DOE Develops A Case Of Pretendonitis With Education Funding Transparency Meeting

The Delaware Department of Education held their first public meeting for Senate Bill #172 which is supposed to show clear transparency with education funding so people can compare how much schools are spending compared to other schools.  The poorly attended event, filled with the usual stakeholders and barely anyone from the general public, showcased a Department that really doesn’t know what this bill means or what they plan to do with it.  In other words, they have a scorching case of pretendonitis.

After Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave an introduction, State Senator David Sokola talked about what the bill was meant to do.  DOE’s Director of Operations, Chuck Longfellow, took it from there.  He showed slides of things that have not been released to the public.

I have to give a retired teacher credit.  I didn’t catch her name.  She explained that SB #172 is putting the cart before the horse.  Since we have so many issues with coding of education expenditures, we need to fix that problem first.  Amen!  Even Senator Sokola seemed to agree with this.

The DOE seemed confused about what the ESSA mandate means.  Longfellow, when asked about certain definitions such as “community service” expenditures, didn’t know what it meant.  This is the DOE’s chief finance guy.  A former Chief Financial Officer for Appoquinimink School District.  And he doesn’t know what something means for this transparency thing they are working on.  Okay.

They allowed the “public” to comment.  This became more of a question and answer vessel than true public comment.  Until it came to me.  I had a lot to say.  Much of what I said is nothing I haven’t already written about.  However, this was the first time I addressed the allegations against Bunting in a public forum, with her in attendance.

Who watches the Watchmen?

The sins of the past will catch up with you.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

For the past four years, I have been closely monitoring the Delaware Dept. of Education. Why?  Because no one else was really doing it.  I found many irregularities and behavior that was just plain odd.  I found many situations where the DOE turned a blind eye to financial mismanagement in charter schools and traditional school districts.

These aren’t things you read about in the News Journal or Delaware State News. It can only be found on the cobwebs of the internet, on blogs. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone in this room that Delaware does not know how to oversee education funding. Even though there are standard codes for different expense categories, no one follows those codes with fidelity.  Even worse, there is absolutely no enforcement when they are not followed.  That IS the DOE’s responsibility and legal obligation.  They have failed, time and time again, to do what is required of them in state code.

Now we are here. We are being asked to trust this Department in good faith that they know what they are doing.  They are led by a Secretary, who during her time as a Superintendent in Indian River, knew about financial allegations against her Chief Financial Officer and did nothing about it.  Even when asked years later, she said the district had no idea.  This same Secretary is in charge of developing a transparency system so we can understand how our taxpayer dollars are spent in public education.

It is the elephant in the room. This Department was well aware of false enrollments at Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security.  It put the school on formal review.  It was not mentioned once during their formal review process.  As a result, the school was allowed to stay open.  As many are aware, that school closed last week.  Not by a decision of the DOE but because more false student enrollments made them financially insolvent.

We can no longer afford to have secrets be more important than transparency. We can no longer afford to have a state agency cover for others so a scandal doesn’t get out.  Eventually, the truth comes out.  There are still good people in this state who will make sure of that.  But as a result, not many in this state trust the DOE.  You will never hear an apology or any accountability coming from the DOE.  They will either give a no comment or “we stand ready to assist”.  This is no longer acceptable. 

Senate Bill #172 is a start but it is not what we need. Any exclusions to school wide reporting will only cause the battle to be lost.  While Delaware is doing this three years after the passage of ESSA, this is something the DOE should have implemented years ago.  Instead, under the DOE’s watch, we have Indian River School District, Sussex Tech, Family Foundations Academy, Providence Creek Academy, Academy of Dover, and now DAPSS.  There are probably more we don’t know about. 

Until every single penny in education funding is readily available to be seen, I will not give up. Someone commented on my blog the other day about how people didn’t want the DOE to be the hammer.  What that commenter failed to understand is the people of Delaware didn’t want the DOE to be a hammer over faulty standardized test scores and atrocious teacher evaluations based on those test scores.  The people have no problem with the DOE making sure our districts and charters are spending money for students first and not allowing schools to hide embezzlement.  Until the DOE can be that hammer, I will be the hammer on the DOE, pounding them every single chance I get.

Dan Shelton, Superintendent of Capital School District, asked some pointed questions about coding.  He said things at the district level could be harder to break down to a school level.  Robert Overmiller, with the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Exceptional Citizens, urged the DOE to make sure special education funding for students with disabilities is more transparent.  Kristin Dwyer with the Delaware State Education Association had questions about what “fees for student services” meant.  Longfellow wasn’t very clear on his answer.  Neil Kirschling with the Rodel Foundation asked about the timetable and how 2018 data will look very different than 2019 data.  Longfellow explained this will be based on data sent to the DOE by districts and charters.  But since they are still trying to define what the definitions are it will look different.  Gotta agree with Kirschling.  This is number salad!  State Auditor candidate Kathy McGuiness showed up but she had no questions or public comment.  Soon to be Senator Tizzy Lockman showed up and I was impressed by that!

It seems like the DOE is pretending to know what they are talking about with this when it is obvious they really don’t.  Which was exactly why I sent them a proposal to lay the groundwork for education coding.  They rejected that proposal, once by ignoring me, and the second time by flat-out rejecting it.  I imagine Bunting has no love for me and I’m okay with that.  But it’s not about her ego, it’s about kids.  I would have loved to chat with her about all this but she left the room the second the meeting was over.  Usually folks will mill around and chat, herself included.  Nope, she left the room like a hot potato.  I imagine she is suffering from pretendonitis like anyone else at the Delaware DOE involved with this.  This debilitating condition when you think you know what you are talking about and you really don’t.

Future meetings will be held in Sussex and New Castle County.  I hope the DOE gets their act together and more members of the public show up.  But once again, nobody trusts the Delaware DOE and assumes this smoke and mirrors dog and pony show is going nowhere fast.  Meanwhile, the hammer falls.

Thanks to Robert Overmiller for providing me pictures of the non-public slides in the Longfellow presentation which you can see below.

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