The Sokola Williams House Bill 186 Charter Funding “Town Hall” Debate: What If We Are All Wrong?

Sometimes the best conversations happen when there is a freedom to it with no strings attached, just honest questions and answers.  Yesterday, Senator David Sokola responded to a post of Mike Matthews on Facebook about House Bill 186 and Senate Bill 171.  The two competing bills both deal with charter audits. What happened next on the “debate” was pleasantly surprising.  I actually admire Sokola for entering into what I’m sure he knew could be “hostile territory” so to speak.  What ensued was very interesting.

Here is the bottom line, as I wrote in one of the final replies on this: something needs to be done to make sure the charter school fraud just stops.  We can’t have school leaders going rogue and raiding the public coffers.  It’s just wrong.  I think House Bill 186 would prevent that quite a bit.  Will it prevent any school employee from ever absconding money for personal use?  No, I don’t think anyone could ever 100% stop that.  But it is one hell of a deterrent.  There are more than enough issues with school funding in Delaware, the last thing we need is for one cent to be wasted like this.  It is criminal, it is illegal, and it needs to end.

Given all that has occurred since Senate Bill 171 was introduced last week, I would actually love to hear Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network response to this thread.  So I invite Kendall to comment on here.  This is not a free-for-all to jump on her should she take up the invite.  It is just a debate about the issues at hand.  If Kendall does take me up on this, I believe it could shed light on what the charters may be looking at for this.

In my opinion, the way charters were set up in Delaware is miles away from the present reality.  It is much more visible in New Castle County, but the whole traditional school district/charter school debate has morphed into something with both sides pitted against each other.  I will fully admit it’s something I’ve been guilty of.  But is it good for the education landscape of Delaware?  Should charters be funded separately from regular school districts?  But even bigger than that is the competition.  This need to be the best school in the state and all that comes with that.  Since the catalyst for that is standardized test scores, what would happen if those scores all of a sudden didn’t hold the weight they currently have?  What if schools were judged on their own merits, good or bad, based on something not so exact?

Our Department of Education, in line with the US DOE, certainly set up this kind of environment.  But let’s get real for a moment.  The traditional districts and the charters aren’t going anywhere.  I know I’ll probably get shot for even bringing this up, but a lot of us look at education in Delaware under the lens of how the charters affect the schools around them.  But I’m going to attempt to look at this from the charter perspective.  They view themselves as not getting as much money as districts, thus their assumption they do “more with less”.  In defense of that, they don’t have the sheer size and multiple capital costs the way districts do, so there is that.  Most of their teachers are not unionized, so turnover is most likely greater.  So they need to retain their good teachers and find ways to keep them and attract them to their schools.  They also need to make sure their enrollment stays at certain levels or the DOE will come after them.  To do that, they need to make their schools look as attractive as possible, so they need to sell it as such.  While some schools do indeed have enrollment preferences that are very questionable, a lot of them do not.  But still, the lure of charters for many parents is the escape from the local school districts who do “less with more”.  Most parents who are engaged at that level, and have made a choice to keep their kids out of a district, will certainly be more active in their child’s education, which results in more of a collaborative relationship between charter parents and their schools.  But the flip side to all of this, as those students who most likely have more parental engagement with their child’s education (not all) and  pull their kids out of districts, it has a rebound effect on the traditionals.  It can draw out the “better” students resulting in more issues at the local level for the remaining students.  This is certainly not the case in every school in every district, but we have seen this happen in Wilmington most of all.

So how do we get around all of this and work to make both co-exist?  The conversation gets very heated very quick with parties pointing fingers and making declaratory statements that don’t serve to solve the issues but actually polarize both sides into their position of defense.  As a result, we see legislators with differing opinions proposing laws that the other side opposes.  In the case of the charter audit bills, Kim Williams wins that one, hands down.  Will it cost charters more money?  Like I’ve said before, probably.  But we should have never reached this point.  It should have always been equitable for both when it comes to audits.  It isn’t now, and it wouldn’t be with Senator Sokola’s bill.  I’m not saying this cause I like Kim better than Dave, I’m saying it cause it makes sense.  There are some Republican bills I think make a lot of sense, and vice versa.  But let’s face it, the Democrats have controlled Delaware for a long time now, so their bills tend to get more press and traction because of that control.

This is what I would like to eventually see in the charter/traditional debate.  All schools, be it charters, magnets, or vo-techs, have no enrollment preferences whatsoever.  This would put everyone on the same level playing field.  As well, charter schools should be funded the same way vo-techs are.  But there could still be a problem of a district shedding students as we see in Christina.  How do we solve that issue?  Not an easy answer.  When districts do lose a lot of students, it is bound to cause financial concerns.  But obviously we can’t just close districts.  But we can’t let them go to the poorhouse either.  And when a referendum goes south, it doesn’t just affect the traditional school districts, it flows into charters that receive the funding for those students.

Finally, our legislators need to find a way to minimize the importance of standardized testing.  At a state level, not a district level where those assessments do actually help students.  I posted an article on American Institutes for Research last September where their CEO admits standardized testing is actually accountability tests against teachers and schools.  Because our states and federal government have allowed this to happen.  They set up this crazy chess match but is very bad for schools, students, teachers, administrators, and even communities.  Whenever there are high-stakes, there are also consequences.  While some are intended, others are not.  Setting our schools up to compete against each other can bring innovation, but then it becomes a matter of “who has the better test scores?”  It’s not good, it’s not healthy, and this is leading all our students into the assumption that if they do well on a once-a -year test they are actually a success and “college and career ready”.   But even more dangerous, the schools actually think this and instruction is aimed around the test as opposed to the individual student and their own individual success.  The question that always comes up after this argument from the proponents of standardized testing is “How do we measure our student’s progress?”  There are measurements that don’t have to be the focal point of everything.  But yet our DOE has the Smarter Balanced Assessment with most of the weight on the Delaware School Success Framework.

Until we can get out of this testing obsession, nothing will ever change.  If charters and traditional school districts want to survive, they should join together to eliminate this abusive practice, not to perpetuate it.  There is no stability in it, and it is very destructive.  To those who do profit off this, they truly don’t care.  As long as they are making money.  This should be something parents of students should want as well.  They may not see it now, but they certainly will after their child graduates and they find they are really struggling in college.  This is why we are seeing more students taking college-level courses in our high schools because even the corporate education reformers know this.  But what we should really be doing is focusing less on test scores and letting children progress naturally in schools without the test stress.  So by the time they go to college, they are ready for what comes next.  College is supposed to be hard.  It shouldn’t be easy.  If we are seeing so many kids taking remedial classes, maybe this isn’t a reflection on our schools but on the emphasis society places on test scores.

For me personally, I care deeply about these issues.  Because I believe the students that pay the price the most are those who need the most.  By leading all students toward these very specific goals of “proficiency” and “growth”, we are allowing students with disabilities and those who come from poverty to start at the gate with a disadvantage.  And wanting to “close the gaps” without changing their inherent disadvantages results in an explosion just waiting to happen.  I’m not saying these kids can’t learn, or that they don’t want to learn.  But the instruction they need may not be the same for their regular peers.  If the end goal of accommodations is to make a student do better on a test, then we are losing sight of the true picture.  We can’t erase a disability or poverty in schools.  There are far too many outside factors to make that ever happen.

The charter/district debate is a systemic issue, but it is symptomatic of the far greater disease: standardized testing.  We have many excellent teachers who can become even better by allowing them to flourish in an environment that isn’t poisoned and set up as a competition.  Education isn’t a race.  It isn’t a contest.  It is education.  No child learns the same, and no child tests the same.  It needs to stop.  Until our leaders learn this, parents will continue to opt out.  At greater numbers than each year before.  Because we see it and we have the power to act on it.  Sooner or later they will get the message.  But in the meantime, the reformers and leaders continue to spin their wheels looking for the next big thing in order for them to survive.  They do not care if a school is doing bad.  They love it and they will pounce on it.  They use our schools and students so they can get rich.  And their method of measurement: the standardized test.  And far too many lap it up and believe it.

 

 

Kim Williams Fights Back!!! Send The HB186 Letter To All The Delaware Senators!

One of the things I admire about State Rep. Kim Williams in the General Assembly is her strength amidst fellow legislators.  I believe Kim puts forth legislation that will help the students of Delaware.  While some may see her as one who opposes charters, that is not the case at all.  She just wants equity.  It is why she put forth the Enrollment Preference Task Force from House Bill 90 in the 147th General Assembly.  It’s why she has legislation pending to finally fund basic special education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  It’s why she also put for House Bill 186, the charter school audit bill.

As I wrote in the following article yesterday, https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/dave-sokola-kicks-kim-williams-in-the-back-and-then-thrusts-the-knife-into-it/, it is obvious there are agendas afoot to stop Kim’s bill.  The Delaware Charter Schools Network hates this bill.  The cost isn’t anything that would force a charter school into bankruptcy.  Maybe they won’t be able to buy a slide for a pool, or send their whole staff to dinner at a country club, but they can afford it.  Don’t let the DCSN fool you!  They are paid by the charters to protect them and to advocate for them, just as DSEA does for teachers.  They have a lot of influence among the DOE, the State Board, and Rodel.  In essence, they are lobbyists.  Last year they started a massive letter writing campaign which I talked about in the above Sokola article.  Turnaround is fair play, so another letter writing campaign in support of House Bill 186 started earlier today.

This bill actually does protect charter schools by helping to make sure the outright theft of school funds doesn’t go for personal use by corrupt employees, and those funds go to the classroom where they are needed most.  I can’t for the life of me understand why Sokola and Jaques wouldn’t want that either.  They will argue technicalities, but let’s be honest, they are protecting this bizarre charter school mentality where they don’t want to have the transparency they actually need to survive on a long-term basis.  During discussion last spring for HB186, the State Auditor’s office told the House Education Committee the nature of the charter’s required yearly audits would not catch a lot of the financial malfeasance that went on at charters like Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover.

Please go to the letter writing campaign here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-hb-186?source=direct_link&referrer=hb-186

As of this writing, it states 162 letters have been sent.  To clarify, that is 162 sets.  Each Delaware Senator is receiving this letters and there are 21 Senators.  That is 3, 402 letters that have gone out today!  That is amazing!

Dave Sokola Kicks Kim Williams In The Back And Then Thrusts The Knife Into It

Sokola

Senator Dave Sokola pulled a fast one on State Rep. Kim Williams in his latest political trickery because of his uncontrolled bias for Delaware charter schools.

Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 was approved by the Delaware House of Representatives on June 30th, the last day of legislative session. Senator David Sokola refused to suspend the rules and said this bill needed to be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Fair enough. It was heard in committee this week, and it was released yesterday. Fair enough. What he did behind the scenes is what defines him.

House Bill 186 deals with charter school audits. Rep. Williams felt the charter school fraud and embezzlement was a bit too much for Delaware taxpayers and she brought the bill forward to allow the State Auditor’s office to monitor charters more closely. This is something Kathleen Davies from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office was in full support of. The main party who was not in support of the bill was the Delaware Charter Schools Network. They vehemently opposed the bill stating it would cost charter schools extra money. On their website, they set up a “letter to the legislators” system where parents just add their information and a letter is automatically sent to the legislators.

At present, all traditional school districts audits go through the State Auditor’s office.  Charters use their own hand-picked auditors.  This bill would add an extra layer of protection.  As well, ever since the very first charter school closed in Delaware, funds seem to disappear resulting in millions of dollars vanishing.  Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 would put charters on the same equal playing field as traditional school districts and is not an attempt to treat charters any different.  Why would we not want to ensure our taxpaying funds are being used with fidelity and honesty?

Having sent my son to a charter school back in the day, I know how this works when legislation comes up that may affect a charter school.  Parents get emails from the school leader basically saying “Our poor charter school is under attack, we need your support.”  It usually ties to funding and money.

On June 30th, the bill passed the House with all Democrats except State Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques and all the Republicans voted no.

This week, Sokola, along with co-sponsor Jaques and several Senate Republicans filed Senate Bill 171.

Are charters required to have their audits done the same way as Sokola’s Senate Bill 171 states?  Not at all.  Title 29 of the Delaware State Code, dealing with the Auditor of Accounts, specifically states:

(f) The Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits of local school district tax funds budget and expenditures annually. The results of the audit shall be submitted to the local board, the State Board of Education, the office of Controller General and the local libraries within said school district. Expenses incurred for such postaudits herein authorized shall be borne by the local school districts.

This says absolutely nothing about charter schools whatsoever.  With respect to charter schools, Title 14 does touch on this, but the wording is very vague:

The charter school shall contract to have an audit of the business and financial transactions, records, and accounts after July 1 for the prior fiscal year. The results of the audit shall be shared with the Department of Education by October 1.

What Sokola’s bill does completely ignores the authority given to the State Auditor of Accounts in Title 29.  And the charter audit part is not even included in chapter 29 whatsoever.  Title 14 doesn’t even define what the scope of the charter school’s audit should look like, and even with Sokola’s bill this is not defined either.  But Title 29, the section that once again authorizes the Auditor of Accounts of their duties and responsibilities, bolded for emphasis, states:

(a) The audits shall be sufficiently comprehensive to provide, but not limited to, assurance that reasonable efforts have been made to collect all moneys due the State, that all moneys collected or received by any employee or official have been deposited to the credit of the State and that all expenditures have been legal and proper and made only for the purposes contemplated in the funding acts or other pertinent regulations.

This is a direct attempt to sabotage Rep. Williams’ bill in my opinion. Sokola’s bill does absolutely nothing. It is a piece of paper designed to actually protect charter schools from the financial destruction some of them have inflicted on Delaware. After the State Auditor’s office released reports last year on Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover showing well over $300,000 of taxpayer money being absconded by school leaders, along with other reports showing a couple of charters doing very suspect things with school funds, one would think our elected officials would want to make sure charters are held under a bigger microscope.  In the case of Family Foundations Academy, telling the public they aren’t sure what may have happened to $2.5 million dollars along with another $141,000 in funds that may or may not have been personal purchases shows a clear need for more oversight into charter finances.  But apparently not with the Chairs of our Education Committees, Sokola and Jaques.

How does something like this happen when charter schools are supposed to have greater accountability because of their unique structure with the public school environment?  It is political maneuvering.  Senator Sokola is in the 8th District, in Newark.  Since 1990, Sokola has been a State Senator.  I wrote in great detail about Sokola’s history of education destruction last year.  The 8th District is a very unique district.  In this district is Newark Charter School.  Senator Sokola was one of the founding board members of the school.  Newark Charter School has a 5 mile radius for its applicants, which actually extends past the Maryland line.  So it is not a true 5 mile radius, but ensures all its students come from a very specific geographic area.  The 8th district.  This school is considered to be one of the best schools in the state based on standardized test scores, academics, and school climate.  There is usually an extensive waiting list.  Because of this, Sokola is able to hold onto his Senate seat because of his steadfast loyalty to charter schools.  He is also the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Interestingly enough, State Rep. Kim Williams gave insight into this in a comment on Delaware Liberal last night:

House Bill 186 will require charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts like all other public school districts in the state. Currently, only public school districts are audited through the Auditor of Accounts. Sen. Sokola explained to us during the debate of House Bill 186 that his bill, Senate Bill 171, was drafted with the help of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, who represent charter schools and the leaders who have been stealing from Delaware taxpayers. Senate Bill 171 does not require the charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts office. The charter schools will be able to select who they want once again. Senate Bill 171 does nothing except protect the charter schools and not the taxpayers. I for the life of me cannot understand why these people do not care about protecting the taxpayers’ money; they are more interested in protecting the charter schools.

This is Delaware.  Those in power position themselves in the key positions so they can be re-elected over and over and over again.  Sokola is also the chair of the Senate Bond Committee so he can curry favor with the organizations that receive state funding through bonds and grants.  Sokola has not filed for the 2016 election, but his seat is up for grabs.  No opposing candidate has filed either, so there is still time.

I urge every single Delaware citizen to contact every member of the Delaware Senate to vote yes for House Bill 186.  Sokola’s anti-Williams bill will most likely be on the Senate Education Committee agenda for next week.  His bill will be fast-tracked for passage while Williams bill will either be voted down or sit in limbo.

I just wrote the Delaware Senators an email for my full support for House Bill 186, and I would ask anyone reading this to do the same:

Good morning Delaware Senators!

I wanted to ask for you support in voting yes for House Bill 186, State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit bill which passed with overwhelming support in the Delaware House on June 30th, and was released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  As a Delaware taxpaying citizen, I firmly believe our Delaware charter schools need rigorous examination with their finances.  We have seen far too many charters abscond with public funds for personal use in the past few years for their own personal use. 

I firmly believe, after carefully reviewing House Bill 186, that this bill would give the extra protections Delaware taxpayers need to make sure our dollars are being protected from those who would steal money from us.  If we are going to demand accountability in our schools, that needs to start at the top in each and every building.  Every single traditional school district is held to this same process, so why wouldn’t we include charters in this process?

I would urge all of you to read this article by Business Insider which was written on January 6th, 2016: http://www.businessinsider.com/are-charter-schools-the-new-mortgage-crisis-2016-1  This article clearly shows the environment charter schools exist in and there are red flags all over the place.  Charter school accountability and transparency was also addressed in the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama last month.  The ESSA demands more state responsibility in monitoring charter schools.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

Here is a list of the emails for our Delaware Senators, just copy and paste!

harris.mcdowell@state.de.us MargaretRose.Henry@state.de.us robert.marshall@state.de.us greg.lavelle@state.de.us catherine.cloutier@state.de.us Ernesto.Lopez@state.de.us Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us karen.peterson@state.de.us bethany.hall-long@state.de.us Nicole.Poore@state.de.us david.mcbride@state.de.us bruce.ennis@state.de.us Dave.Lawson@state.de.us senator-colin@prodigy.net brian.bushweller@state.de.us Brian.Pettyjohn@state.de.us gerald.hocker@state.de.us bryant.richardson@state.de.us David.Sokola@state.de.us Bryan.Townsend@state.de.us gsimpson@udel.edu

 

House Bill 186, Charter School Post-Audit With State Auditor Legislation, Passes Delaware House!

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams just presented House Bill 186 to the full Delaware House of Representatives, and it passed the House in a 23-17-1 vote.  Every single Delaware House Republican voted no on the bill, along with Earl Jaques.

Rep. Daniel Short brought Academy of Dover’s independent auditor Ms. Baker to testify against the bill, but she gave no compelling reason why the bill shouldn’t pass.  When Rep. Williams asked her how long she has audited Academy of Dover, she couldn’t answer.  Williams asked: one, two, three years?  She still couldn’t answer.

After some back and forth about “interrogating” the witness, backed up by Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, the bill went to a roll call.  All the Republicans voted no, along with Democrats Earl Jaques and Schwartzkopf.  The bill still has to go through the Senate Education Committee, unless the rules are suspended, and it is allowed to go to a vote with the Senate tonight.  The Senate has yet to put their agenda up for tonight’s last day in this legislative session…

I guess Republicans are dead set against charter schools being held accountable.  Not sure why they are on the side of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  This will be very interesting going forward…

House Bill 186 Is #1 With A Bullet, Aimed Directly At Charter School Accountability

The Delaware House of Representatives released their House Agenda for their last day of legislative session until January 2016.  The first item on the agenda is State Rep. Kim William’s House Bill 186.  These are the reasons this bill needs to pass:

1) Noel Rodriguez & Academy of Dover- $127,000 in personal spending and another $129,000 the State Auditor isn’t sure was used for school or personal spending.  As well, an anonymous source informed me two other staff members at the school were also pilfering funds, and this was reported to the FBI, but nothing has come from any of that…

2) Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore & Tennell Brewington- over $90,000 in person spending between this dynamic duo, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in other questionable spending performed by this school during their reign.  The State Auditor’s report hasn’t come out yet on this one, but it will be a doozy that may make Academy of Dover look weak in comparison.

3) Delaware Military Academy & Jack Wintermantel- while out of the news, this 2013 State Auditor investigation found numerous financial violations at this school.  Source: http://auditor.delaware.gov/Reports/FY2013/DMA%20Investigative%20Report.pdf

4) The seeming inability for many charter schools to accurately code items correctly on the state financing website, as indicated by what is shown on Delaware Online Checkbook.  In some situations, funds are allocated in areas that have absolutely nothing to do with why the funds were spent, i.e. Academy of Dover putting a payment for an out of state residential treatment center under “Employee Recognition”.  Furthermore, putting students names in a special education settlement transaction on Delaware Online Checkbook is a clear violation of FERPA legislation but schools continue to do this.

5) Section 347 of Paragraph 508 of Title 14: This special designation for charter schools allows them to keep the unused portion of their transportation funds for “educational purposes”, but there is no clear mention of what those “educational purposes” can be, or where the funds should be directed on an accounting level.  In the past two fiscal years, over $2.4 million dollars was kept by Delaware charter schools, with Family Foundations Academy and Newark Charter School each keeping over $400,000 EACH from this caveat.

6) As indicated by the ten charter school performance fund applications I just posted, most schools don’t have a clue about finances and what funds can go to which allotment.

7) The Delaware Charter School Network is vehemently opposed to this bill- while they have a right to be concerned about the cost of audits, the cost to taxpayers over the complete and utter disregard of how taxpayer funds are spent as well as the strain and disruption this places on all education in Delaware makes it very clear more oversight is needed over the Wild West of Finances occurring in our charter schools.  As well, at least two of the current or former members of their governing board are/were heads of school at two of the charter schools that are being investigated, and one of them sits on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE

8) The DOE is not in a position to do anything about this: through a complete lack of oversight over the charter schools they authorize, the DOE has never caught fraud in the act.  They do not monitor they money flowing in and out of these schools

9) Lack of oversight at the charter schools themselves- many charter schools just started having a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee this year.  This has been in state code for years.  As well, a DOE representative is supposed to be at each meeting for each school.  If some of these schools that have operated for years never had a DOE rep at their non-existent CBOC meetings, than the DOE fell asleep at the wheel but they are never held accountable.

10) In discussing House Bill 186, the State Auditor’s office said seven charter schools are under investigation.  We know Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, and Providence Creek Academy are three, but who are the other four?  Judging by their board minutes, Thomas Edison Charter School may be one, but who are the other three and why are they being investigated?

Kendall Massett at the Delaware Charter Schools Network is fighting like a House Bill 50 parent proponent, but she is against this bill.  She has emails going out every day begging parents to email legislators to stop this bill.  Should what is essentially a lobbyist firm receive that much free reign to stop a bill?  What is Kendall so afraid of?  Is there something much, much bigger yet to be discovered?  That wouldn’t shock me at all.

Kendall Massett Teaches Parents How To Use Computers (and oppose legislation that makes DE charter schools accountable)

Wow Kendall.  Thank you for the computer lesson!  I had no idea how to navigate through a website until you taught me.  Notice on this very important “action alert” she doesn’t give any reasons why House Bill 186 is bad for charter schools, just that it’s “bad for our charters”.  For those who have never heard of Kendall Massett (which is most of the state), she is the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  Or, in another words, a cheerleader non-profit for Delaware charter schools, backed by other “non-profits” and “foundations”.  Aside from having an annual show called “The IDEA awards” (which has absolutely nothing to do with special education), nobody really knows what they do except show up to charter school open houses, hang out at the Delaware DOE and Legislative Hall, and make very strange videos.

So if you believe your voice matters, and you want our charter schools to stop stealing taxpayer funds, please email your legislator by 7:00pm on Tuesday evening and offer your support of House Bill which makes charter schools in Delaware get a post-audit by the State Auditor.  As the poster in Kendall’s office says, “Change the way you look at things.”  An email or phone call of support will allow you to change the way you look at charter school finances!

My Email To Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf & Senator Patricia Blevins About House Bills 186 & 61

After seeing the stunts pulled by the Earl Jaques with House Bill 186, the Academy of Dover State Auditor report, and the very deliberate attempts by the Delaware Charter Schools Network to kill the bill, I decided to start digging into charter school board minutes yesterday which is how I found out the information on Odyssey Charter and Thomas Edison Charter School.  By the time I published that information, I was pretty livid and disgusted, so I emailed the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate to get both House Bill 186 AND House Bill 61.  This is what I wrote:

Good Evening Rep. Schwartzkopf and Senator Blevins,

I wrote two articles on Exceptional Delaware tonight about two Delaware charter schools, Odyssey and Thomas Edison.  All my information was obtained from their own board minutes.  These charters, along with Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy and two other unnamed charters are all having huge financial issues as well as investigations by Tom Wagner’s office.

Rep. Kim Williams has been monitoring these situations since last December when Family Foundations Academy was revealed to have fraud and waste going on with spending by their two heads of schools.  She very wisely introduced House Bill 53, then House Bill 154, both of which were folded into House Bill 186.  After a week of being in limbo, the bill was finally released from committee today.  I am asking you both a huge favor here, and I know I have no position to make this request.

I am asking Rep. Schwartzkopf to place this, as well as House Bill 61 (allows for recording of all school board meetings) on the agenda for a House vote tomorrow, and if it passes, that Senator Blevins suspends Delaware Senate rules and petition these bills out of the education committee and have them on the agenda for a Senate vote before midnight on June 30th. 

While we are cutting funds from services that desperately need funds, our charter schools are running amok.  And these are only the ones we KNOW are doing stuff to warrant an investigation by Wagner’s office.  For some reason, they are protected by organizations like the Delaware Charter Schools Network who may or may not know about many of these financial improprieties. 

If we truly want to make Delaware education a top priority, it starts with oversight of our schools.  This is beyond the point of absurdity.  Thank you very much for your consideration on this matter and I pray you will make the right decisions here for the good of Delaware students.

Kevin Ohlandt

If you would also like to see this action taken, please call Schwartkopf at (302) 744-4531 or email him at Peter.Schwartzokpf@state.de.us and call Blevins at (302) 744-4133 or email her at Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us and let them know you want votes on both of these very important bills.  And I strongly recommend doing this prior to 2pm today!

Thomas Edison Charter School Confirms Communication With State Auditor’s Office, Minutes Show Hiding Information From Independent Auditors & Slams Smarter Balanced Assessment

In their April 27th board minutes, Thomas Edison revealed they have been in communication with the Delaware State Auditor’s office.  While it doesn’t go into specifics, there is a lot of discussion about how to reveal contingency items and how to hide them…

“Mr. Christie stated that to Mr. Velasquez point we have a total of $104,250.00, that we’re saying we have spent this on contingency, but we haven’t really.  Mr. Blocksom asked if this makes us look bad and how would the auditors look at this.  Mrs. Winder stated that our external auditors wouldn’t recognize it, but not quite sure how the State would react.”

As well, the school absolutely kills it in discussion about the Smarter Balanced Assessment which they only refer to as “the test”.  Every Delaware Senator needs to read this report before the vote tomorrow.

The Delaware House of Representatives also need to read this and Pete Schwartzkopf needs to get House Bill 186 on the agenda tomorrow, the Senate needs to suspend Senate rules and skip the Senate Education Committee meeting for this bill, and get House Bill 186 passed before midnight June 30th.  This is a shining examples of how Delaware charter schools openly flaunt their disdain for state code and regulation in terms of financial matters.  They also need to do the same for House Bill 61 and get these charter schools recording all their board minutes and place them on their websites within seven business days.  The days of Delaware charters making their own rules are coming to an end.  And nothing Kendall Massett and the Delaware Charter Schools Network or all the backers, investors, and “non-profit” foundations do is going to stop this.

Earl Jaques: Release That Bill! Why are you not releasing it? That is the frightening question!

Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques is not releasing House Bill 186, legislation sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams.  This bill received 8 votes to have the bill released from the House Education Committee a week ago.  This bill would allow charter schools to have post-audits done by the State Auditor, just like traditional school districts are required to do.

With every Delaware media organization jumping on the Academy of Dover auditor report issued yesterday, as well as Family Foundations Academy’s massive theft by former heads of school, and the fact that the auditor released information with regards to 7 charter schools being investigated by that office, I have to wonder why Jaques is not releasing this bill.  Does he answer to the people of Delaware or the Delaware Charter Schools Network?  This is just another of the many colossal failures Jaques has committed this year as Chair of the House Education Committee.  Between him and Sokola I truly don’t know which is worse.  I think a full-scale investigation needs to occur with both these legislative clowns.  How high does the collusion go with those who want to privatize our public schools?

Action Reaction: Delaware Charter School Network Is Stopping Audit Bills, Email The House Now In Support of HB 186!

Now I have a new website to look at on a weekly basis.  Thanks for that Kendall Massett!  It turns out the Delaware Charter School Network has a portal set up on their website to automatically email legislators when they don’t like a pending bill that might affect charter schools.  That’s fair, I suggest folks email legislators all the time.  However, when the messages sent do not give accurate facts, I take issue with that.

For example, the current campaign is against House Bill 186.  In a nutshell, HB186 is as follows:

Currently, all school districts, including vocational schools, are subject to the Auditor of Accounts. Edits to the November 2010 Charter School Manual removed instructions for charter schools to go through Auditor of Accounts when contracting for audits. There is presently no legislative authority to require charter schools to submit to the Auditor of Accounts processes. This bill adds charter schools to the list of entities for audits through the Auditor of Accounts. The bill takes effect so that the Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits for the time periods starting on or after July 1, 2015. (source: http://legis.delaware.gov website)

This bill combines the now stricken House Bills 53 and 154, which were both sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams.  She watched as Family Foundations Academy almost got shut down due to financial mismanagement (fraud), and has seen this time and time again at many of our charter schools.

Now the Delaware Charter School Network is gunning for any legislation that would hold charter schools accountable for their finances through their Action Center  on their website.  I find the following facts they are using to stop this bill either outright lies or gross exaggerations.

This is the text of the introduction:

Our email campaign last week to stop HB 154 from being released from the House Education Committee was a success! Representative after Representative told us that they had heard from their constituents and that it was so helpful. NICE GOING!! Your action along with other circumstances led to the desired outcome, but the fight is not over. We have learned that the bill’s sponsor has introduced a new bill that combines HB 53 and HB 154 – House Bill 186. The new bill has been placed on the House Education Committee agenda for Wednesday, June 17 (TOMORROW). This means that we must re-launch our campaign, and this time we will be alerting all House members with the same message not just the committee members. We have altered the message slightly so even if you sent an email last week, it is okay to send again. Start by entering your email address and home zip code over to the right. When you complete the next screen, the email will be sent automatically based on your home address. The reasons to oppose the legislation are the same…

Gee Kendall, what were those “other circumstances”?  I know you were at Legislative Hall last Wednesday cause I saw you at the Senate Education Committee meeting.  Your organization are registered lobbyists down at Leg. Hall.  More concerning is the text in this email you are having people send to their elected officials.

“This bill will not stop fraud.”

It might not, but it will find it much quicker than anyone else has in the past.  All too often we hear the same sob story: “We had no idea this was going on for years and years.  Heavens to Betsy, they were so secretive about it.”  We don’t just hear this from the charter schools but from our own Department of Education.  It would help if these charters actually took the time to have their Citizens Budget Oversight Committee meetings.  I saw fraud flags all over the purchase card website Delaware has.  It’s called opening your eyes.

“…our schools already receive less funding on average than district schools ($3000 less on average).”

There are several reasons for that.  Traditional school districts, on average, have more special needs students that get more funding for special education, more low-income students, and more minorities in some cases.  As well, the LIE they get $3000 less on average is completely false.  As per the DOE’s School Profiles website, statewide school districts receive $12,901 on average student funding whereas charters receive $11,521.  That my lobbyist friend, is a different of $1,380, not $3000.  Nice try.  Charters may not receive capital funding, and you will never let us forget it.  However, they do get some extra perks to make up for that.  We have the Charter School Performance Fund whereby some charters may qualify for up to $250,000 a year from the DOE based on certain criteria.  We have the charter school transportation slush fund, where the charters get to keep any extra transportation funds they don’t use which last year alone was well over a million dollars for most of the charter schools collectively.  As well, they get tons of money from donors like the East Side Foundation, or the Longwood Foundation which pours millions of dollars into charter schools each year.  They gave Odyssey Charter $1.4 million in grant funds for their new school.  As well as numerous other corporate donors.  Traditional school districts aren’t allowed to get these extra perks and aren’t included in the funding calculations the DOE provides.  I would say on average, with all these other factors involved, charters get more funds per average student than traditional school districts.

“…a one size fits all RFP will not take that into consideration and a school could end up paying a significant amount of money for something that they do not need…”

Yet the charters in Delaware seem to be okay with a one size fits all standardized test in the form of Smarter Balanced that gives the illusion of helping vulnerable students but in actuality will further separate them from their peers.  And the charter schools DO need this.  As a state, we must protect our students from funds not reaching the classroom, and if fraud is going on, we are legally and morally responsible to find, fix and punish actions like this.  There are three publicly known charters in Delaware under investigation by the State Auditor’s office: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy.  Rumors suggest even more, and the auditor’s office confirmed they are looking at several but wouldn’t name any other schools.

“Charter schools support accountability.”

Then this bill should be a no-brainer.  But the reality is they don’t like getting investigated by anyone.  When they do, they often lie to protect themselves.  Because their board meetings are not recorded, and some charters rarely post their board minutes monthly, it is very difficult to know what goes on in these charter schools.  I am not saying this is all charters, but there are enough of them this bill is warranted.  And lest we forget, the Delaware Charter School Network is funded by non-profits, for-profits, and dues paid to them by the charter schools themselves.  If the DOE can’t hold charter schools fully accountable, perhaps we need even more legislation like this to hold their fat to the fire.

Please email the entire House of Representatives in support of House Bill 186.  I apologize for not having a fancy website portal that sends a one size fits all message to legislators, but I can offer your ability to send your own individual and unique message to legislators.  It’s called copy and paste!

Charles.Potter@state.de.us StephanieT.Bolden@state.de.us helene.keeley@state.de.us gerald.brady@state.de.us melanie.g.smith@state.de.us debra.heffernan@state.de.us Bryon.Short@state.de.us Quinton.Johnson@state.de.us Kevin.Hensley@state.de.us sean.matthews@state.de.us jeff.spiegelman@state.de.us Deborah.Hudson@state.de.us john.l.mitchell@state.de.us Peter.Schwartzkopf@state.de.us Valerie.Longhurst@state.de.us jj.johnson@state.de.us Michael.Mulrooney@state.de.us michael.barbieri@state.de.us kimberly.williams@state.de.us Steve.Smyk@state.de.us Michael.Ramone@state.de.us joseph.miro@state.de.us paul.baumbach@state.de.us Edward.Osienski@state.de.us john.kowalko@state.de.us John.Viola@state.de.us Earl.Jaques@state.de.us william.carson@state.de.us trey.paradee@state.de.us bobby.outten@state.de.us Sean.Lynn@state.de.us andria.bennett@state.de.us jack.peterman@state.de.us Lyndon.Yearick@state.de.us David.L.Wilson@state.de.us Harvey.Kenton@state.de.us Ruth.BriggsKing@state.de.us Ronald.Gray@state.de.us Daniel.Short@state.de.us Timothy.Dukes@state.de.us Richard.G.Collins@state.de.us