An email from Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola sheds new light on the district-charter funding debacle that has taken over Delaware education talk in the past week. Meanwhile, the News Journal came out with another article on the issue that is sure to confuse everyone.
In the below email sent from Jaques to the House Education Committee, he gives a timeline of the events from the point in time he got involved in the issue and clarifies when Secretary of Education Dr. Stephen Godowsky found out about this. He also put in a reply Sokola sent to a constituent regarding the issue which has some very accusatory statements toward Christina School District.
From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:41 PM To: Bentz, David (LegHall); Bolden, StephanieT (LegHall); Dukes, Timothy (LegHall); Heffernan, Debra (LegHall); Hensley, Kevin S (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kenton, Harvey (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Miro, Joseph (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Ramone, Michael (LegHall) Cc: Schwartzkopf, Peter (LegHall); Sokola, David (LegHall)
Subject: School Funding Formula
House Education Committee Members, Late last week I received notice about a formula change between Charter Schools and our traditional Public Schools. I immediately called and talked with Secretary Godowsky to see if what I heard was correct and if so why was this change being made. I was told by him that yes a change was proposed and he wasn’t aware of this change until just the day before. On a side note, I wasn’t very happy to hear about this – since I and Dr. Godowsky just had breakfast only a couple of days before this news broke and no mention of this was discussed by him to me! I was told by Dr. Godowsky that he has put a hold on any possible changes to the funding formula until there are complete discussionswith all stakeholders. I then called Governor Markell to voice both my concern and outrage at how this proposed change was brought forward with no regards to public input, transparency or discussion with either myself or Senator Sokola. I then called Superintendent Burrows, this year’s head of the chiefs, and was assured by him that no discussions between the “chiefs” and DOE regarding this change had occurred. Their only acknowledgement came when they starting receiving bills from the charter schools and subsequently called DOE to find out what was going on. On the very next day I was at a public event with Governor Markell. He reinstated to me that no actions regarding the funding formula will occur this year and any discussions on this subject will be transparent and inclusive. Again, I followed up with Secretary Godowsky, requesting that any changes to the formula would require an open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders and plenty of public input. Today, there was a story in the News Journal that you might want to read to gain more insight.
In addition, I have attached below part of an email that Senator Sokola sent to one of his constituents which gives very good details and background on the formula mechanism. Although, his email talks about the Christina School District, I want to remind you that this formula applies to all public schools across our state.
“It turns out that the funding formula has not changed, and the Secretary does not have the authority to change the formula that is in the code. There have been times over the years when there have been disputes about how the formula works, and apparently we have one now. The dispute relates to the part of the code that allows for certain exemptions from the money that “follows the child” to a Choice or Charter alternative. The code allows for 4 specific areas and then has some general language that allows a district to petition the Secretary of Education to allow for additional exemptions of local operating funds, and to sign off on those itemized expenses. The Christina District increased that line from under $700 thousand to about $9.2 million since 2011, and has not asked the Secretary for approval of the increased exemptions. No other district in NCC has had anything but nominal changes in that time frame. The money in question also has nothing to do with the Autism Program or the Program for the Hearing Impaired that are managed by Christina. It is my understanding that any action from the Secretary at this time is on hold, however Christina still has a legal obligation to specify those expenses beyond the 4 that are in the code that should be exempt, and to have a formal sign off by the Secretary. I have supported for quite some time a weighted student funding policy, and would hope that we could make more progress on such a funding system. The money needs to specifically follow a student to a school, which is not done well in Delaware including in Christina. Dispute resolution should be done by some mutually agreed upon mechanism, or one established in the code. If there still is not agreement, we have constitutionally protected separation of powers, and the legal system would be the mechanism of last resort. That is generally not a win-win result for the parties who are in disagreement.
The specific funding issues you mentioned can certainly be submitted to the Secretary and the district needs to be open, transparent and detailed with the financial records to make their case. The Secretary will be willing to consider the specific lines of exemption that CSD has the legal obligation to propose. He would be negligent if he did not follow his statutory authority to review any specific exemptions proposed by CSD, and CSD would be negligent by not specifically submitting line items of proposed exemptions to the formula that is in the code. If CSD does not make specific proposals, the district is at risk of legal action that the legislature and the Secretary are constitutionally barred from intervening in. My hope and advice to the Secretary has been to give broad discretion to the specifics identified by Christina, and that we could have that open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders to clarify the financial obligations of a sending district to the various choice options made by students and families.”
As I receive additional information regarding this subject I will keep you informed…
Chair, House Education Committee
So how is that Sokola tells a constituent that Christina performed this horrible deed but the News Journal doesn’t mention it once? Sokola is saying Christina purposely withheld submitting their exclusions from the Delaware DOE. Jaques states Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows didn’t know about this situation unfolding since last April until recently. So how is it that the DOE asked the districts for this information in April as suggested by Saranac Spencer, the author of the News Journal article? Actually, it was in May based on the below timeline.
In order to try to unify the system, the department began considering adjustments to the formula in April, when it asked districts across the state for an inventory of the exclusions they claim.
The actual timeline of events is as follows:
March 11th: Newark Charter School Head of School Greg Meece meets with Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzjewski to discuss the upcoming Christina referendum and payments from Christina to NCS. (source: Newark Charter School March 2016 Board Minutes)
Early April 2016: NCS representatives Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel meet with Associate Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman to discuss exclusions in the funds Christina sends to NCS. The DOE indicates all exclusions will require approval from the Secretary of Education. (Source NCS April and May Board minutes)
April 8th: DOE holds District Business Manager’s meeting where the subject of district exclusions is brought up with District Chief Financial Officers.
May 2016: DOE sends out notices to District CFOs to send lists of their exclusion items in their local school budgets.
Mid-May: Kathleen Davies put on leave as Auditor of Accounts at Delaware State Auditor’s office.
August 8th: DOE sends out letters to District CFOs stating what exclusions are allowable and which aren’t.
Week of August 16th: Districts start receiving bills from charter schools for projected students choicing to charters from their districts.
August 19th: Secretary Godowsky finds out about situation going on with charter school payments from districts.
Week of Augusts 23rd: Word on situation slowly trickles out to school administration and some boards.
August 27th: Exceptional Delaware breaks news of a coming change in the way districts pay charters based on an approval from Secretary Godowsky, blogger was given information from various sources about changes regarding restricted funds being moved to non-restricted funds, no information given to blogger about specific exclusions.
August 28th: Legislators pound Godowsky who informs them there will be no change in the funding structure this year.
August 31st: News Journal covers story and states districts may have to adhere to the exemption list from the August 8th letter.
September 1st: NCS Board President Stephen Dressel writes letter to NCS parents alleging wrongdoing from Christina and a “few other districts”, states this isn’t a change in the formula for local cost per student but a correction, commenter on Facebook alleges parents from Las Americas ASPIRA also received a similar letter.
September 1st: Another News Journal article quotes DOE Spokeswoman Alison May as stating they may not be able to change this because bills already went out from charters to districts.
September 1st: Email from Earl Jaques to House Education Committee references a change in the formula, not a correction, email also has Sokola accusing Christina of not sending approval for exclusions to Secretary since 2011 for what was a $700,000 amount then which is now $9.2 million.
Here is the question no one seems to be addressing though. What is the amount in that discretionary budget was approved once and didn’t have to be again? When a district goes out for a referendum, it asks taxpayers to help the district pay for certain things. What if Christina had a referendum at one point in time, designated a specific amount for what would become an exclusion in their local budget, and the DOE approved it. Say that was 10 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. As Sokola alleges, Christina kept shoving money into this fund causing it to rise over $8 million dollars. But that 10 cents from a referendum, which becomes a part of the district’s local funds would certainly grow over time. In 2010, Christina narrowly won a referendum. But it stands to reason some of those designated funds could go into this “discretionary” bucket in their budget. Which would certainly build up over time. If the DOE approved this in July 2010, which would have been Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, then that exclusion would not have to be approved every year. That portion of the tax payments sent in from residents would just keep building in that bucket. So Sokola’s allegation that Christina was willfully withholding payments from the charters by shoving money in this hidden bucket is blatantly false.
Now the big question is what started this runaway train. Yes, charters have lobbied for more money from districts for years. No one is arguing that. But they were not going after these discretionary amounts approved by the Secretary of Education. They wanted a share of the food services revenue the districts received, which is explicitly exempt from being a part of the payments made to charter schools since they have their own food programs which they get funds from at a federal, state, and local level. So how would Greg Meece know to look for this one specific thing and start a chain of events that led up to now? I’m working on that answer as we speak and I expect I will know the answer to that one in the next couple of weeks.
What leads me to believe Christina wasn’t “stuffing” money away into this secret account is also the reaction of one man to all of this. If the DOE sent out these notices about the exclusion items last May, Christina CFO Bob Silber would have been freaking out back then about it. If he knew the direction this was heading, he would have planned for it in their FY2017 budget, which he clearly did not. From many people I’ve talked to in the district, Silber didn’t start freaking out until the district received the DOE letter stating what the new exclusions were and when the charter bills started rolling in. Which leads me to think he wouldn’t have had to keep getting approval for the exclusions he put in this bucket based on a referendum allocation, approved by then Secretary Lowery, which would, over the years, increase this bucket.
In the meantime, I have to wonder why Sokola would specifically mention the year 2011 to this constituent he replied to. That is crucial to all of this under my theory. It makes Christina look really guilty. Why would Sokola make Christina appear to be guilty? I think we all know the answer to that one. Which confirms my suspicion about his involvement in all of this. His incessant talk in this email about legal action if Christina doesn’t comply and who can do what and when and where shows he is been looking into this for much longer than anyone else has. Sokola is not an attorney. He worked at DuPont for many years. Is he smart though? Yes. Devious? Hell yes. Would he be able to paint a picture showing Christina as a district that was denying money to charter schools, especially Newark Charter School, who was “denied” one million dollars this year if this “finding” doesn’t work out in their favor? He did in his email to the constituent.
I would go so far as to say there is an integrity issue with Sokola at this point. The ethics involved with this whole mess certainly lend a certain weight to Sokola and Meece being the brains behind all of this. Jaques wasn’t involved in this based on what he wrote in his email. But he made it a point to include what Sokola wrote as part of his email which lended considerable weight to perception of this issue. For that, I have to wonder what Jaques knew and when he knew it.
Is this the end of this? Probably not. Someone will come on here and say I have it backwards and I’m theorizing all of this. That’s certainly an option. But at the very least, this opens the door to careful inspection about what the Secretary of Education approves and if it is for exclusions in the local restricted budgets for districts based on referendum amounts, does that item need continuous approval from the Secretary. I don’t believe it does.