Controversial 5 Mile Radius Bill To Be Heard In Senate Education Committee On Wednesday

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 is on the agenda for the Sokola Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, June 7th at 3:30pm.  State Senator David Sokola has stuffed the agenda with six bills, but in a half-hour time span.  Most of the other bills shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows though.  The House Education Committee canceled their meeting on Wednesday.  Even though most people have their eye on the budget, it is always a good idea to see what else is going on.  Between this bill, the Coastal Zone Act reorganization, legal marijuana, death penalty, and Lord knows what else will come up, we need eyes and ears more than ever down at Legislative Hall!

I will say upfront I oppose this bill because of the House Substitute that removes the Christina School District Wilmington students from this.  This added language (which was insisted on by Senator Sokola) only serves to benefit one school: Newark Charter School.

To see what is on tap for ALL the committee meetings, this week, please go here: http://legis.delaware.gov/CommitteeMeetings

Matt Denn Letter Rips NCS 5 Mile Radius and HS1 For House Bill 85 But Is Unable To Offer Official Legal Opinion

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn responded yesterday to State Reps. Potter, Bolden and Kowalko’s request for a legal opinion on the constitutionality of HS1 for House Bill 85.  Denn offered valid legal reasons why he was unable to offer a legal opinion, but that he also agrees with the Enrollment Preferences Task Force recommendations for not having the 5 mile radius to begin with and believes all students within a district should be given preference to choicing into a charter school in the same district.

Potter, Bolden, & Kowalko Seek Legal Opinion From Attorney General Matt Denn For HS1 For House Bill #85

Yesterday, three Delaware State Representatives sent a letter to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn.  They are asking him for an Attorney General Opinion on HS1 for House Bill 85.  Things just got very real with this legislation.  If Reps. Potter, Bolden, and Kowalko didn’t do it, I would have suggested it.  The five mile radius was bad enough.  But then to purposefully select certain students from not being allowed to apply to a charter school in their own school district, that puts a very clear mark on this.  It isn’t too late though.  Delaware Senator David Sokola can choose to get on the right side of history and change the bill so Newark Charter School does take the Christina Wilmington students.  Because anything else, under his prime directive, is outright discrimination and segregation.  We all know it.

I will not bend to any political request on this legislation.  I will not back away from what I originally published.  To me, I could really care less about the politics.  I don’t care if you are blue or red or purple.  If folks want to put their name on this legislation, go right ahead.  But I will not change my stance on this.  Even if I admire and respect the hell out of some of you for various reasons and would fight like hell for bills that we do agree on, on this bill I will not budge.  It is about doing what is right, for ALL students.  Yes, the bill is progress, but not enough.  We can agree to disagree on that.  But I will not be party to political games and not publishing what I know in my heart to be true. It isn’t personal.  It wouldn’t matter who sponsored this bill, I would feel the same way and I would have published the exact same article.  Yes, I am aware some of the legislators flipped their vote because of how it would make them look.  I am aware there was political fighting going on with this legislation.  I was there for the whole thing.  I opposed the bill when the House Substitute came in, and I made that very clear at the House Education Committee meeting when the bill was released.  It isn’t a Democrat thing and it isn’t a Republican thing.  It is a student thing.  It is an equity thing.  It is the right thing.

Newark Charter School 5 Mile Radius Bill & Education Funding SHOULD Be The Center Of Focus At Education Forum Monday Night

Delaware State Rep. Paul Baumbach will be moderating an education forum Monday evening at Newark High School from 7pm to 9pm.  Questions will be asked of the following: Senator David Sokola, Newark Charter Head of School Greg Meece, new Christina Superintendent Richard Gregg, Christina Board of Education President Elizabeth Paige, and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting.

Given the article on HS1 for House Bill 85 from yesterday, this forum could not come at a better time.  I challenge Greg Meece and Senator Sokola to explain WHY they didn’t want Christina’s Wilmington students included in the removal of the 5 mile radius legislation.  Yesterday, the Delaware House passed the bill with 27 yes and 13 no.

If you are able to get to this forum, I would strongly suggest doing so.  Especially if you are a parent of a Christina Wilmington student.

To clarify on the article from yesterday, I do not believe every legislator who voted yes on the bill is a racist.  I believe it was more political than anything else.  But, the unintended consequences of this bill will lead to more de facto segregation.

Education funding will also be a hot topic at this forum, as it should be.  I, for one, would like to know why the charters feel they should be able to keep their portion of the educational sustainment fund while local school districts don’t.  I would also like to know why there is talk that the charters will keep their transportation slush fund (extra freebie money they get to keep if they spend less than their budgeted transportation amount).

Newark Charter School Doesn’t Want Wilmington Black Kids Or Wilmington Special Needs Kids Going To Their Private School

Earlier this afternoon, State Rep. Rich Collins led the Delaware House of Representatives in prayer and asked them, no matter what, to put children first in their mind when they are voting on legislation.  Two and a half hours later, Collins along with 26 other state reps both Republican and Democrat, voted to keep Newark Charter School first.

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 passed the House today with 27 yes, 13 no, and 1 absent.  The bill removes the 5 mile radius enrollment preference for Delaware charter schools with one exception.  Since Christina School District has a portion of their district in Wilmington, that is not landlocked with the rest of the district, those Wilmington children will not be allowed to choice to Newark Charter School.  Even though the Wilmington students from Red Clay and Colonial can choice to other charter schools, those Christina Wilmington students can’t choice to that one school.  They can still choice to other charters within the district or even outside of the district, but not NCS.

The bill still has to go through the Senate.  By primary sponsor State Rep. Kim Williams’ own admission, if the bill did not have that provision it wouldn’t have moved forward in the Senate.  The Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator David Sokola, used to be on the board of Newark Charter School.  It isn’t really a state secret that State Rep. Melanie Smith bought a house in that area so her child can go to Newark Charter School.  Why does it always come back to Newark Charter School?

State Rep. John Kowalko put an amendment on the bill that would have removed that provision, but it failed to pass the House.  25 state reps voted no on the amendment.

I know State Rep. Kim Williams very well.  I know her intent with this bill was to get a start on changing this process.  It is better than what we had before.  But it really isn’t.  Yes, there will be a greater number of Christina School District students who will have the option of choicing into Newark Charter School.  That is true, provided the bill passes and gets signed by Governor Carney.  But it also sends a clear statement about Delaware as a state: we will allow de facto segregation.  Any time we are disallowing students from having a free and appropriate public education, we are not moving forward as a state, we are moving horribly backwards.

State Reps Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and J.J. Johnson, all African-American, voiced strong opposition to the bill for the same things I am writing.  Bolden said it best.  What does it say about Delaware as a state when legislation like this comes up?  She couldn’t say this, so I will.  It shows what a discriminatory state we are to the rest of the country.  It says city kids aren’t good enough for a charter in the suburbs.  It says we vote in legislators who would rather keep one charter school from opening up to ALL students than making Delaware, the first state to sign the U.S. Constitution, a fair and equitable state for all children.

Let’s be honest here, the only reason for this legislation in the first place is because of Newark Charter School.  Taking what could be a good portion of their student population out of the picture in the coming years defeats the whole intent of the bill in the first place.

Which State Reps voted to keep de facto segregation going in Delaware today?

Bryon Short (D)

Paul Baumbach (D)

David Bentz (D)

Gerald Brady (D)

William Carson (D)

Rich Collins (R)

Danny Short (R)

Tim Dukes (R)

Ronald Gray (R)

Kevin Hensley (R)

Deb Hudson (R)

Earl Jaques (D)

Quinton Johnson (D)

Harvey Kenton (R)

Ed Osienski (D)

William Outten (R)

Trey Paradee (D)

Charles Postles (R)

Melanie Smith (D)

Joe Miro (R)

Mike Ramone (R)

Steven Smyk (R)

Jeff Spiegelman (R)

John Viola (D)

Kim Williams (D)

David Wilson (R)

Lyndon Yearick (R)

Only one Republican voted no on the bill, State Rep. Ruth Briggs-King.  I find it ironic that many of the Dems who have part of their district in the 5 mile radius for Newark Charter School voted yes.  A couple of the no votes surprised me, but I will take it.  For those who aren’t familiar with what our state legislators look like, there are no black Republicans in the Delaware House or Senate.  All of the above legislators are white.

No offense to Kim Williams, and I get her intent behind this bill, but I can’t support this bill.  I vehemently oppose it.  Any legislation that restricts a child from doing anything will never be a bill I can get behind.  Any bill that gives Delaware an ugly stain on our perception is one I can not support.  This is not progress.  This is very sad.

We need elected officials in our state who won’t follow the whims of Newark Charter School.  We need legislators who will look out for ALL students.  We need lawmakers who won’t bow to the Delaware Charter Schools Network and do what is right.  We need legislators who realize collaboration when it comes to education is NOT always a good thing.  Today was no victory by any means.  It was a horrible step backwards in Delaware.  We might as well paint a sign on Newark Charter School that says Wilmington students not allowed.  The original five mile radius for NCS was bad enough, but this… this is blatant discrimination by a public school that gets funding from taxpayers around the state.

Newark Charter School is one of the best schools in Delaware.  It is because of laws like this that have allowed them to cherry-pick their students and take advantage of the law so they give a façade of excellence.  If they truly let in any student, they would be no better or worse than the schools around them.  But they would be equal.  I would never let my child go to a school like that.  What kind of lesson would that teach him?  If he were picked in their lottery, I would tell him he won because so many kids could not.  If I lived in Wilmington, would I really want my child going to a school that practiced discrimination and segregation for over 15 years?

I would tell you to voice your opposition to the Delaware Senate on this bill.  But it really doesn’t matter.  If it passes as is, it is the same story.  If it fails, Newark Charter School still has their 5 mile radius and still keeps kids from the Christina School District out of their prestigious public school.  Any attempt at amending the bill will fail.  But the truest failure is how Delaware looks to the entire country with this one bill.

Updated, 6:52pm: I want to add one thing.  My thoughts on this bill are not a knock on all Delaware charter schools.  There are many charter schools in Wilmington who would be more than happy to take the students Newark Charter School doesn’t want.  And they do.  My main issues with charter schools in Delaware have been the very inequity I am writing about here.

 

 

 

Enrollment Preferences Bill Released From Committee But Newark Charter School Exclusion Remains Controversial

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 was released from the Delaware House Education Committee today.  There are very serious concerns due to a “compromise” brought forth by the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The bone of contention surrounds the Christina School District and Newark Charter School.  Since a portion of Christina exists in Wilmington, those students would not be considered in the enrollment preference which includes all students in a choice school’s district.  The line of thinking appears to be the district section of Wilmington is not connected to the rest of the district.  However, those who oppose this section of the bill feel it is a barrier for Wilmington students who are part of the Christina School District.

Today, State Rep. John Kowalko is bringing forth an amendment but no one on the committee knew specifically what the amendment was.  State Rep. Kim Williams, the primary sponsor of the bill, stated she assumes it would be to remove lines 7-9 of the bill which would give Newark Charter School their Wilmington exclusion.  Williams said she would not support the amendment because she gave her word to Senator David Sokola.  This, apparently, was an addition to the bill from Senator Sokola which caused the House Substitute bill from the original House Bill 85.  State Rep. Joe Miro said he would not support the bill if the amendment passed.

State Rep. Sean Matthews said he is in support of the bill but does not feel the bill serves all students in the Christina School District.  He felt the bill does not allow for Wilmington students to go to Newark Charter School and the exclusion for NCS was put in so it can pass the Delaware Senate.

If Newark Charter School is so good, they should take all students. -State Rep. Sean Matthews

State Rep. Deb Heffernan agreed with Matthews.  The bill was released with 11 votes in favor of the bill.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting said the Delaware Department of Education is taking a neutral stance on the bill.  Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said former State Board member R.L. Hughes was on the Enrollment Preferences Task Force and voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius. Kristin Dwyer, the Delaware State Education Association Director of Legislation and Political Organizing,  said she is happy the conversation is opened with this bill but DSEA does not feel the bill goes far enough.  DSEA feels the 5-mile radius should be completely removed.

My concerns with this bill are the very nature of Newark Charter School to begin with.  Even with their 5-mile radius, their student populations do not reflect that of the Greater Newark area.  This is the public comment I gave to the committee and my idea for a potential amendment.

While I am very happy to see this bill, I have concerns around Newark Charter School. When the charter school had their major modification approved to build their high school, they were instructed with formulating a plan to allow for more diversity in their district.  I have yet to see that materialize, even within their current 5 mile radius.  While their special education numbers have increased, they are still woefully under what the state average is, much less the Christina School District.  In the school profile for this school year, African-Americans represent 10.7% of their student population compared to 39.4% of Christina.  While factoring in the African-American population of the Wilmington contingent of Christina student population, the greater Newark area has a much higher population of African-Americans compared to NCS.  I would recommend an amendment be placed on this bill for a weighted lottery for charter schools, magnets, and any choice school where the demographics are disproportionately lower than that of the surrounding district to allow populations that do not seem to be getting access to certain charter school even footing and representation within those schools.  Enrollment preferences are meant to allow the most disadvantaged students into choice schools, not to keep them out. Thank you.

The bill, if passed, would take place immediately.  However, it would not be able to kick in until the 2018-2019 school year since the school choice calendar for the 2017-2018 school year closed in January.  During the House Bill 90 Enrollment Preferences Task Force, the majority of the members voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius as an enrollment preference for choice schools.  Williams said she does not necessarily agree with the Newark Charter School exclusion, but felt compromise was necessary.  If the bill didn’t move forward, she would not be able to help any students.

Once Kowalko’s amendment is public, I will add it to this article.

Feminist Club At Newark Charter Schools Denies Access To Those With A Y Chromosome

feminism

Breaking News!  Today, at Newark Charter School, some female students began a feminist club.  That seems to be all the rage these days.  But something happened they didn’t quite expect.  When male students wanted to join, they were told they can’t be a part of it.  Why?  If I had to guess, it’s the whole guy-girl thing.

In today’s world of both gender bathrooms, inclusion must not be a lesson learned among some NCS students.  To be crystal clear on this, this feminist club was not brought forth or endorsed by Newark Charter School.  It was created by students, for students.  Well, female students as it turns out.  One parent is actually not happy about their son being barred entrance from this elite club.  We have come a long way since the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club on the Little Rascals.  I would love to know what inspired these female students to start a feminist club.

Will we start to see parents of male students leaving NCS?  Will the DOE or the State of Delaware intervene?  Can we expect to see another student sit-in?  Stay tuned.

*This is not a joke post.  This really happened.

16 Who Defined 2016: Greg Meece & Newark Charter School

No one seemed to be the center of controversy in Delaware education more than Head of School Greg Meece, the face of Newark Charter School.  Greg Meece had a very busy year behind the scenes of many headlines.  It almost seemed like the ongoing district and charter school war centers around NCS and the Christina School District.  Here, in it’s entirety, is the story of Newark Charter School in 2016.  There are still 27 days left, so I may have to put some updates in before 11:59pm on December 31st!  If you see blue in the article, that is a link to an article I published on NCS or Greg Meece.

Before I get into the whole local funding formula fiasco, we need to look at other events Meece was involved in.  Prior to this year, I really didn’t write about NCS that much.  The school tends to keep things to themselves.  What happens at NCS stays at NCS.  That changed in February.  On February 5th, it was announced NCS would get a “distinguished Title I” designation for their students outstanding scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The only problem?  NCS isn’t really a Title I school.  The reward was based on the district surrounding them which has Title I schools all over the place.

The next day, I posted how a special needs girl was denied an opportunity to participate in NCS’ lottery.  This caused a massive outcry all over the state.  The NCS board, the previous fall, said any child who turned six after a certain date would not be able to participate in the lottery.  For children with developmental or other disabilities who may start school later, this would prevent those families for applying to NCS.  I had people email Greg Meece.  He responded to my email the next day.  and it eventually caused the school to change their mind.  The girl was let into the lottery but she did not win a placement.

A month later, I discovered NCS does not file IRS tax returns because of very vague loopholes from the IRS dating back to 1995.  I sent a tip to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office on this.  As well, I submitted a FOIA to NCS to which they responded very fast.  Nearly ten months later and nothing has come of the tip to the auditor.  I know they were investigating this because I received a call from the state auditor’s office about this.  When I called over the summer to find out that status of the investigation, I never received a confirmation that it was being worked on.

Things stayed relatively quiet until shortly after the school year ended.  Delaware Senator David Sokola nuked a great bill dealing with teacher evaluations in Delaware.  House Bill 399 was meant to undo some of the very damaging practices thrust open teachers from the state.  Sokola got involved with the bill and put an amendment on it.  One of the aspects of the amendment, the addition of parent surveys at the pilot schools, is something  Meece implemented at Newark Charter School.  The ties between Sokola and NCS just kept opening up like a can of worms.

As folks were getting ready for the 4th of July, I thought out loud about NCS, Senator Sokola, and the missing Kathleen Davies.  I wonder if NCS had anything to do with that.  Davies disappearance from the Auditor’s office hit mainstream media with a lot of details missing.  While NCS and Meece were not mentioned in that article, that didn’t rule them out on my suspect list for what happened to Davies.  State Rep. Kim Williams broke the news in comments on Kavips blog about a petty cash audit Davies had been working on that disappeared as well.  I went into a lot of detail and started naming suspects.  A few months later the mystery deepened what the petty cash audit turned into petty cash warning letters but NCS wasn’t involved.

While the Kathleen Davies mystery was simmering, I discovered NCS did away with the age restriction for Kindergarten applicants but they came up with a new policy that students entering Kindergarten could only apply once.  So if a child with developmental or other disabilities did spend another year in pre-school, and the parents applied to NCS before that, they could not apply the next year.  It was the same discriminatory package decorated in different wrapping paper.

After I received detailed breakdowns of every school district and charter’s payment allocations for Fiscal Year 2016, I began to take a closer look at NCS payments.  I found they spent an exorbitant amount on student body activities.  Only one district was higher than them.  This raised my suspicions that something funky was going on which led me to examine the funding for their “cafetorium” addition along with a STEM laboratory.  I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it was very ironic how numbers matched with other things.

By the end of August, as the school year started off nice and quiet, all hell broke loose.  The local funding formula was changing so charter schools would get more from the local districts.  I immediately pegged Greg Meece as the catalyst for this and dumped my feelings about NCS throughout the article.  Less than 24 hours later, Secretary Godowsky changed his mind on the change to the charter payments.  The next day I posed my theories on who was responsible for this at the Delaware DOE and openly asked Meece many questions about NCS.  I never did get a response from him.  I can’t imagine he is my biggest fan.  This led to a resurfacing of Greg Meece’s famous crab bucket analogy.  While all this was going on, Senator Sokola wrote a letter to the News Journal on his latest “discovery” for education.  Speaking of the News Journal, they wrote a very misleading article on the whole thing which prompted me to do even more research.  The President of the Christina board gave me the official news there would be no changes to the formula the next day.  But apparently Meece and NCS Board President had their own thoughts on the matter and wrote their version of events in a letter to NCS parents.  The true shock came the next day when a Senator Sokola email defended NCS and cast blame on Christina but I debunked a lot of his theories.  Then Christina sent a letter to parents.  For a week, NCS parents were coming out to defend their school.  Some of them got very nasty which prompted this response from me.  After a long ten days, I had to recap the whole thing and give some new information about district exclusions.  On September 7th, Christina held an open to the public legislative briefing to explain their side of the story and how the funding works with payments to charters.  I attended the meeting and recorded it.  Transcribing it was a bitch but it gave a ton of key information (which still makes my head hurt when the final outcome of this reached its climax this week).  I’ll have to see if I still have the recording to transcribe Part 2 of this meeting.  I assumed Christina argued their case so well it caused Secretary Godowsky to issue a letter to the legislators calling off the whole thing for this year.  Many assumed nothing would happen on this until the legislators returned in January based on Godowsky’s letter.

In the Spring, the General Assembly finally passed the Kilroy-inspired “All school boards must record” legislation.  For Newark Charter School’s very first audio recording, it was a whopping 16 minutes.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The next week, they won the Blue Ribbon School status from the U.S. DOE for their “outstanding” test scores (smelling a theme here?).  Senator Sokola got the spotlight treatment based on his upcoming General Election contest against Meredith Chapman so I felt obliged to showcase his very sad charter school legacy.  Of course NCS got a nod.

One would think after such a crazy month, NCS would try to stay out of the news.  Not the case.  The school ended September with a student sit-in.  Inspired by the U.S. Congress, students staged a sit-in when a teacher was fired over an incident with a student.  Instead of getting barbecued by the parents, the students jumped in on the comment roasting of this blog.  I actually admired the students for what some called “The Slappening”.  The teacher got her job back a couple of weeks later as Earth started spinning on its axis again.

On October 5th, Delaware found out the charter school response to Secretary Godowsky not moving forward with the change in the charter school payments from Christina.  15 charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE.  I got my hands on the actual filing which named all the schools and parties involved.  By this point, everyone knew it was NCS who started this whole thing which they confirmed in another letter to NCS parents.  I soon received the whole timeline for the shenanigans involving Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning.  This prompted me to look at some things that were very peculiar about this lawsuit.

A couple of weeks later, Delaware United made a three-part video series where they interviewed Senator Sokola.  Care to guess what the biggest topic was?  Education and Newark Charter School!

At the end of October, I found out that Newark Charter School was supposed to have an outreach plan to get more sub-groups in their school.  This was a condition of their major modification to start their new high school.  We are still waiting for this.

Last week, the Charter School lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE came back in a big way.  Christina’s board accepted a settlement with a 4-3 vote.  By the end of the week, the settlement leaked out before all the signatures were on paper.  Where did the leak come from?  Governor Markell’s office!

So there you have it: Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  More controversy than Donald Trump at a rally for Democrats!  More scandalous than… I can’t think of anything…  I sure do hope 2017 is quieter for Newark Charter School.  They lost their isolationism label this year!

Newark Charter School: Where Is Your Outreach Plan? We Have Been Waiting Four Years…

When Newark Charter School had its major modification for their high school approved in 2012, then Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery gave very specific conditions for the approval.  One of them was to offer free and reduced lunch for the students of NCS.  Another was to develop an outreach plan so their demographics were more consistent with that of the 5 mile radius they draw students from.  The below letter from Lillian Lowery was written about a month before she resigned as the Secretary.  But this was their approval.  Some have referred to this as “The Lowery Doctrine”.

It is obvious the Board of Directors at Newark Charter School have ignored this condition to their modification.  Four years later and a Delaware Secretary of Education has yet to see their Outreach Plan.  Lowery never got it.  Murphy never got it.  Godowsky never got it.  But here was are, as Newark Charter School has its first graduating class, and NO Outreach Plan.  As of their September 30th count by last school year, they had less African-American students than the year before.  They did go up in students with disabilities from 5.6% to 6.5%.  And their Hispanic population went up a little bit.  But that is not the same as an actual Outreach plan.  Where is this NCS Head of School Greg Meece?  For all the talk and bluster coming out of this school, no one at the top of this school has delivered what they were supposed to.  I’ve heard parents say they are attempting to rectify their demographic situation, but when they were given a direct order by the Dept. of Education, they blew it off.  For a school that seems to want others to follow their perceived notion of “the letter of the law” they sure do cherry-pick what to follow…

Newark Charter School Teacher Got Her Job Back

backtonormal

The Newark Charter School teacher who apparently lost her job over a “physical altercation” two weeks ago has been reinstated at the school.  After students staged a sit-in and the bizarre incident caused me to write more articles than I would have dreamed of, it appears the administration completed their investigation of the “slappening” and gave the teacher her job back.  I’m glad the teacher got her job back.  But I also hope this situation opened the eyes of NCS parents and students into the minds of the admins.  The students proved their voice does matter!

Is the student involved still attending NCS?  I don’t have an answer to that one.  But it appears things are back to normal for Newark Charter School, aside from the lawsuit they joined with 14 other charter schools and a strange occurrence at their homecoming dance on Saturday.  Female students were asked to hand in their purses.  The students were also told they had to purchase water at the event by at least one chaperone.  While this wasn’t enforced, many parents felt this was over-doing it at a student body function.  Many parents reported their child was allowed to drink from a water fountain.  For a school that has a student body activity bucket of money that is second only to the Cape Henlopen School District, I find it ironic they would ask students to purchase water…

I don’t know if this is a normal practice at school dances for female students to not be allowed to carry their purses.  If anyone knows, please comment.  I understand the concern for security, but I would think student belongings being stored in a place they don’t have access to could be seen as invasive.

What Delaware Can Learn From The Newark Charter School Students And The “Slappening” Sit-In

Last Friday, Newark Charter School students performed a “sit-in” to protest an incident which has been referred to as “The Slappening” among the student body of Newark Charter School.  200 high school students participated in the sit-in until administrators broke up the party in the cafeteria.  This is about 1/4th of their student body at their high school.  While we don’t know if the teacher was reinstated, we do know that when the majority of the people stand up for something they believe in, people take notice.  This was what I attempted to push for the opt out movement in Delaware.  If everyone opted out, then Smarter Balanced would have disappeared.  We can still do this, but not just with “Smarter” as the DOE puts it (which is ironic because it is dumber), but all standardized tests.  Whether they are once a year or embedded as “stealth test” in personalized learning technology coming soon to a school near you.  And when it comes to all that ed tech, you can opt out of that as well.  If enough parents do it, we can make ed tech irrelevant and be assured our child’s every keystroke isn’t tracked and catalogued by Education Inc. and their data is safe.  As well, this will protect the teaching profession so they don’t become glorified TFA or Relay moderators.  It’s a win-win.  No battle is ever won by sitting at the table and compromising to the point of surrender.

Wait one minute, let’s get back to “The Slappening”.  I saw many tweets which indicated the teacher was terminated after the student sit-in at Newark Charter School last Friday.  While I won’t put minors tweets on this blog, I can say one tweet was pretty definitive!  I have a very good idea of what actually happened between the teacher and the student last week and what led to “The Slappening”.  I can’t see, in that situation, where a teacher should have been terminated.  That teacher has rights.  She also has the right to due process.  Had I known about this sit-in beforehand, I would have sat in with the students as well (Yeah right, like Greg Meece would let that happen)!  But I do respect what the students did.

This has been a very bizarre year for the higher-ups at Newark Charter School.  From their insane awards based on Smarter Balanced results to the “social engineering” of their lottery last winter  to my strange discovery they are the only charter school in the state that doesn’t file IRS 990 tax returns to the district-charter funding war which has now become the charter-Christina-DOE lawsuit to “The Slappening”.  I have to wonder if a change needs to happen.  Not my place, but just putting it out there.  Many students were terrified of the sit-in and what could happen to them.  But they did it anyway.  They stood up (or sat down) to the school leaders and said stop with the madness.  Granted, what they were hoping for didn’t happen, but it did draw attention to the school through major Delaware media like the News Journal.  Even the students seemed shocked they made delawareonline.

It is 2016.  Newark Charter School is having a VERY bizarre year.  With absolutely no disrespect intended for the students or the parents, but your administrators and board have made some really strange decisions.  It’s refreshing in a weird way that NCS has lost its aura of being such a well-behaved mild-mannered gee we’re awesome school.  It brings the school back down to earth.  I hope more students and parents speak out about issues going on there.  I’m not saying NCS should become a priority school tomorrow, but the era of invincibility is over.  NCS had the veil lowered and we are all getting a chance to peek in.  Greg Meece has allowed his temper to get the best of him this year and he has been there a loooooooooooooooooong time.  He can do one of two things: keep the Harry Potter cloak back on the NCS schools or just let things flow.  I’m hoping for the latter.  But that will require him also lightening up on a few other things.

I believe the original intent of NCS was for parents to get their kids out of the Christina School District.  Did they have cause?  Sure they did.  But there are really good things happening in Christina right now.  There are also bad.  As there are in every single school in America.  Even NCS.  I get the need to protect your child.  But if it gets to a point where what one student has means many others do without, how is that teaching any child right and wrong?  I’m not saying this to start a fight.  Truly.  But if we always have this divide in this state, nothing anyone does will ever fix anything.  This lawsuit NCS triggered… it’s not good for Delaware.  It’s not good for NCS or Christina.  Lawsuits cost a ton of money.  But more than that, they take away from students.  They create long-lasting hostilities that play out for decades.  NCS sees this one way and Christina sees it another.  Eventually, unless it goes into some type of settlement, a judge will decide.  Chances are it isn’t going to play out the way the fifteen charters think it will.  I have no doubt Meece thinks he has some smoking gun he thinks will make the case.  It might, but not against Christina.  The Delaware DOE?  Probably.  But never underestimate what happens when you poke a bear.  If NCS truly thinks Christina will take this like a champ, they are wrong.  All 15 charters are wrong.

At a time when Delaware as a whole is trying to figure out pretty much every single aspect of education, from funding to academics to post-secondary outcomes to early childhood to special education to testing, we have a group of charters merrily led by their cheerleader over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, some legal eagles, and probably a few other “stakeholders” trying to upset the apple cart and make sure they get what they think is their bounty.  But have they given one thought to what this means to Delaware students as a whole?  Nope.

That teacher the NCS students staged a sit-in for… why don’t they do that for ALL Delaware students.  They loved their teacher and fought for what they believed was just and fair.  Something was taken away from these students and they didn’t like it.  They did what Americans have been doing since the Boston Tea Party.  Now imagine all those students in Christina who will have less so the charters can have more.  Is that fair to them?  NCS has their engaged parents and their cafetorium and all that.  Not every school in Christina does.  Some schools don’t even have a librarian.  Stage a sit-in for that.  If the teacher you lost is as great as you say she is, she will find a new job.  This issue, due to your efforts, has been very public.  But the students in Christina… they might not get those second chances because of this ridiculous lawsuit.

Education is never going to be fixed no matter what all the corporate dreamers think will happen.  As long as there is one individual in a school, there will always be issues.  But the key is trying to find a way to make it work.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t the way.  This is why the charters, despite what they think happened and are behaving worse than any petulant child, are a classic example of what not to do in education.  This is making them reviled and hated more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

 

 

Newark Charter School’s Letter To NCS Parents About Lawsuit… NCS Didn’t Join The Suit, They Instigated It!!!!

Newark Charter School Board President Stephen Dressel is claiming they joined the lawsuit against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education, along with 14 other charter schools, and actually said “This is not a step we take lightly.”  Yeah right!  Dressel sent a letter to NCS parents and staff today about the suit.  No doubt to rile them up more than they already are.  I’m sure they will blast me on their new Facebook page, Parent Networking.  Since NCS Parents had a few moles (guess what chumps, you still do). Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel and Joanne Schlossberg started this whole mess when Christina passed their referendum.  They know exactly what they are doing here.  Maybe that’s why they had their 16 minute board meeting in September so they could rush to executive session to talk about this.  I have no doubt they were salivating at the opportunity.  If anyone doesn’t see this for what it really is, they are fooling themselves.

Because of the lawsuit, any communication around this issue is probably not allowable by FOIA since it would be a part of litigation.  But we all know who started this and why.  Greg Meece.  The “savior” of Delaware public education.  It will be interesting to see how the Delaware DOE reacts to this.  After all their boasts about NCS, look what they did.  I have a feeling there is a lot more to this.  All I know is the ESSA Student and School Supports Discussion Group in an hour and 15 minutes is going to be very interesting.  How can this subject not come up?

Funny how NCS brings up taxpayer dollars when the whole district to charter funding formula by itself is flawed.  NCS and the other charters are about to learn a very important lesson called “you don’t understand district funding”.  And how does this work when Donald Patton, who sits on the board of Las Americas ASPIRAS, is also an administrator in the Christina School District?  Isn’t that a HUGE conflict of interest?

ncsparentletteraboutlawsuit

 

15 Delaware Charters Suing Christina School District and Delaware DOE… Greedy Bastards!

The News Journal just reported that a group of Delaware charter schools are suing Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education over the charter school funding issue that I broke at the end of August.  This is unbelievable!  I can’t believe they have the unmitigated gall to go behind the districts’ backs all Spring, have the DOE issue “updated” funding formulas in August, and then sue Christina and the DOE after Secretary Godowsky reversed course on the plan.

And who does the News Journal have as a fresh picture, taken two days ago?  None other than Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  When Newark Charter School’s Head of School Greg Meece and Kendall Massett  get together, we should expect nothing but trouble.  For all of Massett’s talk about wanting district and charter collaboration, she sure has a funny way of showing it.

Fifteen charter schools have filed suit against the state Department of Education and Christina School District to get what they claim is their fair share of funding.  Christina has been withholding millions of dollars in local tax revenue from charter schools for years and the Department of Education has been complicit, according to the lawsuit.

Their fair share of funding is what they already get.  I actually can’t wait to see this go to court.  I will say it here and now… the charter schools will lose!  Who is paying for their attorney fees?

Under the adjusted formula, Christina School District would have had to pay about $3 million more this year than it had been planning.  For Newark Charter School, one of the chief beneficiaries of those funds, that would have meant an additional $1 million in revenue.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again… this amounts to Greg Meece going for an unprecedented money grab for Christina after they won their referendum last Spring.  And I also have a pretty good idea why he thinks the charters will win.  But I will hold that close to the vest for now.  But that one goes all the way to the top of Delaware, right Jack?  So how far back does this lawsuit go?  How about 2008!

The lawsuit aims at reinstating the adjustments made to the statewide formula and forcing Christina to pay back what it has withheld since 2008.

Newark Charter knows that if they win this would bankrupt Christina which I have no doubt is their overall plan.  And what then?  All of Christina goes back to the state and would most likely convert to charters.  Is Meece going to lead his long dreamed of Newark Charter School Network and take all those kids he didn’t want for the past 15 years?  I know what happened in 2008 when a former Christina Board member told Meece they would get additional funds from their referendum but the board member spoke out of turn.  Ever since, Meece has been gunning for Christina because of bad information.  I also have a pretty good idea of where Meece got certain information from that is making him think he has a case.  That will be the true revelation when all is revealed!

I would have to assume these fifteen charters are the ones that get funding from Christina School District, which is most likely every one in New Castle County.

 

 

Newark Charter School Students Want Me To Take Down My Most Recent Article On Them… I’ll Do It, But With Conditions…

It’s been a long week for Newark Charter School.  Ever since the… I don’t know what to call it… let’s just go with the incident… it seems like some students and parents took offense to my article asking questions.  As I’ve said a gazillion times in comments, I went with what I had.  Kilroy put something up but took it down.  I read what he wrote, and if they were mad at me…  But I digress.  It seems some students want me to take down the article I put up Friday.  I’ll do it, but this isn’t just some freebie.  There has to be some quid pro quo…

This is what I want to see happen, and I will take down my article.

  • The Newark Charter School Board of Directors agrees to have more than 16 minute open session board meetings.
  • The same Board of Directors agrees to get rid of all enrollment preferences for the school.
  • Newark Charter School begins filing, effective immediately, their IRS 990 tax filing and agrees to do so every year.
  • Newark Charter School openly and publicly announces their support for Meredith Chapman as the 8th Senate District candidate.
  • Newark Charter School’s board votes in the positive to switch from having the Delaware Dept. of Education as their authorizer to the Christina School District.
  • Newark Charter School’s teachers will be able to organize and vote as a collective body to join the Delaware State Education Association.
  • All Newark Charter School students shall have what is known as a “week of exchange”.  The NCS students shall spend a week at Christina schools while Christina students (only 2,000) of them shall be able to go to Newark Charter School for  a week.
  • Newark Charter School shall stand with the Christina School District in improving all the schools in their district and begin a restoration process so NCS and Christina School District students can heal the wounds caused by over ten years of conflict between the two entities.  As well, the two will enter a practice of sharing resources and best practices so all children between the two can thrive as much as humanly possible.

and…

  • Greg Meece has to go to the next Christina Board of Education meeting after the board votes on all the above and do the safety dance.  What is that?  He has to sing Safety Dance verbatim AND dance based on the video from Men Without Hats from 1983 as his public comment.  This is not an attempt to mock Greg Meece.  It is a situation that many would want to see and would go a long way towards burying the hatchet and entering a period of peace between the two.  It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.  I saw a Principal from my local school district get on roller skates and dress up as a woman during a pep rally.  So it can be done.  It might soften Meece up a bit as well.

If all those things happen, I will take down the article.  Use your voice NCS students.  If you can make it happen, I will honor your request.  As a gesture of good faith on my part, I will change the title of the article from Friday night.  Deal?

Incident At Newark Charter School Leads To Student Sit-In And Many Questions…

I had an email forwarded to me this evening concerning an incident at Newark Charter School earlier this week.  While checking to see if something happened, I found the News Journal already covered this.  But what the News Journal didn’t publish was the email Newark Charter School’s Greg Meece sent to the parents about the altercation between a teacher and a student.  You can see that below.  But I have several dozen questions about this incident which didn’t even come up in the article.  While I respect the fact that Meece can’t talk about the incident because it involves an employee, the comments on the News Journal article spin many different tales…

He said the incident was in a classroom earlier this week and involved a female high school student and teacher in a physical altercation over a cell phone.  He added the cell phone did not belong to the student.  Meece said neither was at school Friday, but no formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time.

Excuse me?  A teacher has a physical altercation with a student and NO arrest was made?  Seriously?  Since when can a teacher have ANY type of physical altercation with a student?  Has the student and teacher been out of school all week?  Where is the due process for the student and the teacher if NO formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time?  Was “informal” disciplinary action taken?

This is the definition of a physical altercation, with certain words bolded for emphasis:

A physical altercation is defined as being an argument, dispute or altercation that involves force or physical aggression. Physical altercations differ from verbal altercations because physical contact is involved. These types of disputes are sometimes referred to as fights and may legally qualify as battery.

ncsincident

A peaceful gathering?  Maybe for the students, but according to this commenter on Facebook, the school wasn’t too happy about it…

ncsincidentcomments2

That is a very different yarn than the one spun by Greg Meece in his email to the parents and the News Journal:

“The principal of our building spoke to the students and thanked them for their voices and being heard,” Meece said.

What happens at Newark Charter Schools stays at Newark Charter School… until a student and a teacher have a physical altercation that is.  I don’t know why Newark Charter School treats itself like it is an isolated school cut off from the rest of the state.  How much goes on there that the public has no clue about?  If someone didn’t tip off the News Journal or myself on this, who would have known?  But we see teachers getting arrested in Delaware.  For more egregious things than this, but it happens.  Perhaps the teacher was defending herself.  But according to the above commenter, it was all a lie.  If there was any physical force involved, were the police notified?  The Senate Bill which minimizes when the police are called, Senate Bill 207, passed in the Delaware General Assembly this year, but it was very specific in its language to specify “between students”.  It did not mention staff members.  Which means Newark Charter School, if they did not notify the police, may have broken the law.  Whether it was a student or a teacher, if the matter became physical, they are legally obligated to do so.  Why didn’t the News Journal question that aspect of the story?

ncsincidentcomments3

Scandals?  Sweeping things under the rug?  I thought NCS was this model of good behavior and nothing happened there…

It is hard to believe this particular commenter in one aspect.  If this happened Monday, there is no possible way the parents could have sued the teacher in four days.  They may have talked to an attorney, but nothing moves that fast.  But they are absolutely right that students should have a voice.  The threats coming out of the administration when students were having a peaceful sit-in could have been treated with more respect if the above commenter’s comments are true.

What does Newark Charter School’s code of conduct say about this kind of incident?  It doesn’t reference this specific type of situation, but it does say this:

Referral to Police Agency is required for students who intentionally and offensively touch a staff member who is attempting to break up a fight or who is attempting to keep a student from injuring him/herself or others.  Recommendation for expulsion may be considered.

But they do reference House Bill 322, which the Delaware General Assembly passed in 1997:

In addition to any action taken by school officials, the school will comply with the notification requirements of H.B. 322 which includes notification of police.

This was in a section that talked about fighting.  I hate to keep beating on the same drum, but if this was an incident that was so minor, why would Meece refer to it as a “physical altercation” which has a very definitive legal meaning?

Are parents allowed to discuss this incident?  On the closed to members only NCS Parents Facebook page, it was a huge topic of discussion this week until the moderator deleted all the comments about it to protect the identity of the student and the teacher.  Even though all the parents already knew about it.  This was reported to me by a few parents of students who belong to that page.

Newark Charter School needs to be more open and honest with parents about situations, instead of putting on an “everything’s fine” face with the News Journal.  There was a lot Meece could have talked about with this article, but I’ve always been told Meece is a very smart man and chooses his words very carefully.  But no public school receiving taxpayer dollars should think they can isolate themselves from transparency.  They aren’t North Korea.

I’ve heard of many teachers at NCS getting fired with no form of due process whatsoever.  Delaware charter schools do not have teacher unions which, in this case, would have given the teacher protection if they were fired over this.  But we will most likely never know because of the isolationist mindset coming from this school…

Newark Charter School’s 16 Minute Board Meeting

I’ve listened to a few of the charter audio links.  But nothing was shorter than Newark Charter School’s 16 minute audio recording.  Their meeting, held on September 20th, didn’t discuss any aspect of the district-charter funding scuffle that monopolized Delaware education social media the first ten days of the month.  They didn’t really talk about much of anything, which is surprising given the school year started.  Their meeting minutes usually give an impression their meetings are longer than 16 minutes.  I hope we don’t run into a case where some charters go into executive session to discuss the big stuff.  Their audio gives no sign of how long they went into executive session to discuss “potential litigation”.  Unless they do have potential litigation.  It wasn’t on their agenda they put up September 9th but it was on September 16th.  When they came out of executive session, they did unanimously vote to move forward on the potential litigation.

You can listen to the very short meeting here.

 

Letter From Newark Charter School Board Chairman May Turn District/Charter/Delaware DOE Funding War On Its Ear

No sooner do I receive the official word that no changes to the local cost per pupil formula will be changed than I get multiple emails with a letter from Newark Charter School Board Chairman Stephen Dressel sent to Newark Charter School parents.  This letter shows a very different take on the whole issue and alleges that Christina has been hiding funds in a certain bucket in their local funding.  The letter further states that the Delaware Department of Education approved this every single year.  That it wasn’t until this year that this funding bucket was found and corrected.  At this point in time, I truly don’t know what to believe.  While I have serious concerns with Newark Charter School’s enrollment practices and other financial issues at the school, if (and this is a very large if) what they are saying is true, I have serious questions about that as well.

I will be very clear with a few things before you read this letter.  The information presented to me from sources last week was a change in this formula, not a correction.  At no point in time until now did anyone from Newark Charter School or anyone from the charter school community present this information to me.  This is crispy fresh information that I just received.

So if there is no change, as the letter alleges, does that mean Christina will still have to pay these funds?  And who are the other districts alluded to in the letter?  Who was responsible for signing off on this at the Delaware DOE?  How does the Office of Management and Budget fit in with this?  Why did the local cost per pupil go up three times the original amount from 2013-2016 when the amount of students Christina sent to Newark Charter School only went from 1,200 to 2,000?  Those are still big mysteries in my book.  So while NCS may claim they are owed these funds, the fact remains the DOE put their stamp on it every year.  Were there earlier funding inequities going on with this formula which accounts for the huge change in funding between 2013-2016?  If this “hidden” budget was so hidden, how did Newark Charter School come to find out about this if the DOE was oblivious to what was going on as the letter alleges?  How much did Governor Markell or Ann Visalli, the former chief of the Office of Management and Budget know about what was going on with this if OMB were the ones determining the actual formula?  And is there any connection whatsoever to Kathleen Davies at the State Auditor’s Office being put on leave in May?  I do not have these answers, but my door is open for anyone to contact me on these questions.

In terms of this letter, it is written by a sole member of the Board of Directors of Newark Charter School and signed by one individual.  This letter is not from the entire board, or even on behalf of the board.

I have no doubt the NCS supporters will see this as justification for the actions Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Dressel took last Spring.  The Deputy Secretary of Education, who the Associate Deputy Secretary of Education answers to, would be responsible for financial oversight of the Delaware DOE.  They did not meet with the Deputy Secretary of Education in the Spring.  They met with the former Deputy Secretary of Education, David Blowman, who now serves as the Associate Secretary of Education.  Blowman would have been the head finance guy at the Delaware DOE for the past few years when anyone would have signed off on what Dressel alleges to in this letter.  This is going to blow up this entire conversation all over again.  If what NCS is saying is true, then I would owe them an apology for allegations surrounding this particular issue.  I went based on information presented to me and I publicly wrote about this.  NCS or the charter school supporters could have responded in an official capacity at any time but chose not to.  But this is one letter written from one board member of the NCS board without full board approval. This letter was sent to the parents of a local education agency as defined by federal law so this document is in the public domain.

Oh, and just one more little itty bitty thing.  The creator of the PDF file was not Stephen Dressel.

GregMeeceSignature

 

 

 

The Heart of the District/Charter Funding War

History will teach us nothing.  Or that’s what they say.  In this case, history is teaching us everything.  Almost three and a half years ago, Newark Charter School had a major modification approved that allowed them to open a high school.  One of the biggest concerns was the financial impact it would have on Christina School District.

During the Public Hearing for their modification request, NCS Board President Steve Dressel said the financial impact of $2.4 million wouldn’t hit Christina until year five of their expansion.

While CSD will make the claim that an NCS expansion will be “devastating”, the reality is the financial impact on CSD is quite small.  CSD estimated it to be $2.4 million…

Dressel was correct in one aspect.  That estimation was “quite small” because when you flash forward three years later, that number jumped three times the original estimate.  In their final budget for FY2016, Christina had a picture in the presentation which showed how much Newark Charter School and other charters receive from them.

CSDFY2016FinalBudgetCharterPmts

Christina had 2,008 students choice out of the district to Newark Charter School.  On the Delaware DOE website, it shows NCS had 2,140 students enrolled.  That means nearly 94% of their students come from Christina.  And that number will go up for both this year as NCS reaches a 12th grade.  How do charter payments, which were estimated at $2.4 million three years ago, jump up to $7.3 million?  And counting?  Did the formula go up that much in just three years?  Are we sure this formula hasn’t changed already without anyone knowing?  This is a huge financial impact for a school district.  This illustrates that NCS knows exactly what kind of impact this has when they get their checks from Christina.  And still, they want more.

While some called my article the other day a call for a “holy war” against charters, it was Greg Meece who once said “this is jihad against charter schools,” when the Delaware State Education Association commissioned a report on the impact charter schools have on school districts.  This came from a 2008 article in the News Journal.  Ironically enough, David Blowman talked about the impact this had on the Brandywine School District to the tune of $2.3 million going to charter schools.  Blowman was the key figure in the now-failed attempt at changing the local cost per pupil formula which would give charter schools more money.

At the time of this article, legislation was brought forth to have the State Board of Education limit the number of new charter school applications if it would have a large financial impact on the districts the charters drew their students from.  The bill did not move forward in that session, but Meece’s claims of destruction to Delaware charter schools hardly came to pass.  The report DSEA bought was released to the press by former State Senator Charlie Copeland.  Copeland later opened up a charter school called Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.

I believe history will repeat itself if this new charter funding formula goes ahead at some point.  This scenario has been proven time and time again throughout America over the years.  The price tag keeps getting higher and higher every year.  Even though there was a moratorium on new charters in New Castle County last year, that didn’t stop the State Board of Education from approving many modifications for increased enrollment at some charters.  With all the increases, that might as well have been a new charter school.  But our State Board of Education, led by an Executive Director who is definitely in bed with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, keeps remaining oblivious to the reality before them.

But Meece, drawing from his infamous “crab bucket” analogy from 2012, still seems to think everyone is out to destroy his “successful” school.  Christina is not paying them what they deserve and they want more!  Regardless of the consequences.  The original opinion piece by Meece is no longer available from the News Journal, but luckily Delaware Liberal saved it for all to see:

Years ago, someone explained to me a phenomenon called the “crab bucket syndrome.” As crabs are caught and tossed into a bucket, the first crab tries to climb out to save its life. Other crabs, seeing his escape plan, grab hold of the first crab’s legs, which pulls him back into the bucket. Eventually, all the crabs perish. In schools, this is a metaphor for, “If I can’t have it, neither can you.” This is what happens when a group tries to “pull down” any other school that shows success can be achieved.  This is happening in Newark, where a group is trying to stop one of our most successful public schools, Newark Charter School, from expanding.

As Pandora brilliantly pointed out in her article on this, Meece forgets about all the crabs that are killed so the few can get out as well as the fact that Meece’s actions are what happened to Christina not Newark Charter School.  For Christina, the tipping point with Newark Charter School happened three years ago.  Now it is just the spear point jabbing at an already bleeding wound.

 

Who Was Pulling The Strings At Delaware DOE? It Wasn’t Godowsky. And A Message For NCS Parents.

Chartergate 2016 and the aftermath took over social media in Delaware yesterday.  When I searched “Secretary Godowsky” last night on Facebook I saw tons of posts.  Many people were outraged about Godowsky’s actions, but a fair number were upset about my comments concerning Mr. Greg Meece.  I won’t apologize for that.  Chances are probably pretty good I know a bit more about some behind the scenes stuff than you do.

Let me be perfectly clear on something.  I am not the News Journal.  First off, the News Journal wouldn’t write about most of the stuff I’ve figured out over the years.  Second, a blog is not true journalism.  That doesn’t mean the facts are wrong.  But bloggers do not have a journalistic credo they need to have like members of the Associated Press do.  I saw tons of posts about how I’m so wrong about things all the time.  I’ll own that up to a point.  Sometimes I am wrong.  And when I am called out on it, I will either correct it or write about how someone felt I was wrong.

I always use this as a classic example.  When the Family Foundations Academy fraud was going on at the school, I wrote about it before the mainstream media picked up on it.  One gentleman, and I know he won’t mind me saying this, blasted me for it.  How dare I disgrace the school and their leaders by writing about that.  Turns out I was right.  The same thing happened with Academy of Dover.   I wrote about the Smarter Balanced shenanigans, and still there were doubters, but it turned out I was right about everything.

I don’t mind people doubting my information.  I’ve received bad information in the past and ran with it, much to my chagrin.  Here’s the deal though: if our schools and the DOE were more transparent about things, I wouldn’t have to write at all.  But the hard truth some of you may not realize is this: there is a ton of shadiness that goes on in this state.  That’s what I write about.  I can’t just out sources all the time.  I can’t always produce a smoking gun.  But it’s out there.  Most of the time I turn out to be right.  And when I’m wrong and someone actually lets me know that, I’ll do what is right.  Let’s really be honest with ourselves.  With the stuff I find out, am I really going to get an honest answer?  If I emailed Godowsky about this before I published it, he would have ignored me.  I like Steve.  I think he has a very tough job, but at the end of the day, he answers to the Governor.  With what I do and what he does, there really isn’t a time where we can collaborate.  We have talked many times in person.  We’ve even joked around here and there.  But when it comes to the really tough questions I present to him… he can’t own up to them.  I get that.

Here are some facts for the whole mess.

Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel met with Delaware Associate Secretary of Education David Blowman and the director of the Finance area at DOE, Kim Wheatly, last April.  Meece wanted more money from Christina.  Somehow this evolved to all districts and charters.  Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is telling people he didn’t know about this until August 19th.  I do know David Blowman was out of the office all last week because I received an out-of-office reply from him.  Blowman and Wheatly set this whole thing up.  Which means Godowsky didn’t know about the letter sent to all the districts on August 8th asking them to justify their restricted and non-restricted sections of their local funds.  I can say with certainty Godowsky was not on that letter.  But I don’t believe it was solely Blowman and Wheatly who knew about this.  Blowman’s boss is Karen Field Rogers, the Deputy Secretary of Education.  And I have always believed that State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson makes it a point to know every single thing that goes on there.  Did it go up higher than that?  I would assume it did.  Education is Jack Markell’s baby, and nobody touches that baby without him knowing about it.

The charters have been holding meetings at the DOE, some public and some private, to change their organizational and financial framework sections of their budget.  They had representation on the Education Funding Task Force this year.  David Blowman was on that task force.  This issue, to the best of my knowledge, never came up during those meetings.

The change in the local pupil cost for charters and choice schools was all set to change.  I found out about this, ironically enough, when I was working on an article about charter school funding.  This news changed that whole article so you may not ever see it.  I heard from one person in one district, then another, and then another.  24 hours later I wrote the article and published it.  When it comes to stuff like this, I explained it the best way I could.  I’m sorry I didn’t pass the News Journal sniff test.  When I break big news, it isn’t going to be easily tied up like an episode of Murder She Wrote.  There isn’t going to be forensic evidence.  Sometimes I’m able to provide that.  But you need to understand that nothing in Delaware is neat and tidy.  We are a very non-transparent state.  There is a good reason we came in 49th place on a national state transparency ranking last year.  Trust me, I would love to have a smoking gun for everything I write.  I want that more than you do.

With stuff like this, you can either take my word for it or don’t and wait for it to be “officially verified”.  I can take the heat.  What I won’t take is someone trying to make an anonymous comment and attacking my son.  That is intolerable.  I’ve written over 2,800 articles on this blog and no one has ever done that until this article.  You don’t like me attacking your school?  I get that.  Blast me all you want.  But don’t you dare make an attempt to come after me through my son with false information.  There is a line, and you went way past it.  I never attack children on this unless they do something so heinous and it is already in the public spotlight, like the Howard High School of Technology murder.  I will write about adults, but attacking kids… no.  And if you disagree with me on something, that’s fine.  But I hope whoever this was realizes this.  You know who you are.

Today, Brian Stephan with Delaware Liberal wrote an excellent article going into the actual financial implications and what it all means.  Thank you Brian!  Brian has much more knowledge about education funding as a member of the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  I appreciate him explaining this better than I ever could.  In the article, Brian wrote about what the charter schools seem to be looking for.  It is bogus, in my opinion.

This is my big question, especially for Newark Charter School.  If you have such a great school, great classrooms, great teachers, manageable classroom sizes, students behave better than traditional schools, and so forth, what do you need all this extra money for?  Many charters get extra money when their transportation budget is higher than what they actually spend.  Some charters, like Newark Charter School, get tons of money from this.  Probably more than they would have made had this gone through with Godowsky.  Newark Charter School got free money from the charter school performance fund last year.  $250,000.  They got money from various foundations.  Is it worth all this fuss, especially when they know districts aren’t exactly swimming in money.  Lets face it, all Delaware schools have some fat they can trim.  This isn’t a charter thing, this is a Delaware thing.  I saw many comments about how I am so biased against charters.  I’m not.  I’m biased against financial abuse, closed-door meetings, things done in secret, high-stakes testing, an out of control DOE and Governor, and some legislators who care more about profit and pleasing the rich than they do about kids.  I will fully admit I didn’t understand a ton of aspects with district financing until the past few months.  Charters are smaller so it is easier to find stuff.   I look at them as well now.  But this move that was going to happen until I wrote about it was shady beyond all belief.

Yesterday, the legislators swarmed Godowsky, and he backed down from doing it this year.  And it was a lot more than the four I saw on one legislator’s Facebook post.  But it is not over.  On Thursday morning, all the district business managers are having a meeting at the DOE.  This is a closed meeting.  The charter leaders aren’t backing down on this, and I’m sure the district leaders aren’t going to let this just happen.  This will get ugly.  The legislators are involved now, so a lot could happen either way.  Godowsky and Markell will be gone in January.  So if Markell wants this to happen, he would need to do something now or after the election.

In terms of charter funding overall, the way we are doing it does NOT work.  At all.  It sets up animosity between districts and charters.  We also need to get rid of the false competition which is based on standardized test scores.  And I’m going to say this NCS parents.  Constantly saying we are “jealous” or “his kid must not have gotten into the school” is elitist.  To be honest, I never heard of Newark Charter School until a few years ago.  Ask Greg Meece about me.  See what he says.  Ask him all the questions I’ve written about.  The only time he has ever reached out to me was last winter over a lottery issue with a parent of a disabled child.  Ask him the following:

Why doesn’t NCS show other bank accounts run through the school or school activities on their website?

Why did the board remove their May 2016 board minutes?  These minutes were put back on the NCS website at 5:17am this morning by NCS CFO Joanne Schlossberg, and does discuss the meeting with Blowman:

NCSMayBoardMinutes

New Question: Why were the board minutes modified this morning and put up without approval of the Board of Directors at NCS who has to approve the minutes as per your very own bylaws?

NCSBoardMinutesModified

Why does the school refuse to file a tax return based on very bogus reasons for not doing so in the first place?

Why did Greg Meece ignore the IRS Guidance letter stating charter schools really aren’t exempt from filing tax returns?

Did the school divert funds from allocations they weren’t allowed to in building their STEM lab and their new auditorium?

Why did the school accept a Title I award from the US DOE when they have one of the smallest Title I populations in the entire state?

Why did a teacher from the school publicly state yesterday on a Facebook post that in a year NCS will be over 50% minority?

How can NCS make a claim (from the same teacher) that they have more kids in Basic Special Education in K-5 than many Red Clay schools?

Why would Meece email all the teachers and parents to support the Christina referendum but wouldn’t do it publicly?

Why does Senator Sokola write so much legislation that benefits charters, especially NCS, but has no problem writing laws that make things harder for teachers and parents?  How much input does Greg Meece have on that legislation?

Why does Meece refuse to collaborate on his innovative discipline practices with other schools?

Which, if any, legislators knew about this change in the way districts pay charters before a week ago?  Did any help in the organizing or structure of these secret meetings?  Did any attend these meetings?

Why have I heard from so many teachers in this state that if they disagree with Meece on even the slightest thing they are fired?

And the most important.  Does he believe NCS is better than everyone else?

When he can answer all those questions, which I publicly ask him to do, then I may change my mind about him.  But until then, no, I don’t have a high opinion of him as the Head of School at Newark Charter School.  Sorry, but I have seen and heard far too much to think otherwise.  I understand that for the parents and teachers at NCS it is the greatest place on earth.  There is a reason for that.  And maybe you don’t want to face it, but NCS supposed success is based on very selective enrollment preferences.  Set up a long time ago, this prevents many at-risk kids from attending the school.  Sure, some get in, but not enough based on the demographics.  There are key parts set up which prevent the often-heard excuse of “it’s a lottery, anyone can get in”.  You need to understand that choice has consequences.  It may be great for your kid, but when people like Meece want more money, after he gets tons of it already from Christina and other districts, that takes from the very same at-risk kids who can’t get into that school.  Not in the numbers where it would be a true picture of the surrounding area.  And setting it up with a five-mile radius also prevents kids from not even being able to apply.  So when folks see Meece wanting more money, that is what they see.  They see your kid going to a school built on a façade while their kids will have less.  This isn’t all charters.  But enough.  And when the one that is very guilty of this modern-day social engineering is the genesis of this funding change, you shouldn’t be surprised when there is major blowback.  That’s not jealousy, that’s understanding the implications these actions have on the state.  You want equal funding?  You have to earn that.  Prove it by opening your doors to everyone.  Until then, you can say whatever you want, but we aren’t hearing it.  Not until your demographics show otherwise.

 

 

How Newark Charter School Cooked Their Books To Break The Law In Delaware

Newark Charter School found a way to overtly break Delaware charter school laws and they are using parents and students to do it.

Yesterday, an anonymous source informed Mike Matthews that Newark Charter School’s student body activity funds are legit.  Be that as it may, they aren’t reporting the revenue generated from these activities.  Instead, they are putting at as an expense on their monthly budget.  They aren’t reporting this revenue anywhere.  But they are showing the expense on their monthly budget.  How much are they getting overall?  That is unknown, but I was able to find out they are using student body activity revenue to pay for items they should not be according to Delaware law.

Newark Charter School does not post a 990 IRS tax form on their website.  They are exempt from even filing this return.  Why?  Because way back during the Bill Clinton years, they had elected officials on their founding board.  Granted, none of those elected officials are there anymore.  No one has ever questioned NCS at a state level about this before and they just assume it is alright.  Even though the IRS issued very specific guidance to charter schools about this type of exemption.  But of course Newark Charter School takes advantage of this ambiguity.  Until the IRS determines they are not exempt, they will continue to not file tax returns.  Even though they should and the reasons for them not doing so are the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.  On IRS 990 tax forms, non-profit corporations are required to show any revenue they receive.  They don’t have to pay taxes at all, but they are required to show their numbers.

There are a multitude of reasons why Newark Charter School would not want to file an IRS tax return.  They are the only Delaware charter school specifically exempt from this.  Academy of Dover had their corporation status rescinded by the IRS some years ago, but the Delaware Dept. of Education turned a blind eye to this glaring fact during the school’s formal review last year which was in part over financial viability.  Eventually, Academy of Dover was able to restore this status and are now filing their 990 forms on their website.  But Newark Charter School took advantage of the bogus loopholes in this IRS regulation and have had a field day with it ever since.

This was my biggest issue with any changes to House Bill 186, the original charter school audit bill.  My sense was that anything even associated with charter school audit legislation would only be tainted by Senator David Sokola.  This would somehow benefit Newark Charter School and keep their finances in the dark.  Anyone can make a budget and show numbers on it, but a true audit and an IRS return would show a lot of information.  They would have to report the revenue they receive from students or their parents for field trips and student body activities.  But they aren’t.  No one can see this information.  If they get such a huge amount of money from these activities, they should be fully transparent and post their revenue stream on their website.  But they don’t.

On their monthly budget sheets they are required by state law to post on their website each month, they list student body activities as part of their operating budget.  Operating funds are part of state and local funded expenses.  If they have students pay for field trips and they write a big fat check to, say, the Bermuda Institute, and put that as an expense in their budget, that means they are getting these funds from the state and local funds.  Granted, their budgeted amount for student body activities in FY2016 was $300,000 as shown in the below pictures.  But their budget forms the picture of how much money they will need to operate as a school.  This is the spine of any charter school or district’s operations.

Newark Charter School 7/2015 Monthly Budget: Revenue

NCS715Budget

In the above picture, we see the school’s projected revenue for FY2016 as of July, 2015.

Newark Charter School 7/2015 Budget: Expenses

NCS715Budget2

Above, we see their projected expenses. Note the Student Body Activities amount of $300,000.

Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Revenue

NCS616Budget

By June of 2016, their revenues looked completely different.

Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Expenses

NCS616Budget2

Their expenses, especially Student Body Activities went up as well, mushrooming to over $445,000. This was $145,000 over what they budgeted for this category.  As if it was almost planned…

This brings us back to the current situation at the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  As I wrote earlier this week, there is some shady business going on there.  Kathleen Davies had my tip about NCS and Academy of Dover’s lack of IRS 990 forms and I believe it was an active investigation.  I know this because I received a call from John Fluharty about it in March, two months before Davies was put on “leave”.  He wouldn’t call to get information if it was not active.  If that office was leaning towards NCS needing to put up their 990 tax forms, invariably the inspection would lean towards “Why aren’t they putting up this information?” which could further lead towards a full investigation of their finances.

Senator David Sokola has been the Senator for the 8th District since 1995. This district surrounds most of Newark Charter School’s five mile radius.  Sokola helped in the creation of Newark Charter School.  He even joined their board for a stint in the mid 00’s while also an elected Senator, which is perfectly legal in Delaware.  But in his stint as a Delaware Senator, he has essentially served as a buffer between the school and true accountability.  Sokola is a senior-ranking Delaware Senator.  Not only is he the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, but he is also the Senate Chair on the Bond Committee.  If you look at a lot of the legislation about education he writes, every single bill has benefitted Newark Charter School in some way.  I’m sure if you look at some of his non-education legislation, including ones about land usage, those would benefit the school as well.  This isn’t the first time I’ve thought out loud about Senator Sokola.

In my fictional novel I am working on about Kathleen Davies and whodunit, I would put Senator Sokola as the lead suspect in this mystery.  He has the means, the motivation, and the pull to get something like this done.  He is well-connected with the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Rodel.  Since he is also in tandem with many House and Senate Republicans over charter schools, it would stand to reason he would lend his ear to them and get a fire going.  As well, he has a very cozy relationship with the State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky.  As the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, this is to be expected, but he always seems to be able to get support for his bills that do more damage to public education.  His connections with the Delaware Charter School Network go back many years.  He has frequently been involved with the Rodel Foundation sponsored Vision Coalition.  He is a firm believer in standardized testing and teachers being judged by those scores.  He put in very damaging amendments to House Bill 199 a couple months ago based in large part on feedback he received from his beloved Newark Charter School.  He is no friend to traditional school districts.  As the Newark Charter School legislative cheerleader, he can count on votes from his constituents who have students attending that school.  With a student population of over 2,000 students, that is a lot of votes.  In exchange, he allows them to operate with no transparency, accountability, or oversight through his legislative input.

Now some will say Tom Wagner is a staunch Republican and Sokola is a Progressive Democrat!  How could Sokola convince Wagner to do anything?  He didn’t have to.  Somehow, someway, the “whistleblowers” in the Davies complaint to the Office of Management and Budget were told exactly how to get Davies.  This idea had to come from someone with advanced knowledge of the rules and regulations of the Delaware accounting procedures and policies.  We know Newark Charter School knew about what was going on with Davies and her “administrative leave” from the Auditor of Accounts office based on what they put in their June Board meeting notes:

NCSTravelReimbursementBdMtg

In Delaware politics and education, there is no such thing as a coincidence.  The fact Schlossberg would bring this up a month after Davies was put on leave is very telling in my opinion.  We know the Delaware DOE already knew about all this because one of their employees told me about in late May.  So if that person would tell an education blogger, it would stand to reason many in the state knew as well.  NCS, in their board meeting minutes over the past year, has been very diligent about discussing legislation that could impact charter schools (especially the charter school audit bills).  But to write about how Davies was specifically put on leave, something I wasn’t even aware of until last Saturday when the News Journal came out with their article, would suggest having very intimate knowledge of the case against Davies.  So much so that they wanted to adopt this into their board policies.  The News Journal article never even specified if their information was coming from their “sources” or the Office of Management and Budget.

NCS connection with Sokola would give them instant knowledge of anything going on at a statewide level.  But this has always been my big question about the charter school audit bills: why were they fighting them so hard?  Especially Newark Charter School?  Some answers can actually be found in the oddest of places.  Newark Charter School’s selected auditor for their annual required audits is Barbacane Thornton and Company.  As seen below, they do this work for many Delaware charter schools.

BarbacaneThorntonFY2016

In looking at this list, I see quite a few charter schools who have landed in hot water at the State Auditor of Accounts office: Academy of Dover, Delaware Military Academy, and Providence Creek Academy.  One of their lead accountants, Pam Baker, testified in opposition to Kim William’s third attempt at a charter school audit bill, House Bill 186, in June of 2015:

She said this bill takes away responsibility from the board to select (an) independent auditor and takes away the opportunity for charter schools to do that effectively.

Now why would someone who is hired by many of these schools to do their audits put her neck out there for schools she knew were under investigation?  As well, her statement basically said “they may not be able to hire the firm I work for” which would show a clear conflict of interest in her sworn testimony.  A lobbyist for the Delaware Charter Schools Network even spoke on behalf of the business office of Newark Charter School at this meeting:

Nitin Rao, DCSN, spoke on behalf of the business manager of Newark Charter School in opposition to the bill.

For a school that seems to have a great deal of extra revenue after their year-end expenditures each year, this was a head-scratcher.  Like many who felt the same way, I questioned whether the charters opposition stemmed from the cost involved with the legislation or more what these new audits through this legislation would find.

But what Kathleen Davies said at this meeting was the essential problem with the charter school audits in Delaware:

Kathleen Davies, Chief Audit Administrator at AOA, said AOA does not have any firms under contract that conducted any charter school audits. She rebutted that the IRS filing mentioned by Pam Baker is a non-audit service and those fees are not part of the audit work. She said there have been a lot of terms thrown around and the only requirement for charter schools, with regard to oversight, is GAP compliant financial statements. She said there are currently seven investigations on charter schools underway because of mismanagement of funds. She said fraud and abuse were never brought to anyone’s attention for these seven schools. She said AOA has subpoena power and a firm, under AOA contract, can be used to address the issues found. She said those seven charter schools got a “clean bill of health” with no findings and no body to identify issues. She said this bill would change that.

Notice Davies brought up IRS filings.  As we all know, Newark Charter School doesn’t even have to file with the IRS because of their “special” exemptions.  IRS filings require all sources of revenue.  Which brings us back to Student Body Activities.

If student body activity expenses are an item in the school operating budget, they are counting on this money from the state and local funds.  But the issue comes in when these student body activities are pre-planned field trips and events that students or parents pay for prior to the actual event.  I can certainly buy the notion that teachers or the school would have to pay for many of these events ahead of time.  And as Head of School Greg Meece is the only person in the school who has a state procurement card, teachers or the school would have to pay out of pocket ahead of time for these activities.  But to spend $445,000 in student body activities for a school population of over 2,100 students, there would be a bucket load of revenue coming in from field trip money.  This is the revenue we are not able to see.  At all.  Anywhere.  Trust me, I looked.  All over the place.  There is nothing on Delaware Online Checkbook showing any such revenue.  If this revenue was put back into the school, we would see it as negative amounts in their expenses.  But they don’t exist through the state accounting system.  Therefore, they are only showing the expenses of student body activities and not the income that comes back as revenue to offset those costs.

Without knowing exactly where they put that revenue, I can safely guess where they put the entire $449,575.29 they reported as “student body activity” on Delaware Online Checkbook.  They used that revenue to pay for the remaining amounts on two capital building projects they contracted with one company to perform.

In the fall of 2014,  Newark Charter School started talking about building a Performing Arts Center and a STEM Laboratory Suite.  Since these are capital projects, not minor capital improvements, they would not be able to get funding from the state as dictated by the Delaware charter school law.

MinorCapitalFundingLaw

So even though Newark Charter School received $273,447 from the General Assembly for FY2016 for minor capital improvements, they could not use it for projects of this magnitude and scope.  Since the Performing Arts Center would be an entirely new addition to the school and the STEM labs would require structural change to the building, these two projects did not qualify for minor capital funding.  So how much capital funding would they need to obtain for this project?  Quite a bit according to their application for the Delaware Charter School Performance fund in the Spring of 2015.

NCSCharterSchoolPerfFundAppl2015

As part of Delaware charter school law, NCS had to submit a minor modification request for these projects.  They did so, and it was approved by then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy according to their December 2014 board minutes:

NCSDec2014BoardMinutesMinorMod

But in their application for the minor modification, Meece either greatly underestimated the costs for the project or later added more bells and whistles to the whole thing.  Because the original projected amount was $853,088.  At no point in time did NCS resubmit a new minor modification based on the financial difference between the original amount and the projected amount, a difference of $636,061.  But the section of the application where it asked about financial impact on the school was very enlightening:

NCSMinorModApplication2014

Greg Meece and Joanne Schlossberg, their Business Manager, knew they would have to get a lot of money for this project and began working the foundation circuit.  They were able to obtain funding from the Longwood Foundation ($500,000), the Welfare Foundation ($125,000), and the Calder Foundation ($79,000).  They applied for $400,000 in the Charter School Performance Fund (even though the maximum amount any Delaware charter school could win was $250,000 that year).  They received the maximum amount of $250,000.  Even though they were able to generate a lot of funding in a very short time, they were still short from the budgeted amount.   By $535,149.00.  Since construction was already underway by this point, the school had to raise the remaining  funds for the projects or  use funds from their reserves.

In June of FY2015, the board’s treasurer stated the school was $668,000 favorable for revenue “due to the annual fund and pledges from the capital campaign”.  The school received the Longwood Foundation grant in June of 2015.  In July of FY2016, the treasurer stated the school was not $1,283,000 favorable in state revenue due to the grant funds received from the Longwood Foundation and the Welfare Foundation in FY2015.  As well as the other grants they received in June of 2015, they received the $79,000 grant from the Calder Foundation and $250,000 from the charter school performance fund in July of 2015.  At their September 2015 board meeting, it was announced the funds received from the Longwood and Welfare Foundations were received in FY2015 so they could not put this as revenue in FY2016 even though they budgeted these funds for FY2016.  This caused their revenue to be unfavorable in the amount of $961,000.  But they were going to amend their budget to make this happen.  While a lot of these revenue figures are all over the map, it is important to look at the $668,000 talked about in June of 2015.  If the school already had pledged amounts coming from the Longwood and Welfare Foundations totaling $625,000.00, it would stand to reason their remaining “favorable revenue” came from their annual fund.  Which leaves $43,000 they had remaining from their FY2015 annual fund which they committed towards this project.  This reduced their shortage for the two projects to $449,149.00.

Earlier this week, I posted an article about Student Body Activity funds and questioned why Newark Charter School is showing such a high amount for this.  Based on this article, I showed how a FOIA received by a Delaware citizen showed NCS as spending $445,000 in student body activities as of 7/2/16.  As of 8/2/16, that amount increased to $449,557.29.  Now if you notice the projected amount for the STEM Laboratory Suite in the above picture, that amount is for $449,588.  Almost the exact same amount as the expenditures for their student body activity.  If this fund is meant for just student body activities, they should not be going towards capital costs, such as the creation of a STEM Laboratory and a Fine & Performing Arts Center.  Delaware law is very specific about this and the business manager and Greg Meece are well aware of these laws.

How much did these two projects actually cost Newark Charter School? $1,512,599.08.  They contracted with Daystar Sills, a construction company in Delaware.  The difference between the projected amount in their charter school performance fund application and the actual amount was $23,540.08.

NCSBldgImprovDaystarSills

If you add up the following figures:

$43,000 from their FY2015 Annual Fund

$500,000 from Longwood Foundation

$125,000 from Welfare Foundation

$79,000 from Calder Foundation

$250,000 from Charter School Performance Fund

The total amount is $997,000.  Which leaves them very short of the eventual $1,512,599.08 those projects were going to cost.  We know, as of  their November 2014 board minutes, the school received $64,000 from an auction they had.  This was their 11th annual auction.

NCS1114boardmtg

They had their next auction in November of 2015, but at their November 2015 board meeting, Greg Meece did not give an amount of how much they generated.

NCSNov2015BoardMinutes

By not publicly mentioning how much they received in their FY2016 auction, they could leave this open for future use as they saw fit.  Since there was never a capital fund amount given, we would have to assume it was close to the amountselaw they received in prior years.

Since they are so short on this capital project, and we don’t know where the money is coming from to pay for the rest, watch what happens when we add this to the $997,000:

$449,575.29 from FY2016 Student Body Activity expenses

We now get a grand total of $1,446,575.29.  They are still short $66,023.79.  We can safely guess where those funds came from based on their FY2015 Audit with Barbacane Thornton & Company:

NCSFY2015AuditStmntOfNetPosition

Note how NCS received $77,226 in pledged monetary support in FY2014 and $67,812 in FY2015.  It would stand to reason they used their FY2016 pledge amount to supplement the rest of this bill from Daystar Sills.  The school could never use extra local reserve funds because those funds could only be used for operating expenses or minor capital improvements based on Delaware charter school law.  They could not be used for capital building projects.  Meece knew this, and Mark Murphy should have.  The fact that Meece applied for a minor modification for this huge project and didn’t know the true estimate of the costs, didn’t have the capital funding when he applied for it, and operated on the assumption that Mark Murphy would just take it at face value that the school could always fall back on local appropriation reserves speaks volumes about the arrogance behind Newark Charter School.  Meece and Schlossberg, in my opinion, knew exactly what they were doing with all of this.  They knew the project would be short and planned ahead of time.

In June of 2015, they budgeted $300,000 for student body activity.  This would have been a very good guess on the amount they would need to pay towards the final bill for this project.  Because at that time, they somehow thought they could get $400,000 from the charter school performance fund.  This turned out to be a huge error on their part because they had to somehow find a way to get another roughly $150,000 when they only got $250,000 from the performance fund.  This is how their Student Body Activity expense amount went from a budgeted $300,000 to a little bit shy of $450,000.  They actually planned for this amount, in my humble opinion, based on how the project was turning out.  Once they realized their error with the performance fund, they got to work.

To use a shell student body activity account to pay for Capital projects is an obvious violation of Delaware state law.  To never report the revenue they received from parents and students should be a violation of state law.  To use parents and students money to disguise illegal activity is fraud, pure and simple.  Because I am not a judge or a jury, I cannot say with 100% certainty this is exactly what Newark Charter School did.  If I were writing a fictional novel, either as part of the Kathleen Davies whodunit or a new one on Newark Charter School, because no criminal charges or official allegations of wrongdoing have been laid out by any type of legal authority in the State of Delaware, I would say there is most likely a strong connection to this activity going on at Newark Charter School and Kathleen Davies eventually being put on leave.  I believe NCS knew there was an investigation going on with their IRS 990 forms.  I believe they knew their exemption was a glass house that would eventually have many stones thrown at it.  While I don’t think it was a case of Senator David Sokola going to Tom Wagner and saying “You have to stop this audit inspection cause my buddies at Newark Charter School could get in trouble”, I do believe the goal was to slam the character of Kathleen Davies.  By doing so, it would undermine the audit inspections she already completed (the September 30th Enrollment Count inspection and the Millville Fire Department audits which were either pulled or redone).  As well, it would cast a doubt on audits already underway.  I believe the right amount of pressure was put on Tom Wagner by the Office of Management and Budget to get Davies put on leave.  Aside from the false accusations of Davies abusing the travel reimbursement accounts by not using the state procurement card, there had to be a confrontation to push Wagner towards that decision.  The accusations by itself wouldn’t be enough.  There had to be that one final straw.

The Delaware Department of Education wanted the September 30th Enrollment Count done.  When the report came out, they disagreed with Davies recommendations in the report.  They complained to Wagner.  This I do know.  What happened next, I can only surmise.  Wagner wanted Davies to change the report.  Davies said no.  Boom.

Once Davies was gone, Wagner could kill the petty cash audit which would have shown charter schools abusing the petty cash policies in the state.  He did that and instead sent letters to all the charter schools that violated the petty cash policy with no ability for the public to see those letters.  He pulled the September 30th audit.  He took out Davies letter at the end of the Millville Fire Department inspection report.  We don’t know what is happening with the Newark Charter School IRS 990 Form Audit Inspection.   I have to assume we will never see it.  Unless someone gives a very good reason why the school would strongly benefit from not filing such a tax return.  Someone would have to show how they hide things financially so they can get what they want.  Then Tom Wagner’s office would have to act fast and get into that school and investigate ALL of their finances, from top to bottom.  He would want to subpoena all of their bank deposits.  He would have to turn the information over to the Delaware Attorney General’s office and in an ideal world, that office would act on that information.  If any federal funds were found to be abused in the findings of this investigation, the FBI would have to get involved.  Since this school has been around fifteen years with no IRS tax filings, I would assume the FBI would be very interested in how much revenue this Delaware corporation has received and would want to account for every single penny going in or out of the school.  If the FBI didn’t have anything to go on, I would have to imagine the State of Delaware would based on the information they would get out of their investigation.  Not to mention the very shady and scummy enrollment practices this school has had over the years in their attempts to have perfect high-stakes test-takers.  In their isolated and non-transparent world with a five-mile radius around the flagpole at their high school, some of which goes into a neighboring state, but determines what students can or can’t go to their elite wannabe private school.  Where parents can afford to pay for extravagant field trips because they don’t have to use those funds for a private school because this school is so perfect.  In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have this.  But this isn’t an ideal world.  This is Delaware.

I have no doubt Newark Charter School is not alone in Delaware with these kinds of financial games.  I think it has happened quite a bit, and not just in charter schools.  I think it has happened in our districts as well.  Maybe not the same chess move NCS pulled on this one, but other moves designed to give an advantage of some sort.  We’ve seen it before and we will see it again.  Until someone turns the board over and makes new rules for the game.  That is what needs to happen in Delaware.  This is my mission and others have this vision as well.  We keep waiting for someone in power to step up and do the right thing.   All we hear is silence.

To see the full FY2015 audit for Newark Charter School, please see the below report: