The Delaware Charter School Network became involved with the firestorm at Thomas Edison Charter School and that can only mean one thing: Kendall Massett is now in charge. The last time she entered the fray like this it resulted in Family Foundations Academy having their board completely gutted when the Eastside Charter School board took over back in January, 2015. I was able to find out a lot more about the school’s “foundation” account and that is the biggest farce of them all! Meanwhile, the school has violated FOIA many times through this and they are about to do the same tomorrow.
Both Delawareonline and WDEL had extensive articles on the whole thing. Both suggest that there were no police to remove Principal Salome Thomas-EL from the premises Thursday morning, but I’m not buying it. Edison Board President Ronald Pinkett’s statement to the media is confusing at best:
“Police were here yesterday, but they were not here necessarily to escort him out,” Pinkett said.
When asked why police were there, Pinkett backtracked even more with a very out there statement from left field:
When asked why police were present, Pinkett replied, “You do see this neighborhood, right?” and offered no further explanation. The school sits in a poor and blighted part of Wilmington.
Is Pinkett suggesting police are there all the time? Do they have a school resource officer? I would imagine Principal EL arrives at the school before most people. He is the leader of the school after all.
Pinkett clearly isn’t used to talking to the media because he actually said these words:
“All of your questions may never be answered,” he said.
What kind of lame-ass answer is that? When parents, teachers, and the media are screaming for transparency, that is not the time to go into duck and cover mode. Thank God Kendall was there to take the reins! But the part that really shows Kendall Massett taking charge is when she realized Pritchett might be saying too much when asked about the nature of EL’s departure:
When Pinkett was asked about this, Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network organization, interrupted to say that was a “personnel issue” that Pinkett could not answer. Pinkett then mumbled agreement with Massett’s interjection and offered no further information as she ushered him from the office to the cafeteria, ending the interview.
I can easily picture Kendall taking over at this point. She is the Director of a non-state paid lobbyist organization. Why is she “ushering” anyone around? I don’t see DSEA doing that with districts during tough times. It is as if Kendall told Pinkett, “When it gets too tough out there, we are getting the hell out of there, exit stage left!” This is why we need more qualified people on charter boards. I’m not saying ALL charter board members aren’t qualified for that kind of role, but they can literally pick anyone. At least with district board seat elections, if there is a contest, people can vote based on the merit of the candidate. With charters, it is at the whim of the other board members and some of these board members are lifers.
Here is the part NO ONE is talking about. If the Edison board voted to place Principal EL on leave, they had to vote on it. But the last board meeting that shows up on their website is from September 18th. And if that decision was made in an executive session, the board at Edison would HAVE TO come out of executive session and vote on the matter publicly. That did not happen according to their audio recording. So who made the decision to place EL on leave if the Board didn’t follow Delaware State Code with that kind of decision? I can count a large number of FOIA violations that have already occurred with all this and it looks like more are coming. Paging Matt Denn!
I believe EL was either removed by the police or the police were there in case he did show up. But either way, the police were definitely there. When I broke this story Thursday morning, that was what I heard from sources. It is very easy for the charter to backpedal on that decision and play it up for the media. If Principal EL advocated for the salary raises for the teachers and failed to obtain them, that is hardly a reason to oust the guy. Principal EL is well-known in not just Delaware, but also Philadelphia. He is a well-known author as well as his appearances on the Dr. Oz show. Some parents chose this school because of Principal EL. I would hope this board wasn’t that idiotic that they thought they could do this with no blowback. But I’ve seen some boards do some crazy stuff so anything is fair game I guess. Their timing is also extremely bizarre. Any Delaware charter school can tell you that during their charter renewal process that is NOT the time to change leadership and create controversy.
Tomorrow, the Board will have a meeting at 4pm. There is no public notice of this meeting which they have to have even if the whole meeting is in executive session. They have to appear publicly to announce they are going into Executive Session and when they come out. Don’t all the charter schools pay big bucks to get trained in this crap? Why do I have to constantly be the one to point this stuff out. Isn’t that YOUR job Kendall if you are going to come riding in on your white horse?
In the WDEL article, Wilmington City Councilman Vash Turner said:
I think they’re going to rectify, and hopefully, they decide that Principal EL can come back and be the Principal of the school.
I don’t know Turner, but I would guess he is also acting as some type of middleman here. I would hope Massett is advocating for a peaceful resolution to all this as well. It’s what the teachers and students deserve. But big kudos to the teachers for the sick-out yesterday! I kind of wish the Providence Creek Academy teachers did something like that when they formed their “We’re Worried” group and raised all sorts of ruckus over the summer. But I hope no one involved with this Edison affair is in whitewash mode here. Because that could not necessarily be good. See what I did there?
But what happens if there is NOT a quorum of the board there tomorrow? Can they create a resolution to this hot mess without a quorum? Or will we get the old high-fives and ignore the fact that transparency has gone out the window with this whole thing? That’s the true Delaware Way.
There are still burning questions with all this and those stem around the board’s “Foundation” account. I still want to see their bank statements. Ten to one they will NOT release them and claim some immunity to putting them out there. But I’m like a dog without a bone with that kind of thing and I don’t just roll over like others do. I want to see what kind of transactions are going on in that account. If it is solely for lease and renovations of the building, are the funds in that account being used for that purpose? Is the state depositing money into that account or is the school just transferring funds to that account? To give this some perspective, I know some district board’s have board accounts as part of the district budget. In Capital, I know it was $100,000 a couple of years ago and I believe Christina was $50,000. And what they don’t use gets rolled over. I remember the Capital board using some of those funds to buy new auditorium lighting for one of their middle schools. Once again Thomas Edison Board of Directors: If you have nothing to hide, there should be no reason why you can’t make that information public. Because it is taxpayer funds that are being used here.
In looking at their independent audit conducted by Haggerty & Haggerty, which the link can be found here, their are two main accounts at the school: Primary Government-Governmental Activities and Component Unit- Foundation. As of the end of FY2016, the total net position for that account was $3,980,392. and in FY2015 is was $3,753,994. Out of that FY2016 figure, it shows $3,620,580 is for capital assets (mortgage payments, school upkeep, etc.) but $359,812 is marked as unrestricted. Does that mean they can do whatever they want with those funds? No. Delaware has certain procedures for any payment that is entered into the state financial system. But is this account even in our state financial system? If it is funded by taxpayer dollars, it certainly should be. That is some serious coin. The audit actually shows them sending $275,000 to this account in FY2015. The audit even says:
The Foundation is a discretely presented component unit because of the significance of its financial relationship to the School.
I think I just answered my own question about the Foundation account:
Separate financial statements are provided for both governmental funds and the fiduciary fund, even though the fiduciary fund is excluded from the government-wide financial statements.
So is this foundation considered a legal foundation?
In addition, the component unit qualifies for the charitable contribution deduction under IRS Section 170 (b) (1) (A) and has been classified as an organization that is not a private foundation.
At the end of FY2016, the foundations custodian (bank account) was holding deposits of $457,579. This amount was over the guaranteed Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) limits by $207,579 according to Haggerty & Haggerty. That means if something happened to their bank, such as a bank failure, those deposits may not be returned to the organization creating a very huge credit risk. But the audit does say the component unit (foundation) subleases the property to the school. What the audit does not do is give a detailed analysis of how the funds are actually spent in this foundation account. And if this account is free from the state financial system, who is watching this account to make sure taxpayer funds are being used appropriately? If anything, this is a shell account. They are transferring taxpayer funds to an account that is not open to the public and has zero transparency. How is that even legal? Most “foundation” accounts when it comes to school are funds raised by donations or fundraisers. This is taxpayer money being siphoned off with zero accountability.
Even national education blogger Diane Ravitch wrote about Thomas Edison Charter School today. She had a whopper of a question at the end of her article:
Why would a charter school want to be known as having the lowest paid teachers in the state?
Because they can and they have been doing it for years. With a teacher population of around 35 or so teachers, I would hate to see what the turnover is. At one of their board meetings last Spring, one of the board members actually referred to the school as a stepping stone for teachers and actually suggested they don’t go out of their way to retain the teachers they have. That has to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard a board member say.
One thing I do want to make clear. Since all of this came out this week with Edison, I’ve noticed a huge upswing of hits for an article from 2015 about Thomas Edison being investigated by the State Auditor. They were under investigation, along with three other Delaware charter schools, but when the report came out a few months later there was nothing suspicious found from the Auditor of Accounts office. That investigation dealt with state purchase cards and personal reimbursements. I have no control over what articles show up under “related articles” through WordPress. They do that through some algorithm. I don’t tend to write much about Thomas Edison (until this week) so that could easily be the reason why.
I have to wonder how much of this will actually be brought up during the school’s charter renewal meetings with the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee meetings at the Delaware Dept. of Education this fall. That process starts next month. And part of that charter renewal is based on the board’s effectiveness to run the school. I’m not seeing an effective board at all. I see a group of people doing whatever they want, throwing transparency out the window, and making a mockery of Delaware State Code. They should be ashamed of themselves. Maybe the law doesn’t mean anything to this group of people, but it does to me and it does to a lot of Delawareans. You are openly spitting on that law with all this.
This should be about the students at the school, not wounded egos. They should, and always should, be the top priority behind every single decision made. I don’t see that here. I see parents worried about what is going on and this board is giving NO answers. I see students who wasted the day yesterday by going to school when there was none and now they are having an emergency day off Monday to give what will no doubt be a “Hey guys, let’s work it out” kind of thing. Meanwhile, parents who actually work probably had to come up with different arrangements yesterday and will on Monday as well. It’s not like it’s a snow day. It is a Monday at the end of September. Sorry, gonna say it… this board sucks!
For those who may not have seen the two below pictures, this is the stuff this board is sending out to parents. I love how in the second picture, they issue a press release on what happened on Friday and try to make it look like it is coming from the board and Principal EL. Isn’t the guy on indefinite leave? So why are they putting his name on a press release?
Yeah, I’m going to doubt this apology will soothe parents who can’t work on Monday. If nothing was more important than your students, and Principal EL did nothing more than fight for teacher salaries, then this board has failed in their obligation to make it about the students. Shame, shame, shame…
Updated, 8:30pm, 9/24/2017: This article contained several errors where I referred to Ronald Pinkett as “Pritchett”. My apologies to anyone who got confused over this.