In FY2015, $63.5 Million Went From Local Districts To Charter Schools In Delaware

I found something I’ve never seen before last week.  Ironically enough, I discovered these documents when I was doing my charter school inspection.  I was working on this article when I received a call about the the topic we have all been talking about for the past week: charter school payments from school districts.  Every year, around March, the Delaware Department of Education produces a report called the “Educational Statistics Report”.  This report shows district and charter revenue and expense totals for each calendar year.  It also shows information I’ve been looking for but haven’t seen until now: how much each charters get from local school districts for students who attend from those feeder patterns.  In FY2015, local school districts sent an astonishing $63.5 million dollars to charter schools.  This accounts for 38% of Delaware charter schools revenue.

According to this report, the charter school that gets the most local revenue is the charter school with the largest student population.  Newark Charter School, with the largest student population, received $7 million from local school districts in FY2015.  The State of Delaware provided over twice the amount to Newark Charter ($14.7 million) compared to the next largest charter school, MOT ($7.1 million).

But where things get really interesting is when you compare revenue and expenses with traditional school districts.

Charter Revenue FY2015

CharterRevenueFY2015

District Revenue FY2015

DistrictRevenueFY2015

Charter Expenses FY2015

CharterExpensesFY2015

District Expenses FY2015

DistrictExpensesFY2015

In FY2015, charter school students represented 9.3% of Delaware’s public schools.  With a total of 12,521 students, this represented less than 10% of students in the state who chose this option.  The total revenue they received was a little over $164 million dollars.  By contrast, districts received over $2.16 billion dollars in revenue.  This is a total of $2.32 billion dollars in revenue between district and charter schools.  In the interest of fairness and  all things being equal, charters should have received $215.8 million dollars at 9.3% student population.  Instead, they received $50 million less.  If we stopped looking at figures right now, the Delaware Charter Schools Network would be correct when they tell people charters get $3000 less per student than traditional school districts.  I’m not sure what  year they are basing those figures on, but it actually works out to about $4,137 less per student.  More meat for their argument.

But there are many other factors that go into this.  By their very nature, school districts are much larger than charter schools.  They have more buildings to take care of.  Their central administration has to be bigger to keep track of it all.  While some (and rightfully so in certain situations) complain about the sheer number of district administrators, I think we can all agree that districts need more administrators than charter schools because of the sheer volume involved.  Out of the total amount of expenses, charter schools spend 11.57% of their funds on administration.  Traditional school districts in Delaware spend 7.09% on administration.  Charter schools spend 14.36% on “plant operations maintenance”, which I assume includes rent, custodial duties, and expenses for the actual physical building(s).  Districts spend $9.66% in this category.  Percentage wise, districts do spend more on student transportation at 4.62% opposed to charter schools’ 2.88%.  But there is one factor that may not be included in these totals for the charters: does this include the surplus transportation funds they get to keep after what they spent?

The key figures in the above charter are the pie slices that show the percentage of funds districts and charters get from federal funding.  While some of these funds come from federal grant funds, the bulk of them are for Title I and IDEA-B funding.  Title I is funds for low-income schools while IDEA-B is for students with disabilities.  Note that districts have more than double the percentage of federal funds than charters.  This is because districts have more students in those two categories.  For some charters in Delaware, they have very high percentages of those populations.  But the ones that are on the opposite end bring that percentage way down.  Especially schools like Newark Charter School and Charter School of Wilmington.

I wasn’t going to publish this article after the whole district-charter funding war commenced a week ago.  But with everything that happened since, I feel it is important to get these numbers out there.  I do have further analysis based on this and how I intend to prove, that if Delaware were to go to a true weighted funding formula, charters schools would actually receive less local and state dollars as a collective whole than what they are receiving now.

 

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Delaware Principals & Assistant Principals: Which Districts Pay The Big Bucks?

In Delaware, most schools in our districts have a Principal and an Assistant Principal.  Some schools have two Assistant Principals.  For those schools, you can be looking at over $300,000 in annual salaries between the three positions in some situations.  As the Delaware Department of Education guides teachers into accepting “Teacher-Leader” roles, I have to wonder what the end goal is.  Eventually, the role of the classic teacher will be greatly diminished if the current trends in personalized learning continue.  I predict more seasoned teachers will leave the profession because of this.  Is this why we are seeing this big push for more leaders?  Will we see more teachers with a background of Teach For America and Relay Graduate School of Education infiltrate school leadership roles?

In this round of “Delaware Education Funding”, I just looked at traditional school district Principals and Assistant Principals, not the charter schools.  For the very simple reason that only about a 1/3rd of the charters put this role in that category on Delaware Online Checkbook.  The other charter leaders are spread out over many coded categories and it is very hard to know what is what.  But I will get to them, I promise!  These are by district only, not by school.  Exact Principal and Assistant Principals are not readily available unless a newspaper does a story about state employee salaries over $100,0oo.00.

FY2016PrincipalSalariesTotal

This chart shows the total Principal salaries for each school district in FY2016.  For the most part, it follows the total student population of each district with a few exceptions.  What surprised me the most was Capital’s slot on the chart which will become clear in the below picture.  In Delaware, Principal units are also based on the student count as of September 30th of each year, just like teachers.  This provides the state share of principal salaries, so anything left comes from local funds collected through property taxes of the citizens in that district.

FY2016DistrictPerStudentCosts Principals

Seaford is way up on this chart when the total principal salaries are divided by the number of students in the district.  And as predicted, Capital seems to pay their Principals a lot more than other districts based on this chart.  Red Clay, like the previous picture, takes the top spot.  This does not include the principal salaries from the charters within their district that they are the authorizers of.  This chart does not follow student population at all.

FY2016AssistantPrincipalSalariesDistricts

Assistant Principals in Delaware can be just as important as Principals.  In many schools, they handle more of the discipline issues and frequently serve as the school administrator for IEP meetings.  We see, mostly, the same pattern as Principals with overall salaries following the student populations.  Notable exceptions are Cape Henlopen, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Polytech.  Once again, Seaford is a bit ahead based on their student population compared to the districts two slots below them.

FY2016AssistPrinSalariesPerStudentDistrict

When it comes to per student cost for Assistant Principals, two of the vocational districts leap to the top.  Christina falls to the middle.  We see, on this chart, more of an indication of the economic levels of the citizens within these districts.  Aside from Seaford and Woodbridge, most of the districts near the bottom are in Sussex County.

FY2016CombinedPrin&AssistDistrictSalaries

I wanted to see what happened with these numbers when I combined both the Principal and Assistant Principal salaries. It is almost exactly in line with the first graph for the Principal salaries.

FY2016CombinedPerStudCostPrin&AssistPrin

For the money, it appears New Castle County Vo-Tech is the go-to district if you want to be an administrator at a school, followed closely by Red Clay and Brandywine.  With NCC Vo-Tech at $461 a student for combined Principal and Assistant Principal salaries and Sussex Tech at $224 per student, there sis a world of difference between the two vo-techs in our state.  But once again, money does not always equal quality and performance.  But higher needs can.  Keep in mind, the vo-techs are given a by-line item in the state budget as their funding source.  Are the vo-techs getting favorable treatment with this budget method?  It depends on which county!

As with many situations with school districts, the more buildings you have, the higher the costs to run them.  I see definite trends with these towards socio-economic levels for the three counties in Delaware when you take the vo-techs out of the picture.  This makes sense because a referendum can decide what type of funds school boards can spend on administrators in schools.  This is very different from district administrators, which will be coming soon.  That one will be more complex and may need some outside help on my part.

Delaware Education Funding: Teacher Salaries For District & Charters By Student

Teacher Salaries.  This is the bulk of the costs in education.  As it should be.  Teachers are the lifeblood of a child’s education.  The funding for teachers should always be the highest cost for any school, whether it is in a district school or a charter school.  With that being said, below are what our districts and charter schools pay for teachers.  But as with the article on overall spending, it is all in relation to how many students a district or charter has.  There are several opinions that can be drawn from these pictures, but as with all these articles, the percentage of high-needs students can play a huge factor, especially when it comes to special education.  But we can see, based on the numbers, that having too many new teachers may save money in the short-term but it doesn’t bode well for students.

With this article, we have the first charter schools to suffer from what I call BAP: Bad Accounting Practices.  Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep are not included in this because it would be impossible to figure out their teacher salaries.  For the sole reason that they put ALL their salaries under a code of “General Salaries”.  There is no breakdown of teacher, principal, head of school, secretaries, and so forth.  I know their authorizer, Red Clay, has approached them about this with absolutely no change whatsoever.  And Del. Military Academy already had a run-in with the State Auditor a few years back over personal spending.  Del. College Prep had their charter revoked by the Red Clay board and closed at the end of June.

Before you react to the first picture, I would like to remind everyone that the number of students in each district is the biggest factor in all of this.  Some district and charter accounting gurus may look at these and think I have all my numbers wrong.  If they are looking at just the state code that falls under teacher salaries, most of them would be right.  But for the purposes of this article and to get a true understanding of how teachers are paid overall in our districts and charters, I added the following together to come up with the teacher salaries: teacher salaries, academic excellence (essentially a bonus for some teachers), what are known as Extra Pay for Extra Responsibility categories (Sports, Extra-Curricular, and Misc.), Visiting Teachers, and the three Related Services for special education that only about half the districts use for special education teachers (Basic, Intensive, and Complex).  There is absolutely no way to determine how many teachers are tenured or have more experience at each district or charter.  But these are straight-out salaries and do not include benefits or pensions.  That will come soon, but there is a specific reason why I am not including this with the regular salaries.  As well, based on this information, there is no way to calculate how many teachers are in each district or charter.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalaries

For the most part, district teacher salaries fall in line with how many students are in each district, with only some slight variances between a few districts, and nothing that put them more than one spot ahead or below another district.  Christina cut a lot of teachers after their referenda from FY2015 failed.  So their numbers could be higher next year since their referendum did pass this year and they restored most of the teaching positions.  Not every district has “academic excellence” bonus money they give to teachers.  A lot of these funds come from grants based on AP and advanced classes.  Districts that did not give any funds to teachers for “academic excellence” are Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Indian River, Laurel, Seaford, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech.  Brandywine and Appoquinimink led the pack with these bonuses, with $3.1 and $2.6 million given to teachers in each district.  Christina only had $784 in academic excellence, which leads me to believe something was either miscoded or carried over from the prior year.

FY2016CharterTeacherSalaries

With almost twice the amount of students as Odyssey, it would stand to reason that Newark Charter School would be number one on this graph.  We do see more variances among the charters for teacher spending than exists for the districts.  Charter school teachers in Delaware are not part of teacher unions so collective bargaining does not play a role in their salary negotiations.  What concerns me the most are Freire and Great Oaks which I will go into more detail a bit later.  All of the charter schools that just opened a little less than a year ago came in last for teacher salaries.  Newer charters tend to get less experienced teachers who are new to the profession.  This can cause severe growing pains for new charters.  In fact, out of the seven charters that opened in the past few years, all are in the bottom half when it comes to teacher salaries.

FY2016DistrictTeacherSalariesPerStudent

This is where the pictures change drastically.  New Castle County Vo-Tech takes the number one spot.  Followed by a district in Sussex County.  The top two districts for teacher spending overall, Red Clay and Christina, come in 6th and 8th on this based on the teacher salaries divided by the number of students in the district.  Once again, there is a very direct correlation between how vo-techs are funded and how much they are able to spend.  By not relying on referenda and worrying about local funding, they experience much more freedom than traditional school districts.  It must be nice to be a line item on the state budget!

FY2016CharterTeacherSalariesPerStudent

With charters, we see a vast amount of difference between teacher salaries divided by the number of students in each school.  For schools that have been around for a long time, like Thomas Edison, Academy of Dover, and Family Foundations, they have very low teacher salaries per student.  Especially since they serve some high-need populations.  Either they are paying too little in teacher salaries, there is high turnover, or a combination of both.  On the flip side, how Prestige Academy has the highest teacher salary per student amount in the state, at $6,544 baffles me.  My guess, which will come up in future articles, is they are putting other salaries in with teacher salaries.  Another BAP at play.  Freire, at $1573 a student, and Great Oaks, at an incredibly low $1175 a student, is almost unbelievable.  Either they are miscoding salaries or they do not have enough certified teachers.  Are they utilizing programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School too much?  Those programs have very high turnover compared to regular teachers.  These are also high schools, which makes me worried about the post-graduate outcomes of these students.  And no, I don’t mean based on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  Not many charters give “academic excellence” funds to teachers.  Only Newark Charter School and Campus Community do this in larger amounts, while Positive Outcomes and Kuumba do this in very low amounts.

teachersalarystudentpercentages

In this last graph, I took the teacher salaries divided by the student count for each charter or district and then divided that by the total per student count.  Sadly, the percentage of cost per student going towards teacher salaries appears to be 7% for Great Oaks.  I would say any charter or district below 25% is not good.  If at least a quarter of spending in schools isn’t going towards teachers, there are most likely some issues.  By the same token, if the amount is too high, like with the four charters at the top, something probably isn’t being coded right in the state accounting system.

Once again, I will reiterate that these amounts are based on expenditures by particular accounting codes during FY2016 for Delaware school districts and charter schools as reported by the state.  This information is put into the Delaware accounting system by each district or charter school.  In certain situations, I can only surmise what might be going on.  They are supposed to follow certain codes, but none of them do it by the book.  And with little or no oversight by our state, they get away with it.  I believe in local control, but there are certain things, in the name of transparency and best practices, that dictate a uniformity, and education spending is at the top of that list!

Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!