After waiting an extra ten days to put up the audio of their June board meeting, the future of the Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security is once again in doubt. Immediately into their board meeting, Margie Lopez-Waite resigned as President of their board and was than voted into the new Head of School position.
Former Head of School Herb Sheldon will now be their Director of Operations. During their board meeting, Lopez-Waite made a distinct point that Sheldon did a good job putting together a really nice job description for himself. Really?
In a very bizarre turn of events, their Director of Curriculum and Instruction will be Deborah Panchisin. This is not new. But the fact they are hiring her as a consultant through the Delaware Charter Schools Network is. When did DCSN get into the consultancy business? Did I mention Lopez-Waite is on the Governing Board of the DCSN? Funny how Panchisin doesn’t show up as a member of the DCSN staff on their website! At heart, DCSN are registered lobbyists, much like DSEA is for traditional school district and Charter School of Wilmington teachers. This is my take on this- Gregory Panchisin is Deborah Panchisin’s husband. He is the Chief Financial Officer at ASPIRA. If Panchisin were a direct hire at DAPSS it would show a very clear conflict of interest. But now that the Delaware Charter Schools Network is in the consultancy business, that clears that hurdle!
But for a school with 205 students, three administrative positions isn’t enough! Kathleen Chappel, a Las Americas ASPIRA math teacher will be DAPSS new Director of Culture and Climate. Kim Whyte, the Director of Cadet Services at DAPSS, will continue in that role overseeing special education and Response to Intervention. But here is the kicker on many of these administrative positions- they will be reporting to administrators at ASPIRA!
Sheldon will report to Greg Panchisin (husband of Deborah Panchisin), the Chief Financial Officer at ASPIRA. Whyte will report to the head of Education Enrichment at ASPIRA. And lest we forget, Margie Lopez-Waite is ALSO the Head of School at ASPIRA. I did listen to ASPIRA’s audio recording of their June 28th board meeting and none of these plans were discussed. So where is the open and public meetings for ASPIRA parents to hear about all this?
The future of Colonial School District becoming an authorizer for DAPSS is also in doubt. While this was supposed to be a sure thing during their formal review process, the DAPSS board left open the possibility Colonial isn’t on board with this. The DAPSS board discussed the option of asking the Delaware Secretary of Education, Dr. Susan Bunting, if they could have this condition removed as part of their probation. Look for that to happen around September.
This wouldn’t be the first time since their probation Dr. Bunting has assisted the school during their transition. Last month, Lopez-Waite requested a “special consideration” for funding of a CTE grant. These grants are for career pathways. Bunting approved the request even though the applications were due in November of 2017. Because of this “special consideration”, it seems to have emboldened Lopez-Waite into thinking Bunting is open to more of this type of thing. But if Bunting allows DAPSS to change their conditions mid-stream, this weakens her considerably. It shows that Bunting is malleable to charter schools.
In discussing educator positions at DAPSS, Lopez-Waite said they are okay with English-Language Arts but they are having a tough time filling Math and Science positions. So much so they are reaching out to Relay Graduate School and Teach For America. Lopez-Waite admitted she has never used TFA before at ASPIRA. If they do go that route for math teachers, they will use the Math Coalition to provide extra support for these novice teachers. For Spanish, ASPIRA plans to “share” one of their Spanish teachers with DAPSS.
None of these administrative changes appear on DAPSS’ website. The agenda for their June 25th board meeting did NOT show there was going to be a vote for a new Head of School. Which is something educators, staff, parents, and students were not given the opportunity to know about. The agenda for this meeting was put up on June 22nd, three days before the board meeting and right before a weekend. There was no public comment at this board meeting which tends to make me think no one was aware of what could happen. It is this kind of shadiness and duplicity that give charter schools a very bad name.
I emailed the Delaware DOE last Thursday to ask if DAPSS met the conditions of their probation they had to fulfill by June 30th. I also let them know the audio recording of their June 25th board meeting was not on their website. The next day the audio recording was up. As well, I received a response from Allison May at the DOE that any updates on the school would be given at the next State Board of Education meeting on July 19th. I also asked the DOE about DAPSS’ mishandling of petty cash funds I reported on June 16th. May told me the Charter School Office spoke to the school about it and the school assured them it was for field trips and student body activities. I responded to May that even if that were the case the school is still going over the thresholds with the Delaware Budget and Accounting Manual. I did not receive a response from May when I pointed that out. Which tells me no one is holding anyone accountable for petty cash overages based on the rules. Not the Auditor of Accounts, not the State Treasurer, not the Office of Management and Budget, and certainly not the Delaware DOE.
We have very clear conflicts of interest going on at DAPSS. If the Delaware DOE and the Charter School Office can’t see this they are blind! Bunting is in a very awkward position with all this. She is being played by Lopez-Waite. If Bunting allows DAPSS to modify the conditions of their own probation, it makes Bunting look like she doesn’t have her own ability to exert conditions for charter schools. Last I looked, Bunting runs the show, not Margie Lopez-Waite. And what about ASPIRA? Lopez-Waite is all over the place these days. She is now Head of School at both ASPIRA and DAPSS, she is on the Governing Board of DCSN, and it was just announced this week she will be on the Board of Directors at the Delaware Community Foundation. Sheldon is an enigma. This is the same guy who abuses petty cash laws but he is able to write his own job description? Isn’t that something the DAPSS’ board should do? What is the point of a charter school board if the President can resign and immediately become the Head of School and the former Head of School can write his own ticket to stay with the school?
I feel really bad for the staff, parents, and students at DAPSS. We can all agree the school needed improvements but the way Margie Lopez-Waite has taken over without input from parents, staff and students and been allowed to run the show is abhorrent.
As for our Delaware General Assembly, our legislators need to give our current charter school law a fresh look and see where the holes are. The fact these kind of things can even happen, with conflicts of interest and no financial accountability all over the map, shows our laws are very weak. Even though we haven’t had the financial abuse scandals of 2014-2015, there are still shenanigans aplenty. We need legislation that will clearly define what charter school boards can and can’t do. We need laws that would prevent someone from being on a charter school board and leveraging that position for their own financial benefit. I know there are many legislators that show overwhelming support of charter schools but that is to their own detriment when they fail to pass laws that would allow more transparency and accountability of how charter schools operate. Once again, I am NOT against charter schools. I am against the adults who play games like this for their own benefit. Because, at that point, it is NOT about the kids, it is about money and power.
When it is all said and done, how many teachers at DAPSS will have lost their jobs in favor of cheaper alternatives and novice teachers from Relay and Teach For America?
DAPSS did have several job postings on Join Delaware Schools but now they have none. It has come to my attention that there are jobs for DAPSS on Join Delaware Schools. I searched earlier today but was unable to find them using the full name of the school or DAPSS.
We are entering a new level of non-transparency with this one folks and it will only change until parents, teachers, and students start making noise like never before. DAPSS isn’t the only one. I’ve written recently about Odyssey Charter School’s issues. Many have suggested I look heavily into ASPIRA since many parents are choosing not to send their children back. This is the illusion of charter schools that wind up with wait lists. We simply don’t know how many students do not re-enroll. Charters that have a “Waite” list are not required to show their attrition. So it looks like “Oh, they have a weight list, they must be extremely popular and that would be a good school for my kid.” As Odyssey parents are learning, that is just smoke and mirrors. For DAPSS parents, it looks like the horror show is about to get a lot worse.