State Board of Education Renews Charter For Academy of Dover

The Delaware State Board of Education renewed the charter for Academy of Dover.  This will give the school a period of five years, as every established Delaware charter gets, until their next renewal.  But there were some concerns from the State Board of Education.

The topic of Academy of Dover’s enrollment was the talking point for the State Board in discussing their charter renewal.  Their numbers, as I reported a couple of months ago, have been declining.  If those numbers don’t start increasing, they could face the unfortunate prospect of dipping below the state required 80% of their enrollment.  By state law, all charters must be at 80% of their approved enrollment by April 1st for the next school year.  If a Delaware charter does not meet their numbers, they are placed under formal review with the Delaware State Board of Education.  That process is somewhat similar to the charter renewal process but focuses more on the subject that places them under that review.  But it is still a daunting task.

For now, I’m sure Academy of Dover is celebrating their renewal but with a bit of apprehension.  As Capital expands their programming, which is the main feeder pattern for Academy of Dover, the charter school will have to step up their game to compete with Capital and Campus Community School, their main charter school competition in Dover.  Time will tell!

Charter School Accountability Committee Recommends Charter Renewal For Academy of Dover With No Conditions

This will be short and sweet, but the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee voted on Monday to recommend the Academy of Dover for charter renewal with no conditions.  The committee, created through the Delaware Dept. of Education Charter School Office, will issue their final report next week.  In December, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will make his recommendation to the State Board of Education at their monthly meeting.  The State Board will then have a vote on Academy of Dover’s charter renewal.

One major thing that came up at their initial committee meeting last month was their enrollment.  It dipped this year and has been on that trend.  The committee advised Academy of Dover that if this trend continues they could face major obstacles in the future which could put them in a very precarious financial position.  Charter schools in Delaware are required to be at 80% of their approved enrollment by April 1st before the next school year.  If they don’t, they go on formal review.  This will be something Academy of Dover will have to deal with going forward until they get their numbers back up.

I think the closure of any school is a very serious decision and if it has to happen, it better be for some damn good reasons.  Academy of Dover is not anywhere close to that level.  I will do a follow-up on this when the report comes out next week.

Academy Of Dover’s Do Or Die Moment Has To Happen NOW!

Academy of Dover is up for charter renewal this fall.  The Secretary of Education will announce his recommendation at the December State Board of Education meeting and then the State Board will vote on it.  The school has a gigantic hurdle to overcome: their enrollment.

Today, the Charter School Accountability Committee released the report from their initial  meeting with Academy of Dover on October 10th.

Mr. Blowman noted that the school’s enrollment has declined steadily over the years, from 308 students in school year 2013-14 to 247 students this school year.

That is a very serious drop!  Their approved charter enrollment is 300 students.  Charters can’t go below 80% of that, so their magic number is 240.  How bad is it?  To put things in perspective, they decreased their Kindergarten classes from 3 to 2 this year because of lower enrollment.  That is their bread and butter for future growth.

Ms. Johnson stated that if the current 2016-17 enrollment is projected out based on the trends to date, the school would be at 46% enrollment in four years, well below the required 80%. She added that this trend is occurring at every grade level versus one particular cohort. She reiterated that the school must provide a strong plan to mitigate this year’s reduced kindergarten enrollment and the low year-to-year retention rates.

Teacher retention was also an issue, but Academy of Dover is not immune to this issue.  Many charters and districts regularly suffer through this process each year.

This is my problem with charter school renewals.  So much of it is based on standardized test scores.  Far too much of it.  I can’t sit here and mock charters about low test scores while demonizing them in traditional schools.  This very huge flaw in education is universal.  For any school to feel they have to create a “Smarter Balanced Boot Camp” to drive up scores shows exactly what is wrong with the system to begin with.  This school already has a long day, from 7:45 to 3:30.  By keeping struggling students until 5pm and factoring in transportation, that is half of a student’s day.  Gone.

One thing I was very happy to see was a minor modification request submitted by Academy of Dover to reduce their number of school days from 200 to 180.  Citing a lot of absenteeism of students the first two weeks of school and the last two weeks, the school said they are listening to parents.  But of course the DOE has to pick that apart as well.

I believe the DOE needs to take a strong look at their Charter School Accountability Committee.  The non-voting members, at least two of them, had a lot to say during this meeting.  More than I’ve seen in a long time.  But when one of the voting members could potentially stand to gain if the school shut down… that I have a huge problem with.

The next Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, where the committee will give their final recommendation, will occur in late November or early December.  I think the school has come a long way since the Noel Rodriguez days.  I think they realize what their major mistakes were and have attempted to take swift action.  The addition of Gene Capers, a former Principal from Capital School District, as a curriculum director, was a stroke of genius.  Cheri Marshall has come a long way.  While she was thrust into a position of leadership based on another person’s wrong actions, she has grown in that role.  I saw a confidence in her at the renewal meeting last week that I didn’t see during their formal review a year and a half ago.  While this may seem to be too little too late for those who are no longer at the school, no human being can change the past but they can try to make a better future.

I gave this school a very hard time the past couple of years.  So much of that surrounded a central theme: transparency.  I think the combination of Rodriguez’ shenanigans, special education issues, and their start and stop time of the school year are playing a major part in their current enrollment woes.  My recommendation: approve their minor modification and let them stay open.  See what happens in the fall.  If their enrollment falls below 80%, the DOE will be forced to follow the law.  But give them a chance.  We have had far too many charter schools close that serve minority and low-income populations the past few years.  It is not good.  They have to get special education right, but they are not the only school in this state struggling with that.  We must, as a state, clearly define a better strategy for special education and make sure all schools are consistent with that path.

 

 

Academy Of Dover: IRS Issues, Mold, Legal Fees, & Settlement Issues

Back in March, I found something incredible in regards to how the Internal Revenue Service revoked the 501c3 corporation status of Academy in Dover back in 2012 for failing to file their 990 tax forms for three consecutive years.  It appears they did get this status reinstated with the IRS, but it could also shed some light on their current financial issues.

AoD501c3IRS

I won’t pretend to know who a corporation, even a charter school, goes about getting their 501c3 status reinstated by the IRS.  But they did, on 2/15/2016.  The article I posted in March did not show that date at the bottom the above picture.  But I was contacted by the school who told me they were able to work things out with the IRS.  I was not given the nature of the resolution, but something else I found last night could show possible expenses at the school.

For each year Academy of Dover did not file their tax returns, there could have been continuing IRS penalties.

IRS Tax Penalties For 501c3 Not Filing Returns

The IRS defines gross receipts as:

Gross receipts are the total amounts the organization received from all sources during its annual accounting period, without subtracting any costs or expenses.

So if Academy of Dover received over $1 million during any of the years they didn’t file (which they did), they could still be on the hook for a lot of fines.  If the IRS revoked their status in 2012, based on not filing for three consecutive years, and they just filed their 2014 tax return this year (which would be the tax year they got an extension on last year to file by this February), that means they are looking at a minimum of five tax returns that were not filed on time, if at all.  The only one they have posted on their website is the 2014 one.  Guidestar.org, a popular website that shows tax returns for non-profits, only shows the 2014 return as well.  So say they didn’t file a return for five years.  That could be a maximum of $50,000 for each year, totaling $250,000.00.  That could certainly throw a monkey wrench into their budget, especially since they already paid $500,000 over the past fifteen months as part of their settlement to Mosaica.  Adding to this is another settlement in the amount of $30,000 that was due by the end of the year as per their May board minutes.  The minutes did show that half of that would be covered by their insurance.  But with potential IRS penalties up to $250,000 depending on the number of actual years they didn’t file, a $50,000 payment to Mosaica, and another $15,000 settlement, this school sure does rack up the expenses that may not have been necessary if someone didn’t drop the ball somewhere.  Keep in mind, aside from what insurance paid ($15,000), all of this comes from your pocket Delaware taxpayers.

I am merely speculating on this.  They could have reached a deal with the IRS.  As well, they may not face penalties for the years between the revocation of their corporate status with the IRS and when they were reinstated.  Either way though, it is frightening this was never brought up during their various formal reviews, charter renewals, and other DOE “oversight”.  But it is something the board should openly discuss at their next board meeting.  If the Delaware DOE doesn’t address this during their charter renewal process this fall I would be shocked.  Charter schools are required by Delaware law to post their 990 IRS tax returns on their website, something many of them are guilty of not doing.  Better to get it out in the open now.  I don’t see anything in their board minutes aside from the board approving their latest tax return, which is also part of Delaware law for charter schools.

There is one matter which was sent to me anonymously by someone who did not want to be identified.  Apparently, when it rains up to half of the school can flood.  Their sewer gets backed up.  When this happens, students are sent to one side of the building.  Further complicating these issues is a matter of potential mold at the school.  I haven’t seen this addressed in any of the board meetings.  But if there is mold present, that could be very serious for anyone in the building especially if there are spores released into the air.

I have no doubt much of this could be traced back to Noel Rodriguez for some of the years he led the school.  The man was not competent to lead the school, much less do the right thing when it came to the school’s finances.  But he has been gone from the school for almost two years now.  The school could have very well spent a lot of that time trying to reach an agreement with the IRS, on top of the Mosaica issue.  But now is the time for the board and the school to open up about these matters.  It could very well save them from getting their charter revoked!

 

Academy On The Cliffs Of Dover Money Woes… Again…

I’m pretty sure a lot of readers won’t get my tongue in cheek title to this article unless you happen to like the Righteous Brothers. And not just the song from “Ghost”. What is going on at Academy of Dover now? In their most recent board minutes, from 6/23/16, there were several items that raised red flags.  To a casual observer, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal.  But knowing their history, it spoke volumes.

There are financial issues going on. There was discussion about the settlement with Mosaica, their former management company.  Last year, the school was ordered to pay on a judgment by the Superior Court for an amount over a million dollars.  Along with some academic issues, this caused them to go under formal review with the Delaware Department of Education.  The eventual outcome was probation until 6/30/16.

Academy of Dover reached a $650,000 settlement with Mosaica, of which $500,000 has been verified as paid. The remaining $150,000 due to Mosaica was broken up in three payments of $50,000 due by the end of July for the next three years.  A payment of $50,000, based on the original settlement, was due to Mosaica by 7/31/16.  At their June board meeting though, there was discussion about settling again with Mosaica.  There was talk about “the monetary issues dealing with the Mosaica issue”. The board voted on a motion regarding this “monetary issue” with a bizarre footnote that one of their board members, Dr. Charles Fletcher, had voted no on the Mosaica settlement.

Further adding to the financial mystery, the board announced they had a silent auction for “items sitting in the shed for two years” on June 16th.  They didn’t reveal how much revenue they received from this endeavor nor why it was held.  There was talk during a board meeting some months ago about trying to sell items former Principal Noel Rodriguez purchased illegally with school funds.  Rodriguez returned many of the items to the school.

While not completely verified, the school is having some staffing issues.  Rumor has it they got rid of their entire special education staff and will have about nine new teachers this year.  While they showed increases in their Smarter Balanced scores across the board, that doesn’t always translate into more students.  They appear to be down in enrollment but not to the level where their charter would be affected.  But they are up for charter renewal this fall, so expect to hear a lot more about this.

Back to their finances, what is interesting is their final FY2016 budget.  It appears the school overestimated on a lot of their expenditures.  As a result, they will have to base their FY2017 budget on those final expenditure amounts based on Delaware state law.  This could be causing some of their financial issues as well.

I got the above part wrong folks!  Sorry about that!

And then there is always the looming shadow about Noel Rodriguez.  Will Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn ever press charges against him?  As always, we wait… and wait… and wait…

 

Will Academy Of Dover Survive Charter Renewal?

The Academy of Dover is going through the very laborious charter renewal process with the Delaware Department of Education.  On April 30th, the DOE gave the school their renewal report and AoD had 16 days to respond.  The school had a rough couple years.  Between a very damaging state auditor report on their former head of school embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, low high-stakes testing scores, a very large settlement with a former management company, and compliance issues, they have had their hands full.  The former assistant principal now leads the school.  A former principal from Town Pointe Elementary School in Capital School District runs the curriculum now.  The board has shifted and received training in areas that caused some of the problems.  Will it be enough?

This charter renewal comes at an interesting time.  The 2014-2015 school year was the first year Smarter Balanced came into play.  As such, the scores from that year don’t really count, but the DOE is using the ratings from the Delaware School Success Framework as a substitute for their Academic Framework.  Let me say from the start, I feel bad for charter schools in the respect that the state assessment plays such a large part in anything going on with the DOE.  AoD has a large population of low-income and minority students who typically fare worse on these tests than other schools.

Other factors that could affect their renewal involve Noel Rodriguez, their local school district, and the scores from the 2015-2016 SBAC.  The former Head of School, Noel Rodriguez, will face charges at some point.  I know of at least one other Delaware charter where the Attorney General’s office recently issued subpoenas about their own similar issues.  Yet another Delaware charter had their board file for insurance claims due to embezzlement at their own school from former leaders.  So something is coming which will put the school in the spotlight when Rodriguez faces charges.  However, this issue already came up in their 2015 formal review and they were not shut down for it then so the DOE should not put them under the same scrutiny twice.

Capital School District, under the new leadership of Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton, is looking at their own district with their Strategic Plan.  What comes out of that, to improve the district, could affect AoD in the long run in terms of enrollment.  But it should have no bearing on their renewal process.

The scores from the recent Smarter Balanced Assessment for the school will not play into their academic framework since it is not a part of the renewal report, but the impression could taint the process.  Once again, I will stress my opinion these should not even factor into their charter renewal, but the DOE and I do not agree on this point.

I will admit I have softened my stance on Delaware charter schools a bit.  My own experience with them tainted my view a bit.  I still don’t agree with some of their very discriminatory practices up in Wilmington and the only one in Sussex County.  But I believe they are just as much a victim as traditional school districts are with the DOE in terms of very bad regulations, mandates, and accountability.  Academy of Dover and I had a frosty relationship in the past, but that has warmed up a bit in recent months.  Many of the complaints against most charter schools are a result of politics and tainted legislation by people in Dover who should really know better.   I believe the Delaware Charter Schools Network adds immensely to the perceptions against charters.  With that caveat, Academy of Dover has a former State Representative on their board who does carry a bit of clout in Kent County so politics can play a part to help the school.

Many of the issues with Academy of Dover are well-known by the DOE and have come up before in formal reviews.  There really aren’t any new complaints which suggests the school has fixed many of the issues since Noel Rodriguez left.  No school is perfect, but Academy of Dover seems to have turned a lot around in the past year and a half.  Rodriguez controlled the school and left a considerable amount of damage in his wake.

My one concern in the below response from the school is this 11 week Smarter Balanced Boot Camp after school for struggling students.  In this era of high-stakes accountability, schools are under the gun for kids to do well on these tests.  But they can go overboard with this effort.  Calling anything a boot camp with education is a bad idea in my opinion.  It suggests a dire need for these kids to do well on these tests regardless of the cost.  The sooner we can get schools to stop giving in to this very bad proficiency environment, the better things will be in the long run.  It gives the Delaware DOE all the power.  But I also don’t run a school with that kind of pressure thrust upon me so it is easy for me to say that.

I know the school had special education issues in the past, but we won’t know until June how they may have improved.  That is when the DOE issues their special education compliance annual reports.  However, those are usually about three years behind and would reflect the height of the Noel Rodriguez era so that should be taken into consideration as well.  Special education is a hot mess in Delaware overall.  There seems to be a mass amount of confusion between Response to Intervention and true special education.  This is an ongoing issue that will only get worse if we stay in this high-stakes accountability environment.

Dr. Steven Godowsky, the Delaware Secretary of Education will issue his final recommendation to the State Board of Education at their December 15th board meeting where they will vote on Academy of Dover’s charter renewal.

Below is the charter renewal report from the Delaware DOE and Academy of Dover’s response:

 

 

Academy of Dover Is Not A 501c3 Corporation As Stated In Their Charter, DOE Needs To Revoke Their Charter Now

The Academy of Dover is not listed as a 501c3 corporation with the Internal Revenue Service.  The Academy of Dover’s charter, which firmly states they are a 501c3 non-profit corporation, is not real.  The Delaware Department of Education put the charter school under formal review last year.  This was their fourth formal review in 12 years.  This did not come up at all during that process.  As well, their auditor, Barbacane, Thornton, & Company LLP, wrote about this in the last three years of audits they did for the school.

AcademyofDoverIRSRevocation

For the past three years, their auditor made note of this in their yearly audit of the school.  Each year provides a link to the full audit:

2013

AoD13AuditPt1

AoD13AuditPt2

2014

AoD14Audit

2015

AoD15Audit

And yet, for all three years, it states the exact same thing.  Ironically, the link for their 2012 audit, which may have shed some light on this situation, comes up as a blank pdf file.

How has this never been publicly disclosed until now?  Actually, it was disclosed a few years ago but it was buried in a comment section on Kilroy’s Delaware.  It was during July of 2013, which as any blogger can tell you isn’t exactly a big audience at that time of the year.  Especially an education blog!  But a commenter wrote exactly what I am telling you now but no one picked up the baton and ran with it.

But this tells me this information has been out there for a while now.  I would have a very hard time believing nobody at the Delaware DOE knew this.  I’m sure they read the annual audits.  But the fact these audits say the exact same thing three years in a row is astonishing.  With the school involved in a $2 million dollar lawsuit as well as former Head of School Noel Rodriguez’ personal theft of school funds, how does this not come up at all?  Who is reading these audits at the DOE?

The oversight for Delaware DOE authorized charters falls on the DOE.  It was right in front of them the whole time and I have never seen it publicly questioned.  It never came up in their formal review meetings last spring.  I know this because I attended all the meetings.  Transparency and this school have never been the best of friends.  But this… the DOE needs to act.  Their 501c3 status was revoked over four years ago.  They have been operating in the dark for over four years.  Granted, they could be trying to work things out with the IRS.  But if they aren’t a 501c3, even though they are still listed as such with the Delaware Department of Corporations…

AoDcertofinc.

And if anyone is wondering why charters need more oversight, this is exactly why.  Avi at Newsworks wrote an excellent article today about more charters under investigation in Delaware, including ones that were already under past investigations.  I’m just going to come right out and say Senate Bill 171 would give us more of what we have: fraud, lies, and auditors copying and pasting the same information year after year.  House Bill 186 would allow information, like what I am writing now, the ability to be seen.  Who knows what other skeletons are buried out there in Delaware charters?

Title14Charter990

One last thought…charter schools are required by the State of Delaware, in Title 14, paragraph 509, that they must have their IRS Tax Form 990 on their website.  Academy of Dover has not had this on their website since at least 2008 since the IRS said they hadn’t posted a return the last three years in 2011.  So we have a law and nobody is making sure this even happens?  Hello Jack Markell… this is transparency calling… your DOE has a lot of explaining to do.  But let’s get Academy of Dover taken care of first.  They have been out of compliance with their approved charter for over four years.  It’s time the DOE and the non-elected State Board of Education make a real decision instead of “probation” four times…

 

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: The Charter Thieves

The biggest Delaware charter school news this year definitely belonged to the three charter bandits: Sean Moore, Tennell Brewington, and Noel Rodriguez.  The first two were the heads of school at Family Foundations Academy while Rodriguez belonged to Academy of Dover.  Altogether, the trio managed to abscond over $300,000 of school funds for personal purchases.  And that was just the verified amount.  Over $1.3 million could not be verified as school or personal purchases by the Auditor of Accounts in Delaware.  That is some serious coin!

Luckily, none of them are currently employed by the schools.  *Brewington surfaced at Christiana in the Emotional Therapeutic Support classroom as a one-on-one teacher.  Shortly before Thanksgiving she was no longer there.  Moore and Rodriguez have been very quiet.  Rodriguez was last seen at the Amazon Distribution Center in Middletown but he was let go around the same time the auditor investigation into Academy of Dover came out last June.

Many are wondering why the three are not in jail.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle, a huge supporter of charters in Delaware, was wondering the same thing.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said his office is looking into the matter.  This is why State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 needs to pass, which would make all charter school audits go through Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  Resistance from the Delaware Charter Schools Network reached a fever pitch last Spring, even resulting in the non-profit recruiting parents to fill out an online form on their website which automatically went to the Delaware legislators.  The bill passed the House on June 30th, but every single House Republican voted no along with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and Chair of the House Education Committee Earl Jaques.  When the legislators return in January, this bill will be in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.

In October, Wagner’s office released a report that showed some other charter schools that had very suspect incidents of financial abuse.  Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep’s incidents were not as egregious as those of Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, but they are still a pattern that needs to change at Delaware charter schools.  In years past, Pencader Business School and Delaware Military Academy were also investigated for misuse of state funds.  While this is certainly not indicative of all charters in Delaware, it is far too many.  Education is about students, not a personal ATM machine!

*This article has been corrected to give a more accurate read on where Dr. Tennell Brewington wound up.  Apologies for the error!

So Which School Did Newark Charter Want To Join Their “Coalition”?

On Friday night, I put up a post about the Newark Charter School Coalition and how they met with an Assistant at a charter South of the Canal resulting in the firing of said employee.  As I wrote the other night, the principal was not privy to this conversation and was none too pleased when she found out about it.  Oh wait, I didn’t say she, did I?  So which charter was it?  There aren’t too many in Kent and Sussex. Continue reading “So Which School Did Newark Charter Want To Join Their “Coalition”?”

Say It Ain’t So! Academy of Dover Violating Probation Terms With DOE! **UPDATED**

In a shocking and unexpected announcement yesterday, the Academy of Dover is not meeting the terms of their probation!  Once again, it is all related to financial transparency!  Seems they can’t get their act together…

When will they ever learn?  And do I mean the DOE or Academy of Dover?  Both!  This school has been flaunting the rules for years now.  The DOE needs to shut them down.  If they aren’t following the terms of their probation (which I think they got off very easy with), they need to go back on formal review!

UPDATED, 8/21/15, 1:47PM: I reached out to DOE Public Information Officer Alison May to find out if the State Board of Education acted on the news Academy of Dover is in violation of their probation terms, and she indicated they did NOT take any formal decision on the violations.

They should have always had a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  The fact they can’t even get this group to meet regularly with the majority of members to actually show up is sending a clear message to citizens and parents of Delaware: we will do what we want and the DOE will let us.  Only the DOE can reverse this arrogant trend!

And the oddest part about this report? The last page entitled “Good News” with a blank page. This says it all!

Academy of Dover Gets A New Assistant Principal…From The DOE!!!!

Chantel Janiszewski, formerly with the Delaware Department of Education, has taken a position of assistant principal at the Academy of Dover charter school.  At the DOE, Janiszewski served as a Deputy Lead of Penny Schwinn’s branch, the area where accountability and assessment are the big deal.

I met her once, at the DOE Town Hall meeting for parents and citizens last fall.  This was a presentation given by the DOE over the new “school report card” accountability system approved by the US DOE in the flex waiver requests.  Most parents weren’t too keen on this new system, meant to grade schools.

Prior to working in Schwinn’s branch, she worked in the Charter School Office for a couple years.  Between the DOE, the Laurel school district, and University of Delaware, Janiszewski has hopped around quite a bit in different education positions in Delaware.

Academy of Dover definitely needs new leadership given the events that culminated in their formal review.  They are still on probation status, but no updates have been reported on the DOE website.  The other three charters that were on formal review have reported in as required, but nothing from the embattled Academy of Dover.  Janiszewski’s LinkedIn account shows she started her new role in July 2015.  As well, the Academy of Dover website shows her as assistant principal as well.  If anything, Janiszewski’s time with the Charter School Office at the DOE should make anyone at Academy of Dover crystal clear on what they need to be accountable for.  Cheri Marshall is listed as the Principal of the school.

I wish Chantel Janiszewski all the luck in the world, and I certainly hope it lasts longer than her last administrator position… http://www.wboc.com/story/12933479/seaford-high-school-principal-resigns-interim-leader-named

Del. State News Article: Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez Going To Attorney General’s Office

“The Auditor’s office was concerned by the length of time the alleged financial mismanagement continued while under the oversight of the Board of Directors, Department of Education, independent auditors, Innovative Schools, the Charter School Accountability Committee, and Division of Accounting.”

According to an article by Craig Anderson with the Delaware State News, the State Auditor’s office in Delaware sent their audit report on Academy of Dover to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office.  What the article had, which I haven’t seen before, is this:

Also, the Auditor’s office alleged, “Given the magnitude of the problem at (Academy of Dover), there may well have been additional exceptions prior to July 2011.”

Once again, this article states the State Auditor’s office receive an anonymous tip on their fraud hotline regarding ex-principal Noel Rodriguez’ rampant and unauthorized spending.  Rodriguez is trying to find a seat on a non-profit board, according to Anderson.  A few sources have told me Rodriguez was working at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Middletown, DE until he was let go once the news came out about the allegations leveled against him in the Auditor’s report.

Many have wondered why Rodriguez is being made an example of while they dynamic duo from Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, got a get out of jail free card.  According to a letter to the DOE, Moore and Brewington settled with the school and hints the attorney general’s office was involved in this financial settlement after they pilfered over $90,000 from that charter school.  But one thing to consider is the State Auditor has not officially released a report on Family Foundations Academy yet.  They started an investigation into Academy of Dover in August, 2014, and their report came out last month.  So if it takes roughly ten months, we might see a report on Family Foundations Academy by September.  The $90,000 figure was based on a forensic audit done by Auphsite Consulting, but I have a suspicion the State Auditor will discover a much higher amount of fraud by Moore and Brewington.

As for Rodriguez, it will be interesting to see what his next move will be.  Will he attempt to offer a plea bargain?  If there were others involved in criminal financial mischief at the school, I could see Rodriguez pointing the finger.  The next few months should be interesting for all seven of the charter schools under some type of investigation or review with the State Auditor’s office.  I am very curious what kind of financial issues are under investigation with Providence Creek Academy…

Delaware Attorney General Office Investigating Ex-Principal Noel Rodriguez of Academy of Dover

According to an article on WBOC’s website, former Academy of Dover Principal Noel Rodriguez is being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust division of the Delaware Attorney General’s office.  This office, which opened in January when Attorney General Matt Denn took office, also investigated the former heads of school at Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, but no charges were filed in that case.

The heat is on for charter schools after this report came out.  With seven charters under investigation by the State Auditor, Tom Wagner, you can be sure legislators will be pushing for radical change.  One of them, State Rep. Kim Williams, finally got her House Bill 186 released from the House Education Committee after Chair Earl Jaques sat on it for a week.  The bill goes to the House for a full vote, but it is not on any agenda yet.  Furthermore, even if it passes the House, it would go to the Senate Education Committee, which probably won’t convene again until January 2016 when the legislators take their 6 month hiatus.

Academy of Dover State Audit Report Released! State Board of Education & Murphy Should Revoke Their Charter!!!

“A clear and consistent message is needed from all state agencies about fiscal accountability over all charter school funds including local funds.”

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office released their report on Academy of Dover, and it is much worse than anyone thought.  Here are the highlights:

-Academy of Dover has no contract with their financial management organization, Innovative Schools, which could set up another legal situation for them…

-For three years, Rodriguez used $127,866 in school funds for personal use, the state was unable to determine if ANOTHER $129,458 was for school or personal use…

-The school had a sexual harassment lawsuit in which they settled, costing the school out-of-pocket over $36,000 in legal fees and over $97,000 in insurance funds.  This was due to Noel Rodriguez, the former principal…

-Academy of Dover kept allowing Rodriguez to use his cell phone until March 2015 even though he resigned in October 2014, added an additional $1,696 in charges…

-Academy of Dover’s average class size is 19 to 1, drastically lower than most traditional school districts, but the average student to adult ratio is 10 to 1…

-In trying to seek guidance on the overall purpose of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the organization did not respond to that request…

-During the three year spending spree, there was no oversight from any of the following organizations: Academy of Dover, their board, DOE, Charter School Accountability Committee, Division of Accounting, independent auditors or Innovative Schools…

-Rodriguez had a “special relationship”, according to the below report, with a music teacher. As well, he treated employees to Happy Hour numerous times, reimbursed them for alcohol purchases, and gave bonuses to teachers with NO board approval…

“Charter schools consistently receive instruction from DOE, Division of Accounting (DOA), and OMB that they may use their local funds as they deem appropriate, which is inconsistent with laws and regulations.”

The below document, produced by Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner, is a sickening and disgusting look at over three years of taxpayer funds going towards one man’s addiction to material items.  We know from last week’s House Education Committee meeting, seven Delaware charter schools are under review by the State Auditor.  It is time to wake up Delaware, and change this system of fraud and abuse.  Starting with the DOE, because based on what I’m seeing in this report, Academy of Dover needs to be shut down.  They had zero oversight over Rodriguez for over three years.  And they continued to give him special privileges with a cell phone after he “resigned”.  Their probation needs to be revoked and Rodriguez should be arrested for openly violating state law and regulation!

Why do we continue to allow organizations like the Delaware Charter Schools Network have any say on legislation that would protect our students and taxpayers from this sort of waste and abuse, but they refuse to answer questions about their very purpose to a state auditor’s office?

Tomorrow Is The Last Day To Give Public Comment On Academy of Dover, Freire, Prestige Academy & DE Design Lab

The formal review public comment period for the four Delaware charter schools officially ends tomorrow.  You can email comments to infocso@doe.k12.de.us and they must have them by 5pm est.  This is your last chance to get your say on the formal reviews for Academy of Dover, Prestige Academy, Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School.  Good or bad, this is it.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy will issue his decision on the recommendations of probation by the Charter School Accountability Committee for all four charters next Thursday at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting.  The meeting starts at 1pm, but based on their schedule, I can’t see the charter part happening before 2:30pm.  You can give public comment at State Board of Education meetings, but not about the four charters.  These are the State Board guidelines for public comment:

Details

Time has been allocated at the beginning of the meeting for individuals or groups to address the State Board on general issues and on agenda items at the time they are before the Board for discussion. Board Agenda items with formal comment periods or discrete identified records, such as Charter School applications or renewals, Department of Education and Professional Standards Board regulations, and student disciplinary appeals,  are not open for comment at the Board meeting at which action is to be taken. At least 15 minutes prior to the meeting being called to order, persons wishing to address the Board should sign up on the appropriate form, giving their name and topic they will address. Comments should be limited to five minutes and each group should choose one representative to speak.  Speakers will be recognized by the Board President in the order their names appear on the sign up list. As circumstances require, the Board President may at his/her discretion, limit the number of persons allowed to speak, as well as designate the time for comments.

Please Note: Normally, the Board will not respond to questions by or engage in a dialogue with those offering comments during the Board meeting, but may respond in writing to a person or group.

Official: Probation Recommendations for Academy of Dover, Freire, Prestige Academy and DE Design Lab

The Charter School Accountability Committee recommended probation for all four of the Delaware charter schools currently under formal review.  The State Board of Education and Secretary Mark Murphy will make their final decision at the State Board of Education meeting on June 18th.

For Academy of Dover, their probation will be for a year, whereas the other three schools have until the end of this year to get out of probation.  Read the following documents for all four schools.  And I also want to thank the DOE’s Exceptional Children Resources Group for grilling these schools on special education issues!

I will be writing more as I digest all of these documents. The DOE certainly gives us bloggers lots to read!

Academy of Dover: Probation Recommendation By Charter School Accountability Committee

According to sources, Academy of Dover had a recommendation of probation by the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Their final report should be issued later today.  Apparently the school, under formal review, has reached a settlement with Mosaica, their former financial management company.  An unknown (will be talked about in the final report) down payment was or will be made, with payments over the next three years.  The other aspects were their academics and issues surrounding the former head of school and the state auditor’s report.  As well, the special education issue that surfaced with parent Sabine Neal became part of the formal review discussion.  Nothing new on that front.  Even though the CSAC recommends probation, the final decision is by Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education in their meeting on June 18th, starting at 1pm.

Once the final reports come up for all four of the charters under formal review, I will put them up!

Academy of Dover & Freire: Official Public Hearing Transcripts

Below are the public hearing from the Academy of Dover and Freire Charter School’s Public Hearings, required as a part of their formal review.

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading “Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing”

Academy of Dover Confirms Teacher Struck Student And Did Not Call The Police or Attorney General Office

Today at the Charter School Accountability Committee meeting at the Delaware Department of Education, Academy of Dover confirmed the “incident” alluded to in the letter the DOE sent them last week. A teacher struck a student but no details were given about the nature of the assault. Academy of Dover Head of School Cheri Marshall did state the teacher was immediately suspended without pay, and then terminated with board approval. But then it was said the teacher resigned, so the details are a little fuzzy. This is the same school that insisted former Head of School Noel Rodriguez “resigned”, but it was confirmed today by board member Nancy Wagner that Rodriguez was physically removed from the building. This completely contradicts Marshall’s firm “he resigned” to me when I called the school for confirmation on Rodriguez’s termination last fall. I guess when an employee is terminated at the school, the official stance is “they resigned”.

Marshall did say it was a student they had issues with all year long and numerous calls were made to the child’s mother. The mother was immediately called when the incident happened. The mother declined to press charges. However, there was no mention by Marshall or any member of the board about contacting either the police or the Attorney General’s office to report the crime. It is required by Delaware state law to report all incidents of this nature. When asked again if there was any other part of this investigation, Marshall said no. The DOE informed Academy of Dover the mother contacted them about the incident.

In regards to Noel Rodriguez, it was confirmed by Wagner that Rodriguez and several staff members had tumultuous encounters. But this did not come out until after Rodriguez left, as Wagner stated staff were too scared to come to the board. The suspicious purchase card transactions were described as a very stealth-like operation by Rodriguez in setting up different accounts. The board were not even aware of these many purchases until last fall when their annual auditor notified them of several red flags coming up. Wagner also reported the former board members all had very close ties with Rodriguez, much like Family Foundations Academy’s former board was set up during the Moore/Brewington era.

The Mosaica $2 million judgment came up, and the school stated they were not ignoring the judgment and tried for many years to work things out with Mosaica. It surprised the school when the court overruled on a previous ruling and the judgment was enforced last month. The judge involved in that ruling will be hearing arguments against his ruling on June 22nd. The State Board of Education and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy will make their decision on June 18th. Academy of Dover’s attorney did state an agreement could be worked out between the two parties prior to that court date, but nothing is firm or in writing. When asked how long the new court ruling could take, their attorney said it could be the same day or it could take weeks.

In my opinion, even with all the changes the board may have made, it is obvious there were and continue to be serious issues with the school’s ability to effectively educate its 300 students. With financial judgments and past mismanagement, employee theft of state funds, a teacher striking a student, and the board’s inability to realize what is going on until after the fact, I fear for the students at this school. If I were their parents, I know what my choice would be. A board should be more aware of what is going on at a school, and the fact the teachers and staff were afraid of the head of school speaks volumes about the board’s decision making ability.