumps!
From their “membership” list of Delaware school boards, not every district board is a member of DSBA. Only 13 out of 19 are currently members: Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Colonial, Lake Forest, Laurel, New Castle Co. Vo-Tech, Poly-tech, Red Clay, Seaford, Smyrna, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge. As well, the Delaware State Board of Education is also a member. So it looks like Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney, Christina, Delmar, Indian River, and Milford have very wise boards who decided not to join this non-transparent organization.
DSBA is led by Executive Director John Marinucci and an Administrative Assistant named Linda Murphy. That’s it. That is their entire staff. They have an office in Dover. But of course many Delaware school board members govern the whole thing and decide what legislative priorities are best for school boards, even if those legislative priorities don’t even affect a member school district. So who are these elected officials and Governor-appointed Delaware board members, running 13 out of 19 Delaware school districts, who serve in another capacity for an organization that doesn’t file IRS 990 Non-Profit tax returns? Thanks for asking!
Officers- President: Joseph Brumskill (Brandywine), 1st Vice-President: Jennifer Burton (Cape Henlopen), 2nd Vice-President: Matthew Lindell (Capital), Treasurer: Cynthia Brown (Poly-tech), Director of Special Affairs: John Skrobot (Brandywine)
Other members of the Board of Directors: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Bobby Benjamin (Colonial), Nina Lou Bunting (Delaware State Board of Education), John Schulties (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), John Lynch (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Martin Wilson (Red Clay), David Tull (Seaford), Chris Malec (Smyrna), George Torbert (Sussex Tech), and Walter Gilefski (Woodbridge)
Legislative Committee: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Dr. Roni Posner (Cape Henlopen), John Martin, Jr. (Capital), Leo Magee (Colonial), Barbara Rutt (Delaware State Board of Education), Ronda Swenson (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), Mark Stellini (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Nancy Cook (Poly-tech), Kenneth Woods (Red Clay), Jeffrey Benson, Jr. (Seaford), Ron Eby (Smyrna), John Oliver (Sussex Tech), and Walter Rudy (Woodbridge)
They also have corporate members! Those are Stecher Financial Group, Johnson Controls, and Adelphia Furniture Inc. Two of those companies aren’t even out of Delaware!
On their calendar they have ZERO events on it, so we don’t even know when this organization and their various officers and legislative committees even meet. This is like the evil twin of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. For all the bitching I do about them, at least DCSN files their IRS 990 501c3 tax returns. Oh yeah, that’s because they didn’t get their status revoked for failing to file NINE YEARS. 28 school board members throughout the state. Do they get paid for their service to DSBA? We don’t know cause the non-profit doesn’t file a tax return!
My bad, the Delaware Online Checkbook changed over to the new Delaware Open Data Portal thing Governor Markell officially launched yesterday. So I can see that Delaware School Boards Association received $210,177 in FY2016. Here is the breakdown by district:
Cape Henlopen: $32,600.00
Delaware Department of Education: $13,930.50
Lake Forest: $10,300.00
New Castle Co. Vo-Tech: $8,784.50
Red Clay: $26,322.00
Sussex Tech: $4,862.00
And the following two school districts, who aren’t even members, didn’t seem to mind paying DSBA in FY2016:
Appoquinimink: $5,400 (cost per student: $1.92)
Indian River (dropped DSBA in fall of 2016): $3,000.00
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Because not only does DSBA bill school boards for dues, but also food, instructional supplies, and computer supplies. And it doesn’t matter if it is paid out of the Delaware Special Fund or the Delaware General Fund. Keep in mind all the below amounts are out of the overall totals listed above, but some of these categories are outlandish given the scope of what DSBA does. Ones I colored in red are potential audit red flags (I know, stop laughing)!
Appoquinimink: Computer Supplies– $2,700.00
Cape Henlopen: Computer Supplies– $9,100.00
Colonial: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00
Colonial: Meals w/in State (Breakfast/Dinner)- $349.66
Lake Forest: Computer Supplies– $34.00
Lake Forest: Equipment Rental-$2,700.00
Lake Forest: Food- $173.00
Red Clay: Other Professional Service- $8,100.00
Seaford: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00
Woodbridge: Other Professional Service- $421.50
Delaware Department of Education: Training- $208.50
I’m sorry, but in what kind of world does DSBA, which amounts to a lobbyist organization, provide computer and instructional supplies? Did Lake Forest rent a crane or something from DSBA? I didn’t see a school supply or rental tab on their website. And why do districts code these expenses all over the map? The food amounts would have been higher if other districts didn’t code it as association dues. So we elect school board members who go to meetings at DSBA, which gets over $200,000 of taxpayer money with a staff of two, and those school board members charge their districts for food? Are you frigging kidding me? And why is Cape Henlopen, who has half the amount of students in their district as Appoquinimink or Cape Henlopen, paying DSBA the most out of all the districts? And Woodbridge only has 2,466 students but DSBA gets over $18,000 from them? There is something seriously funky going on with this. Some of these districts are paying obscene amounts to this non-profit (who doesn’t file tax returns as a non-profit).
And don’t think for one minute it didn’t dawn on me that the Delaware Dept. of Education, who pretty much decides who sits on task forces and committees, and always seems to find room for someone from DSBA on them, pays a lobbyist organization who helps LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS over $13,000.00. I see Mr. Marinucci at most of the meetings I attend these days when the DOE is involved, especially ones around the Every Student Succeeds Act. I know, that is what lobbyists do! But when I see school boards wasting time with legislative priorities that don’t even concern their school district, an obscene amount of taxpayer money going to a non-profit that doesn’t bother to file tax returns, school districts coding expenses for this non-profit under whatever category they want (probably to get funds from the state and not out of their local funds), and the same organization not filing tax returns as a non-profit for almost a decade, I have some pretty major beefs with this organization.
The Cape Gazette did an article on DSBA on July 31st, 2015, a month after Indian River voted not to rejoin. They spoke with the First Vice-President, Jennifer Burton:
Cape Henlopen school board member Jen Burton serves as first vice chairman for the DSBA. She said membership is worth the $9,000 a year Cape pays, even though the association is going through some changes.
But when that membership becomes 3 1/2 times more than that $9,000 a year, what is the worth then Ms. Burton? Apparently Indian River didn’t feel the same way:
Indian River School District Board of Education withdrew July 13 from the Delaware School Board Association, saying $13,000 the district would have paid in dues could be better spent elsewhere.
“The Board came to the conclusion that its DSBA membership was no longer productive and that continuing to pay thousands of dollars in dues to the organization was not a responsible use of taxpayers’ money,” Hudson said.
But I guess it is okay for Indian River to use this organization for FREE at the expense of other district’s taxpayer money, right? Which means part of my school taxes, along with every other Capital School District resident, are going to pay for Indian River to rejoin something they felt wasn’t a responsible use of money? I guess when it is free, that’s okay. I don’t think so! I don’t pay local school taxes for Indian River. I pay them for Capital. And if I were citizens in the other DSBA districts, I would be upset too. I don’t elect school board members so they can help bail out other districts who don’t know how to spend their own money. If they want a bail-out on their DSBA dues, go to the state. That’s why I pay state taxes, not local taxes. DSBA has a lot of nerve asking other districts to do this. And yes, if you are not an employee of DSBA but serve as an elected official for your school district but serve on one of their boards or committees, you are acting as DSBA. Don’t believe me? Listen to Colonial’s Board of Education discuss this during their October 11th board meeting. Go towards the bottom of the page on this link to hear it.
In a presentation on DSBA, it was announced that the board of DSBA voted to allow Indian River to rejoin DSBA with full voting rights for free because of their “financial distress”. Yeah, distress caused by themselves. Just wait until that audit comes out! But let’s give them DSBA services for free! Colonial board member Melodie Spotts, upon hearing that DSBA hasn’t filed their tax return for nine years, put forth a motion to remove their membership in DSBA. The motion was defeated 4-3. Spotts was concerned how it would look after their board just voted to go out for a referendum. There was a lot of talk about promoting transparency around their refernedum and the appearance of paying membership fees to an organization that doesn’t appear to have financial transparency.
So DSBA, care to cough up nine years worth of tax returns and show the citizens of the state who elect school board members if they truly are getting their money’s worth?
Wow! The Delaware School Boards Association had their 501c3 status revoked by the Internal Revenue Service over five years ago. The IRS doesn’t do that unless a non-profit corporation hasn’t filed a tax return for three consecutive years. So how is it this non-profit which represents school boards across Delaware is allowed to even operate? I know they charge a hefty amount for school boards to join their association, but at this time the Delaware Online Checkbook is down until the 19th. I’ve seen five figure amounts going from school districts to this non-non-profit for yearly membership.
While John Marinucci is new to the role of Executive Director, I have to assume he would know about this. But if they don’t file tax returns, what are they doing with their money? I heard other news regarding DSBA recently as well. They are asking member school boards to pitch in extra to pay for Indian River’s membership in DSBA due to their financial hardships. How nice…
Apparently, I’m not the first to discover this information but it doesn’t appear this non-profit cared about the exposure since they haven’t rectified the situation. The IRS website has no information about the organization receiving a reinstatement of their 501c3 status…
I just found out Sue Francis passed away in July. She was the Executive Director of the Delaware School Boards Assocation from 1999 to 2016. HShe retired earlier this year and was replaced by John Marinucci. You can read her obituary here.
I met Sue a few times, usually at State Board of Education meetings. She was always kind to me. I remember her telling me how she was looking forward to retirement. It’s a shame she wasn’t able to really begin that retirement after decades of service to Delaware education.
Rest in peace Sue Francis!
Last night at the Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act Governor’s Advisory Committee meeting, audience members were given a chance to give public comment. I gave the following public comment, with the exception of a couple of sentences because that was covered during the meeting. I will put an asterisk between those sentences.
Good evening members of the ESSA Advisory Committee. My name is Kevin Ohlandt. Congratulations on your selection for this very important group. This is a mammoth undertaking, this new federal law. I will be completely frank: I do not trust this law. I do not trust our Delaware Dept. of Education. I believe ESSA is an unholy matrimony between education and corporations. You can consider me the friend of the bride, education, warning about the potential husband who will not be good for her. I have seen and heard far too much to suggest otherwise. I believe this matrimony will eventually result in a messy divorce. The custody battle for the students will be huge, and I fear the groom, the companies, will eventually win custody of the kids.
I urge this committee to give an immediate recommendation of postponing Delaware’s submission of their state plan to the US DOE. There are far too many moving parts. *States were given two dates to submit their final plan: March 31st or July 31st. Our Dept. of Education chose March 31st without any true consultation with the citizens of our state.* We were not given a choice as a state or allowed to be part of that decision-making process. Certain parties were given a much greater weight in consultation with the DOE before any public gathering took place.
As a member of the Student and School Supports discussion group, I see far too many members of that group who would financially benefit from the Every Student Succeeds Act. When that happens, I don’t see them as a stakeholder, but a benefactor. That is not what the term stakeholder means. I believe some good can come out of this law. I have seen many great ideas come forth in the meetings. But until we can weed out what is good or bad for students, we need to “slow our roll”. There are far too many conflicts of interest involved with this plan.
With that being said, the issues facing education in Delaware are at a crisis point. Whether it is mold in schools that is making people sick, or drugs and gangs reaching into elementary schools, or a teenager murdered in a bathroom stall, or the very fast implementation of educational technology in our classrooms with no research on the long-term psychological effects on children, or student’s personal data being given to parties that truly do not need that information, or lawsuits concerning school funding or segregation of minority students, or FOIA complaints against the DOE for continually failing to make certain public body meetings transparent and available to the public, we need to slow down.
Education should always be about the kids. Some in this world have already determined what their future should be and I find that to be an immoral and grave injustice.
A parent of an Appo student sent me this. This is the parental consent form for free and reduced lunch. It’s like the ESEA Flexibility Waivers… “I’ll give you this, but in return I need this and this and this and this…” Parents, watch what you are signing and do research on how much personal data you are allowing to go out about your child. Because even if you trust the district, they are putting that information on grant applications, which go out to other agencies. At that point, the federal law that is meant to “protect” student data, allows that information to go out to other education “research” companies. Nothing in this world is free.