Indian River School District, located in central Sussex County, has the least amount of administrators per student out of all the school districts in Delaware. The district has 1,000 more students than they did four years ago. With a growing population and over 10,400 students in the district, Indian River had to cut back on administrators back in the Fall of 2016 to avoid the state having to bail them out during a financial crisis. Their former leader, Susan Bunting, is now the Delaware Secretary of Education. Mark Steele leads the district now and has to deal with doing more with less. Compared to similar districts with student enrollment at that size, such as Appoquinimink and Brandywine, Indian River runs a tight ship these days. Indian River has a large number of English Language learners in the district and with a current lack of extra funding for those students, it can be tough. The district faced an investigative audit by the State Auditor’s Office at the same time they tried to pass a referendum. While the referendum did eventually pass, it caused the district to get their finances together fast!
The Indian River School District passed their referendum today. According to The News Journal, voters passed the expense measure with 7,095 yes votes. 5,394 voted no.
The vote comes exactly 100 days after the district’s first attempt to pass a current expense referendum failed by a mere 30 votes back on Nov. 22, 2016.
The referendum came as a result of unprecedented growth within the district, interim superintendent Mark Steele said.
Earlier this week, voters in the Colonial School District did not pass their referendum measures. Like Christina, Brandywine, and Indian River in the past couple of years, Colonial will assuredly take another stab at it. For the Indian River, the district is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief after a contentious year which saw their Chief Financial Officer resign in controversy and a painful audit investigation which showed a great deal of financial issues in the district.
The Delaware State Auditor, Tom Wagner, released a follow-up today to the Indian River School District audit investigation. The original report, released days before the district’s December referendum, showed very damning allegations against the district’s former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller. Today’s memorandum from Wagner came out before another referendum the district will be holding on March 2nd. While the follow-up shows significant improvement there are still some areas of concern as shown in the below report.
The News Journal is reporting Indian River lost their referendum by a mere 30 votes, with 3,321 for and 3,351 against. It reminds me of a recent election in our country. I have no doubt the district will roll the dice with a 2nd attempt in the next couple of months. But the district has to own up to the audit investigation last week. By stating the referendum has nothing to do with that report, they are shooting themselves in the foot. I have a very hard time with Susan Bunting and her credibility at this point. If Patrick Miller, the former CFO, was controlling everything with finances in the district then she let him do that. She turned a blind eye to what was going on and that shows a clear lack of leadership. As well, the Board has the capability of determining the district’s finances.
Bunting said issues need to be addressed across the board to ensure the referendum passes if it is held again. Although an audit was released late last week detailing financial issues over the past five years, Bunting said she won’t blame the audit for the failure for the referendum to pass.
If it was one year or possibly two that Miller played with school finances, that would be one thing. But this went on a long time. Even more frightening that it took tips to the Auditor’s office to get to the bottom of it. Not only was Bunting and the Board asleep at the wheel, so was our state. What happened in Indian River should give our legislators a wake-up call as well. They should somehow get funding from somewhere and beef up the State Auditor of Accounts Office. Every school district and charter school in this state needs a thorough audit. We cannot continue like this. Our children lose every single time. All this talk of extra funding for schools… the funds are already there. We just need to redefine the existing funding and find a system where those funds are used equitably for all students. We can’t afford to stick with the status quo and then act shocked when we see reports like the Indian River one last week.
Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Indian River School District Audit Investigation at 2pm today. The numerous allegations in the report include using facsimile signatures for purchases, the Superintendent receiving gifts in the form of jewelry, the former CFO donating over $50,000 to non-profits where he served as the President of the boards, the business office lying to the auditor about a discrimination lawsuit against the former CFO, incorrect paychecks and salaries for teachers, not following the state rules for accounting, the CFO’s sister-in-law working in the business office, almost $160,000 in payment vouchers that had half for invalid purchases and the other half breaking rules all over the place, possible allegations of the district paying for a board member’s tuition at a Maryland school, many reimbursements to the CFO’s personal American Express Card, over $20,000 on in-state food purchases, the Superintendent buying White House Christmas ornaments, over 20% of certain scholarships given to relatives of board members, and much more.
Indian River has a referendum in five days, on November 22nd. Do you support this referendum after reading this report?
Updated: 3:02pm, 11/17/16: The Dover Post is reporting the district will hold a press event tomorrow at 10am to discuss the Auditor’s report. Newsflash, Bunting was mentioned in this report a lot. She doesn’t get to just walk away and blame everything on Patrick Miller, the former CFO…
Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner promised the citizens of Indian River School District the audit investigation his office is working on would be released before their referendum. I assumed it would be released at least a week before the referendum to give the citizens in the district enough time to digest it. I pray to God his office does not release it the day before to soften the blow. We all know there will be some very serious stuff in there. We know something happened in this district. A chief financial officer with a checkered past in another district doesn’t get put on leave and then “resign” a month later unless something very serious went on. When is Delaware going to stop playing this game? When will full transparency actually happen in this state? I feel citizens should have at least a week for this so perhaps the district should put in a request with the Delaware Dept. of Elections to postpone the referendum.
Indian River has a referendum coming on November 22nd. Before that happens, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office will issue an audit inspection report. A citizen in the district paid for ads in the Sussex County Post with allegations against the district and how they are spending money. In response, Indian River Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting, Board President Charles Bireley and Board Vice-President Rodney Layfield submitted a letter to the editor at the Sussex County Post.
Many of the ads attacking the referendum and the response from the district center around the former Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Miller. Miller resigned earlier this year without any public knowledge of the events which led to his resignation. He was put on paid administrative leave the month prior.
As a result of the letter from the district, there is some clarity around the hiring of Miller in Indian River:
It should be noted that Mr. Miller was hired by the Indian River School District in September 1998, approximately six weeks before the state auditor’s office began its investigation of Brandywine’s finances. The final auditor’s report was not issued until September 2000 and Mr. Miller’s criminal case was not adjudicated until November 2000, more than two years after he was hired by IRSD.
As it turns out, the district is claiming they requested an audit, even though no prior audit report suggested a problem:
The public should know that the district requested the audit that is currently being conducted by the state auditor’s office. This request was made based upon information received in April by the administration and Board of Education. Therefore, any accusation of a “cover up” is unfounded, misleading and unfair.
One item in the letter puzzled me greatly.
The district is committed to being a good steward of our taxpayers’ dollars. This is evident in the property tax reductions implemented by our Board of Education during the past three years.
If the district knew they had all these future costs coming and a student population growing by leaps and bounds, why would they lower property taxes? Were these for things like tuition tax or because prior referenda increases ran out? For example, the capital costs for a school building do not last forever. Eventually those increases end. If that is the case with Indian River, it doesn’t show the board just deciding to lower taxes but rather they are following what was naturally supposed to happen.
While I have posted what amounts to rumors (although told to me by many different people not associated with each other) regarding Miller, I will wait to see what the audit investigation reports. I believe that when taxpayer dollars are at stake in the operation of a school district which has over 10,000 students in it, the privacy of one employee should not be given greater weight than everyone else involved in the district. There needs to be some type of legislation allowing a school district or board of education to release information when something happens that triggers an investigation from the auditor’s office. When there is very little transparency surrounding serious issues, especially during a referendum campaign, the public needs to know exactly what is going on. If this were a charter school, they would be forced to reveal what is going on through a formal review process. We need that type of mechanism for our local school districts as well.
This can’t be good at all! Not sure how I missed this one. But it is out there. Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner publicly announced the Indian River audit inspection will be released before their referendum. The November 22nd referendum could definitely swing one way or another based on this audit. From what I’m hearing, it is NOT going to be pretty. It could be a game-changer for the district with very bad things coming out. Remember the whole Joey Wise thing up in Christina ten years ago? Think along those lines. Christina still gets bashed for that one even though it happened a decade ago. This one will stick with Indian River for a long time. And while everyone is playing the “Who will be the next Delaware Secretary of Education” game, I think Indian River Superintendent Susan Bunting will be off that list the second this audit comes out. The last thing citizens of this district would want to happen is a referendum victory and then an audit inspection coming out that would have caused votes to shift to a no.
State Auditor’s Investigation into the Indian River School District
Posted On: Thursday, October 20, 2016
Dover, Del. – In response to media inquiries regarding the Auditor of Accounts’ (AOA) investigation into the Indian River School District, members of the media are advised that AOA intends to release its report in advance of the District’s referendum vote scheduled for Tuesday, November 22, 2016.
State Auditor R. Thomas Wagner, Jr. has authorized compensatory time for individuals working on this investigation in an effort to expedite the release of the report.
For more information, please contact John Fluharty at 302-857-3937.
The Indian River School District has seen better times. While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to. As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.
Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office. But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details. I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.
“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”
On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:
The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.
But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:
More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).
Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year. In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review. After that it will be released to the public. Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum? That could be important for many reasons. If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no. If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated. As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.
The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:
If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.
But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district. There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week. On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River. Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy. According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:
The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.” The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.
As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me. Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts. And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out. While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.
It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.
Indian River has NO monthly financial statements, budgets, nothing showing ANY money whatsoever on their website. Way to be transparent! Hard to look for your yearly budgets with no information. What are you hiding? How much money did Miller mess with in the finances? Is the state going to have to bail you guys out? Why are teachers being told not to plug in anything that isn’t normally plugged in inside the classrooms?
I’m hearing Miller absconded with a ton of money, up to $14-15 million according to some. Where is the transparency on this issue? That is some very serious coin. How can we trust Indian River to safeguard student data in the BRINC empire when the district can’t even safeguard their own money? Oh wait, I’m sorry, the taxpayers money. This is going to make any district financial meltdown in the past look like Romper Room.
Why is Bunting making this seem like some ordinary hiccup on the news? This is the problem in Delaware. Too many figures in power who think the people don’t need to know the truth. Too many legislators who think they are the last point of transparency. Not this time. Come clean Indian River so we can all see what’s going on. If the state winds up bailing you guys out we all pay the price for that one. Better to tell the truth now than face the wrath of the entire state.
The fact that all your financial information is missing does not bode well for this district. I have to wonder… when this district knew what happened in Brandywine with Patrick Miller, why would they hire a financial guy who basically plea bargained his way out of criminal charges? Delaware deserves better than this.
Updated, 8:18am: This is being referred to as Millergate around Sussex County and Indian River School District. It’s not looking good the district will be able to make payroll going into October. This is NOT good folks.
Indian River School District just cut $3 million from their budget earlier this week. Where will these cuts come from? Dani Bozzini with WMDT has the answer:
And with more students means more teachers. The district wasn’t getting enough funding to continue the same allocation of their schools budgets so they made some changes.
Instead of cutting teachers and staff’s salaries, the district decided to cut the discretionary part of the budget. The District office was cut by 50 percent and the schools’ budgets by 30 percent.
Here’s the thing though… most traditional school districts don’t cut their budget unless they are having some type of financial problem. If a school district grows, the property taxes collected for local funds, as well as state and federal funds should compensate for that. The district’s Chief Financial Officer was put on paid administrative leave in April and then he was able to retire in May. The State Auditor’s office also began an investigation into the district’s finances. No report has come out from the Auditor of Account’s office concerning Indian River School District.
I believe the school district should own up to whatever Miller is suspected of doing. This isn’t the first time mysterious financial issues have come up with him. He plea bargained his way out of something similar in Brandywine eighteen years ago.
I love how Superintendent Susan Bunting makes it sound so casual in the article with WMDT.
Dr. Bunting tells 47 ABC that students or parents won’t see much of any changes and it’s just little cutbacks to help with their growing population.
Yeah, okay. You don’t cut $3 million out of your budget unless you are having some serious issues. Now I have to start looking into Indian River too. I don’t have time for this. Just come clean Bunting! Between charter-district payments, ESSA, being the non-paid watchdog for the Delaware DOE, elections, and everything else, can you just email me and show me what is really wrong with your budget? That would be super! Cause if what I’m hearing is true, you guys are going to have to come up with some new spin next month. I’ll give you a few days, but then I’m getting the shovel out.
Or does this have anything to do with the charter-district payments? How many students does Indian River send to Sussex Academy? When did the CFO get put on administrative leave again? April? Hmm…
How many inspections are going on with schools over at Tom Wagner’s office? Time to bring Kathleen Davies back Tom. You can’t handle all this work!
The Chief Financial Officer of the Indian River School District, Patrick Miller, will be able to retire according to Jon Budler with Delaware 105.9. Miller was put on paid administrative leave last month after allegations surface of financial malfeasance. The Delaware State Auditor’s office is conducting an audit of the district’s finances.
As per the article, Miller will be able to keep his pension but his retirement will save the district the burden of paying his $162,258 yearly salary during what could be a lengthy state audit process. Miller was also the subject of an audit with Brandywine School District when he had the same title there in the 1990s. He began his stint with Indian River in 1998 but the state audit report did not come out until 2000.
As per Indian River Board President Dr. Don Hattier:
This is what we’re stuck with. If Mr. Miller is allowed to retire, at least he’s off our payroll which safes the district a ton of money. I believe that’s what the public wants us to do.
I found an article this morning from Kelli Steele with Delaware 105.9 about Indian River School District’s Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Miller. He was placed on paid administrative leave without any explanation to the public. This isn’t the first time Miller has been under the microscope:
Miller came to the Indian River School District from the Brandywine School District where he resigned from his position as acting supervisor of the business office in September 1998, after he pleaded NO contest to a criminal charge arising from the State Auditor’s nearly two-year investigation of District finances.
Of course, the school district isn’t going to come out and say why he was put on paid administrative leave as of April 24th because they have to protect personnel. But how much money are we talking here? I saw a link on Twitter that Indian River is now live streaming their board meetings. Of course I saw this after their last board meeting. If anyone knows what is going on here, feel free to reach out to me.
This is an important message for ALL Indian River School District parents: You need to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. If they started already, do not let them take one more second of this test. Refuse The Test! The Network of Public Education is calling for a National Opt Out of these high-stakes tests. They aren’t effective at all, and everyone knows it. These tests are being used for nefarious purposes. Do not believe the lies coming out of Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education. They care more about corporate profit than your child. It doesn’t matter if your kid is smart. It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican. What matters is your child, and their education. This is not education. It is a mockery of education.
Please give the principal of your child’s school a letter on Monday morning indicating you are opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Let the school know you want your child to receive academic instruction while the other kids are taking the test. If they tell you that you can’t opt your child out, look them in the eye and say “Yes I can, and if you make my child take this test I will call the police.” To get support from other parents, please join the Opt Out Indian River Facebook page.