The Delaware DOE’s Official Response To The State Board Shutting Down Delaware STEM Academy Before They Opened

The Delaware DOE came out with an official press release on the Delaware State Board of Education’s decision today to revoke the charter of Delaware STEM Academy.  The decision came just hours ago at the monthly State Board meeting.  Most of the information is factual with the exception of one item which I will notate after their press release.

Delaware STEM’s charter revoked

Delaware STEM Academy will not open this fall after its charter was revoked today. Students who had planned to attend the school will be able to enroll elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) recommended the revocation of charter unless the school’s board could provide sufficient information to address the committee’s concerns about its financial viability and programming. The New Castle high school was scheduled to open this fall with grades 9 and 10 with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The school was placed on formal review in April.

While committee members praised the school’s board for its transparency, responsiveness, involvement and leadership, citing its members’ experience and commitment as among the school’s greatest strengths, they raised concerns about how the school would be able to execute its approved charter with fidelity due to low enrollment and thus reduced funding that has led leadership to make programmatic cuts.

The school’s approved application was for 250 students in Year 1 with reliance on state/local funds generated by student enrollment. At the time of its final meeting with CSAC, the school had 124 students enrolled with a budget also reliant on private fundraising and a line of credit.

Following a public comment period, including two public hearings, Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky presented his decision to the State Board of Education for its assent Thursday.

“While the public record demonstrates that the school’s leadership and founding board are committed to the school, the low number of students and low levels of state and local funding raise too many concerns about Delaware STEM’s financial stability,” Godowsky said. “My review of the documents led me to the same conclusion as that of the accountability committee – that the school has failed to meet legal standards for financial viability and fidelity to the approved charter.”

The state will assist the families of the students who planned to attend the school this fall in enrolling in other schools. The children are able to return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school.

In terms of students being able to choice into another charter school, that is only if the charter school has openings.  If a charter is full and there is a waitlist, these students would not be able to automatically just choice in.

Delaware STEM Academy’s Fate…Charter Revocation

The Delaware STEM Academy is up for a decision right now at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting.  Director of the Charter School Office Jennifer Nagourney is advising the State Board why the charter was put on formal review: low enrollment and financial viability.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s recommendation is to close the school.  He believes the school’s board and leadership are committed to student success, he is very concerned about the low enrollment and how it can adapt a strong, rigorous program.  He agrees with the Charter School Accountability Committee’s recommendation to close the school and wants the school to surrender their charter.

The State Board gave a motion, which was seconded, to discuss the motion.  State Board member Pat Heffernan asked about the numbers.  Nagourney said they are currently at 129 enrolled students.  Heffernan asked where they had to be.  Nagourney advised, to be in compliance with state law, they would need to be at 80% of their approved enrollment of 250 students, which would be 200 students enrolled.  They had to be at that number by April 1st of this year.

Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman is stating there is considerable financial risk with the current enrollment in being able to adequately provide their academic program to students.  Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, the State Board President, is asking how much of the grant money allotted to the school has been used.  Blowman indicated he didn’t have a specific answer.  I just checked on Delaware Online Checkbook and the school has spent $137,444.67 in principal salaries for the school.

Earlier today, Technical.ly Delaware reported earlier today how Delaware STEM Academy was granted $175,000 for principal salaries through their Delaware Charter School Performance Award last year which the DOE states is allowable by state law but State Rep. John Kowalko expressed disappointment the school used the performance award for leader salaries.  With pensions and other benefits, an additional $61,739.89 was used by the school.  Included in that figure is $6,866.81 in United States Department of Education wage garnishments.

There is a lot of discuss surrounding how the school would be able to perform if they had their full funding.  Blowman is going over different components of the school’s funding.  Dr. Gray is asking if they can implement fidelity of the charter with the changes the school proposed after their final CSAC meeting.  Blowman said on some components yes, but on others no.  He said the school made as many changes as they possibly could but Blowman referred to Godowsky’s recommendation that their proposals were insufficient.  Gray asked what the lowest number they could fall to when they self-destruct, so to speak.  Donna Johnson said the school stated they would surrender their charter if they fell to 120 students by July 1st.

There was discussion on reduced funding to Innovative Schools in lieu of a partnership with another Delaware charter school, Positive Outcomes.  Board member Melendez stated he wants facts and not assumptions.  He told Blowman he doesn’t appreciate that.  Melendez said it is either black or white. (seems like a bit of tension between the two)

Nagourney gave an opinion that the closure of Delaware Met in December impacted potential enrollment in the school as she heard parents say they did not want the same thing to happen here.  With that being said, Nagourney also stressed the board was doing everything they were supposed to be doing in terms of what needed to happen to have an effective opening.

More discussion happened surrounding what will happen with the enrolled students since the school choice window is closed.  Donna Johnson indicated they would go back to their local feeder district, which caused board member Melendez to become very concerned.  Secretary Godowsky shared that when Delaware Met closed, the charters and districts in New Castle County were very helpful with helping the affected students transition.  Melendez felt the State Board and DOE are responsible for these kinds of situation and something needs to happen to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The Delaware State Board of Education voted 5-1 to revoke the charter school of Delaware STEM Academy.  Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was the sole no vote.

Updated, 7:35pm: This article has been updated to change the State Board of Education vote from 6-1 to 5-1.  State Board Member Gregory Coverdale was absent.

 

Breaking News: Delaware DOE Wants To Revoke Charter Of Delaware STEM Academy

The Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee had their final meeting with the Delaware STEM Academy on June 2nd.  The report came out tonight.  Prognosis: Don’t open the charter school!  The main reason for their formal review was very low enrollment numbers.  How low?  They had 105 students enrolled when they went on formal review a month and a half ago.  In the 45 days since… a whopping 124 according to the below report.  Their charter calls for 250 students.  They had to meet 80% of that.  They are a bit under 50%.

I think the time has come to say we are getting “chartered out” in Delaware.  This isn’t to say they aren’t popular and are growing.  But new charters?  Not so much.  Out of the more recent charter school openings, I would have to say Great Oaks and First State Military School are doing well.  Delaware Design-Lab is going through some growing pains.  Delaware Met got the heave-ho before they could start a third marking period.  Mapleton Charter School at Whitehall was going to move to Dover, but then backed out of that so they would need to reapply if they ever figure out what they are doing.  And now Delaware STEM Academy.  On top of Pencader, Moyer, and Reach Academy for Girls closing.  And Delaware College Prep will close it’s doors at the end of this month.  While this isn’t related at all, I did notice the State Board has not approved any new charters in Delaware since I started blogging just about two years ago…

The State Board of Education bit off more than they could chew when they approved all the new charter schools in 2013 and 2014.  We are seeing what happens when there are too many charter schools, especially in upper New Castle County.  As local districts beef up their programs, there are only so many students that can be choiced out of a school district.  And after Delaware Met, parents up there have to a be a bit cautious.  I am glad to see the Charter School Accountability Committee asking the right questions.  These are things we need to see from the State Board of Education when they vote on new charters.

The final report from the Charter School Accountability Committee is below.  Delaware STEM Academy will have their last public hearing tomorrow night.  Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will make his recommendation to the State Board of Education at the June 16th meeting.  At that point, the State Board of Education will vote to revoke the school’s charter or let them open.  My gut says revocation.  The enrollment is just too low and everything in the below report doesn’t leave much room for error…

 

Delaware DOE Isn’t Digging Delaware STEM Academy Right About Now

The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability.  At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.

The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment.  And it is very low.  Their approved charter calls for 250 students.  By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment.  Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students.  Applications and pending decisions don’t count.  They must be enrolled.  As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students.  As of May 10th, they had 113.  They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%.  And we are approaching the end of May.

In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools.  But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.

While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed.  In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor.  It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens.  But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.

One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.

This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open.  It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.

This is the part I don’t get though.  The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade.  Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students.  Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code?  It is, if that is what the school applied for.

…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…

The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers.  This charter school was approved back in April of 2014.  They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy.  Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at.  You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware.  Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open.  Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools.  This is not looking good…

asdf

Breaking News: Delaware STEM Academy Considered For Formal Review

Another Delaware charter school is getting the formal review recommendation at the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow.  Delaware STEM Academy did not meet their 80% enrollment numbers required under state law and their own charter.

DelawareSTEMAcademy

I’ve seen this happen before with a few of the other new charters before they opened.  They don’t meet the enrollment numbers by April 1st, but they will probably meet them by the time this comes up for State Board action, most likely June the way these things go.  It happened last year with Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School of Wilmington.  Without knowing what their current enrollment numbers are, it would be hard to say what their situation is though.  The simple fact is this: we have too many charters in upper New Castle County.  The State Board should have considered this when they had their charter approval party two years ago this month.  This is what happens when you have too many schools and too many seats in those schools.  With some of the problems the newer charters had this year, such as Delaware Met closing mid-year and Delaware Design-Lab High School, Freire, and First State Military Academy experiencing opening struggles, I can picture many parents reluctance to send their kids to an unknown and unproven charter school.

 

Delaware STEM Academy Charter School Performance Fund Application

I’m just going to say this right off the bat.  I take great issue with this school being eligible for the Charter School Performance Fund when they aren’t even scheduled to open until August 2016!  The best part: they want this award so they can pay their Chief Academic Officer and Executive Director their first year!  Doesn’t that already come out of state-allocated funds?  As well, how can they select all staff by May 2016 if they don’t hit their enrollment figures by June 2016?  And don’t they have to be at their enrollment figures by April 1st, 2016?

This one just has a big huge question mark all over it.  I would deny this one DOE…