It seems random events are not so random at Providence Creek Academy, the charter school in Clayton, DE. It now appears that the audit investigation into suspected fraud by a former employee was missing a lot of information. Two other employees were also taking funds meant for students for their own personal use. Head of School Charles “Chuck” Taylor covered it all up.
In the fall of 2014, many strange happenings went down in a few Delaware charter schools. It began with Academy of Dover. Their auditor found discrepancies. Very soon, Principal Noel Rodriguez was terminated and the state auditor began an investigation. Not long after that, all the charter schools were brought in for an emergency meeting at the Delaware Department of Education. No one knew what that meeting was about. Kilroy’s Delaware put a post up about the meeting as well. Very soon after, Chuck Taylor came out of “retirement” and returned to Providence Creek Academy. Principal Audrey Erschen asked her brother to get rid of raccoons in a trash can. He used a pellet gun and when teachers saw him doing this, he was arrested. Erschen went on “personal leave” at the time and Taylor returned.
When Taylor returned, he submitted a tip to the Auditor’s office about potential discrepancies in Providence Creek Academy’s finances. Their auditor, SB & Company, never found these discrepancies. Ironically, this auditor firm based out of Maryland, only did audits with Providence Creek Academy and Family Foundations Academy (FFA). It was discovered that December that FFA too had severe financial discrepancies that SB & Company never caught. Prior to that, FFA leader Sean Moore served on the DCSN board as their treasurer. During their charter renewal process when FFA was questioned about the high amount of fraternity brothers on their board, Taylor was the only one to defend this bizarre board membership. Without knowing why Taylor would have submitted this tip if their own auditor couldn’t find it, I can only imagine the secret meeting at the Delaware DOE on that fall evening was about what happened at Academy of Dover. I surmise some type of warning went out to the charters about that type of behavior and finances would be looked at more extensively in the future.
After Taylor submitted the tip, the Delaware Department of Technology and Information came to the school and took their hard drives. One of Delaware’s Senators, Bruce Ennis, even had a daughter that worked for DTI that was on the team that took PCA’s hard drives. Her name is Sandra Ennis-Alexander. Principal Erschen is a well-known supporter of the Democrat party in Delaware and supported Ennis in his runs for the Senate. While former employees knew there were purchase orders on the hard drive showing personal purchases for Audrey Erschen and her son Jake, actually going to their home, DTI somehow did not find a thing and the case was closed on their end.
When the hard drives came back to the school, prior to the case being closed, Jake Erschen had a meltdown over the issue. He was recorded saying he wanted to throw Board President Amy Santos’ head through a window and he made a specific threat about bombing the school on November 5th. He even quoted the movie V For Vendetta for the reason he chose November 5th. Erschen was promptly fired but word got out to parents who demanded to know what was going on. The school was not very forthcoming with true answers about what happened. How could they? How could they explain the school was part of an audit investigation and when one of the potential suspects found out, he made very specific threats against the Board President and the school? Chuck Taylor was back, leading the way, and promising parents transparency. He scheduled a parent meeting and even had a representative from the Delaware Department of Homeland Security come in to tell the parents everything was okay. Parents heard about the November 5th threat, so the school decided to close the school that day for “a day of reflection”. The Delaware Department of Education refused to intervene when the school had these issues. When the hard drive was returned, it eventually found its way back to the home of Audrey Erschen. At some point in time during all of this, the Clayton Police were on their way to Erschen’s home to see if any of the items that were purchased for personal use were there. For some reason, that search did not take place. Some have surmised that Taylor himself was somehow able to call off the search. Taylor has no background in law enforcement.
After that, Taylor was reinstated as Interim Head of School. Prior to his resignation, Taylor was making $103,000.00 a year as Head of School. When he “retired”, following an altercation with a staff member in which Taylor was yelling, cursing, and spitting at him, Taylor was asked to “retire”. He drew a pension based on his $103,000 salary. Taylor had a brief stint in the fall of 2013 as the Interim Head of School at Campus Community School in Dover. When the school hired their new Head of School, Taylor joined their board but resigned a few months later. Taylor made his return to Providence Creek just in time to save the day. As a reward, his new salary was $170,000.00. He received a $67,000 raise for helping the school out during its darkest hour. That darkest hour had Taylor’s fingerprints all over it. Jake Erschen was never arrested for his threats. But Taylor did spend a significant amount of money to allay parental concerns about security and installed cameras all over the school along with new drop-off and check-in routines.
Taylor, at the time and still to this day, serves on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education. This volunteer membership oversees any charter school renewal, major modification, or formal review. Taylor did remove himself from the committee when PCA went through their charter renewal process in 2015 to avoid a conflict of interest. He also serves as the President of the Board of Directors at the Delaware Charter Schools Network (DCSN). DCSN is a non-state affiliated group that promotes and advocates for charter schools. Their Director, Kendall Massett, can frequently be seen at Legislative Hall in Dover and State Board of Education meetings.
The school was already searching for a new Head of School prior to Chuck’s return. They found a candidate with Stephen Esmond, who ran the middle school for Tatnall, a prestigious private school in Delaware. A very bizarre misfortune took place while Esmond and his family were visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands in March of 2015. Three members of Esmond’s family, including himself, were exposed to pesticides which landed them in the hospital. Esmond and his two sons were paralyzed from the exposure. Esmond is still recovering from the horrific situation. His family sued a company called Terminix for $87 million in 2016. But this meant PCA had no viable Head of School to replace Taylor. Their board formed a Head of School Search Committee which Taylor sat on. To this date, no Head of School has been selected leaving Taylor as the Head of School. He is no longer listed as “Interim Head of School” on their website. Ironically enough, when state employees retire in Delaware, their pension is on their three highest years of salary. If Taylor lasts at PCA until the fall, he will be able to retire based on three years of making $170,000. How ironic!
I found a notification in their board minutes in the Spring of 2015 which mentioned their pending audit investigation. Taylor was stating it had been a rough year but they were complying with the Auditor of Accounts requests for information. Things stayed quiet at PCA for the next nine months until the beginning of 2016 when State Auditor Thomas Wagner released the Providence Creek Academy Charter School Inspection. That office found a former employee of Providence Creek Academy had used their purchase card for personal use. They also found payroll issues where teachers were getting paid more than their salary. The report alleged Simmens was giving favors to friends who worked at the school. The inspection found a verified $11,000 plus used for personal purchases. Another $20,609 could not be verified if it was for personal or business use. Simmens did admit to her use of the card but to this day no formal charges have been announced against her. While most of the charges have been attributed to Simmens, the listed Comcast charges were actually from PCA’s summer program. During summers, PCA would rent movies from Comcast to show to the students during their summer program. The school denied having a Comcast account with the Auditor’s office. The $20,609 in unverified funds consisted of over $5000 in retail purchases, mostly through Amazon and Wal-Mart. The reason they were unverified was because there were no purchase orders with a name attached to them. Everything Simmens did she owned up to. The rest had no paperwork attached to it. This is most likely because that paperwork and any information on the school’s hard drive was wiped at some point in time. Simmens, by the way, was the one who recorded Jake Erschen the day he made the bomb threat and the specific threat against Santos. Other findings in the report included over $15,000 in meals from Pat’s Pizzeria, gifts for teachers, student activity meals, and flowers for staff members. A whopping $215,000 was found in payroll expenses that did not meet Delaware’s Budget Accounting Manual. One-sixth of their staff had no verifiable information to justify their salaries totaling over $163,000.00.
The school passed their charter school renewal in 2015. Earlier that fall I sent Chuck Taylor an email saluting the school for turning around their finances and putting the proper controls in place. I even wrote an article about it. I based this information based on one of their renewal hearings at the Delaware DOE. And then their audit investigation came out. Parents became briefly upset but their Board issued a public response stating there had been no issues since December, 2014 and despite media articles stating otherwise, they self-reported themselves to the State during the termination of an employee (Simmens). What their announcement did not touch upon was the unverified funds. It did not mention the paper trail for that $20,609 vanished into the ether. The Delaware Department of Education never put Providence Creek Academy on formal review for the alleged fraud even though Delaware state code clearly states they can.
Last summer, reports began to surface regarding a large amount of teachers coming back. While this was not substantiated, I did write an article about it based on a parent’s Facebook posts. Immediately after my post, the parent had a complete turnaround and seemed to be okay with the high turnover rate at the school. More recently, I was contacted by a group of staff members who had major complaints against Taylor. They suggested he bullies students and staff members. They also alleged cigarette smoking occurs on the property which is against Delaware state law. One of the members of that group was terminated by the school shortly after the group contacted the Delaware Department of Education with their concerns. His name was mentioned in one of the emails as a point of contact. Their board voted on this last evening. In their emails to myself, I asked this group how many they were. They responded that they were nearly half the teachers and staff at the school.
After my article came out on Monday, I posted it to the Smyrna-Clayton Residents Facebook page. Several parents immediately became concerned but soon enough others were defending the school vigorously. It was later revealed many of these parents were also staff members at the school. Some of their comments had cursing and mocking tones attached to them.
Many parents commented about Taylor’s abuse over the years. Some said Chuck hasn’t changed since he was on the Smyrna School District Board of Education. While some suggested Taylor is nothing but a consummate professional, it was pointed out to myself that many of them are parents to children in PCA’s elementary school. Their middle school is a different story. One source, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that children who are not quiet are told to “walk the circle”. On PCA’s Campus, the buildings are set up in a U shape with a walking circle in the middle. One other source told me Taylor’s office is near the cafeteria. If children become “too noisy”, Taylor will come in and begin yelling at them to be quiet. Apparently this interferes with Taylor’s superb solitaire playing on his school computer. There seems to be no one Taylor will yell at when he is annoyed, with one exception. That is Principal Audrey Erschen. She seems to be the only one who can calm Chuck down. Many people told me in private messages that Taylor has his hand-picked favorites at the school. Many in their administrative office do not have the qualifications for their roles. Taylor himself is listed on the Delaware Educator Search website as an Administrator, but he has nothing but a shop teacher certificate when you click on the qualifications. Another Charles Taylor on the website shows paraprofessional certificates for things such as special education. Those were issued in 2004 when PCA opened. They expired in 2009.
I have received private responses from many articles I’ve written on this blog. But my Monday article on PCA drew a much larger number than usual. All suggested Taylor is out of control and abusive to teachers and students. This includes mostly former employees of the school. During the Facebook bonanza yesterday, one of the current staff members who was defending the school mentioned anyone going against the school was a “reason they are former employees”. All seem to suggest that if you aren’t a favorite of Taylor, you are a target for termination. Many teachers feel they do not get the adequate resources and supplies for their classroom but Taylor spends a large amount of money on landscaping. Parents complained about the very high costs for student lunches which seem to be higher than surrounding schools. Many wondered where that money is going. Others stated they are charged $10 and more for field trips, including ones where admission to a location is free. They wondered if it really cost $10 per student to fill a bus tank and pay a bus driver. They too wondered where that money is going.
Many called me out because of my own history with Taylor while he was at Campus Community School. I pointed out that I reconciled those issues years ago. I also said that I wrote about that time years ago on another blog and mentioned several different employees of that school throughout the 13-part series. But Taylor is the only one I have written about since. That is due to Taylor’s current status at PCA which had many issues since I began this blog. I didn’t initiate any of those issues. As well, his involvement at the DOE and with the Delaware Charter School Network make him an education “power player” of sorts in Delaware so he would obviously fly in my radar here and there. I got the usual “you’re just a blogger” and “you’re not a journalist”. Some suggested I have no children at PCA so why am I writing about them (also PCA employees). I advised them I’ve written nearly 3,500 articles and less than .7% of those articles were about PCA. What I will say is I am not afraid of Taylor. I recognize he has extensive reach in this state and himself and Erschen seem to be protected in certain circles. But I also have some reach and I have initiated certain insurance protocols should there be any retribution to myself, my family, or friends. I don’t trust Taylor. I don’t trust his rage. As one person told me in privacy, he is a complete monster and why anyone would allow him to be around children was beyond them.
I believe Taylor and Erschen should be held accountable for their actions. I believe a full-blown investigation into everything they have touched at that school should be looked at. The school itself is not the problem. I strongly think they have great teachers and some staff that truly want the best for children. But Taylor, Erschen, and the anointed ones seem to be a huge problem. A behavior interventionist that really doesn’t do much and leaves most of the work to her assistant to handle discipline. That assistant has no qualifications whatsoever to serve as any type of interventionist and the requirements for that kind of role are clearly spelled out in Delaware regulations. I have no idea why Simmens hasn’t been charged while the folks from Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover were a long time ago. All three situations were discovered at the same time. I sincerely hope someone is looking into this. I hope someone is talking and providing proof of this. There appears to be a massive cover-up, largely initiated by Taylor, to hide Audrey and Jake Erschen’s role in this never-ending saga. But he couldn’t have done this completely alone which raises much larger questions about involvement at higher levels. Meanwhile, many teachers and staff members await some type of exit by Chuck Taylor. They just want to teach children and help them to be successful. Aside from the many speed bumps in their driveway, they want the biggest speed bump to finally leave Providence Creek Academy… Chuck Taylor.
One source reached out to me today to relay what happened one time with Taylor and Erschen. When a parent was complaining, Erschen allegedly referred to the parent as an “uppity nigger from Jersey”. To which Taylor responded “they should go back to Africa”. When the teacher, followed by 17 other employees, demanded the Board remove Taylor and Erschen, they were told no. This was verified by multiple sources after I heard this.
Much of this article is based on information provided from those who have something to fear from Taylor. They are afraid of retribution. If this man can somehow stop a police investigation of a potential suspect’s home, what else is he capable of? Every single penny this school has spent must be looked at. Tomorrow, the State Board of Education has their monthly meeting beginning at 5pm. They do have public comment which you must sign up for 15 minutes before their meeting. Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will also sit with the State Board. I really think she needs to hear more about this. Not from just my articles, but from real Delawareans who have been a victim of Chuck Taylor’s wrath and abuse. Something to consider. It is time to come out of hiding. Taylor is not infallible. His reign must end. The “We’re Worried” group must unite and speak. It is time. The Board at PCA is ineffective. You would have more luck changing your eye color than to expect any type of change from them. Speak now or expect the same.
I do NOT want Providence Creek Academy to close. I believe it serves a need for students and their parents. But this madness in leadership needs to stop. I am not anti-charter. I am anti-abuse, whether that is leadership abuse, financial abuse, student abuse, or teacher abuse. I will not divulge my sources, but I do urge those sources to use their voice and speak for the students and teachers of Providence Creek Academy.