Awesome. Simply awesome. A non-profit company incorporated in Delaware can get all their funding from tax-payer local school districts, have their 501c3 status as a non-profit revoked, not file tax returns, and the State of Delaware doesn’t care. Earlier this afternoon, I wrote about how this exact scenario happened with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA). Two hours later, I contacted the Delaware Division of Corporations. Delaware doesn’t seem to care if a corporation files tax returns or not. There is no oversight mechanism in the State of Delaware to enforce anything related to federal tax filings. The Division of Corporations advised me that someone would have to get an attorney and go through the courts. Excuse me?
So DSBA can gouge school districts out of tons of money, but they will go to bat for them on legislation and counsel school boards on how to make sure board members have the most up-to-date board training. But they fail to show any transparency for how much money they receive, how they spend it, and what their losses are. That is just wonderful. What exactly does this organization do for school districts? They are glorified lobbyists taking funds out of schools.
I attended my local school board meeting a couple of months ago. One of the items on their agenda was “legislative priorities”. One of those priorities concerned special education and due process hearings. DSBA wanted my district to advocate for something that had never applied to their district. Why does everything in Delaware have to have some type of “association” attached to it? Once we centralize every group in the state, who watches that centralizing group? I’m sure for the members of DSBA, and those who sit on DSBA’s board, it looks great on the resume. “Look at me, I’m not only on a school board but also on the board of DSBA.”
Please… spare me the righteous indignation. How ironic that in this National School Boards Association guidance to state associations they offer the following advice:
State school boards associations have been established to provide a state-level network for members of local school boards to achieve common goals, support shared improvement efforts, and explore such widespread issues as board member training, policies, statewide needs, state and federal initiatives, and state and federal funding. Improving student achievement also must be a goal since it is the top priority of the state association’s members.
I am pretty ticked off about this as you can tell. Is it any wonder our state is corrupt as hell? What does our state offer oversight on when it comes to financial matters and transparency? It’s not like DSBA’s Facebook page tells us a lot.
Apparently, it is a-ok for DSBA to instill certain codes of ethics on local school boards, but when it comes to that ethical thing like FILING TAX RETURNS FOR YOUR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION WITH THE IRS, those ethics aren’t important.
…the Code of Ethics is recommended by the Delaware School Boards Association as a guide to its members as they strive to render effective and efficient service to their respective communities.
But according to DSBA’s website, this is their role in Delaware:
DSBA offers their members:
- Developing statewide legislative and funding priorities for public education in conjunction with the Legislative Committee and member boards;
- Monitoring the impact and progress of legislation introduced in the General Assembly which may affect the programs, operation, funding or administration of school districts;
- Planning and presenting orientation and training programs designed to enhance the effectiveness of school board members;
- Providing local school boards with information concerning those issues and activities which affect school districts;
- Coordinating legal services or local board efforts in those instances where boards share common concerns and goals; and
- Serving as liaison between school boards and other educational organizations or State agencies.
Can I add one?
- Show no transparency for how we spend taxpayer funneled money but thanks for your contributions chumps!
From their “membership” list of Delaware school boards, not every district board is a member of DSBA. Only 13 out of 19 are currently members: Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Colonial, Lake Forest, Laurel, New Castle Co. Vo-Tech, Poly-tech, Red Clay, Seaford, Smyrna, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge. As well, the Delaware State Board of Education is also a member. So it looks like Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney, Christina, Delmar, Indian River, and Milford have very wise boards who decided not to join this non-transparent organization.
DSBA is led by Executive Director John Marinucci and an Administrative Assistant named Linda Murphy. That’s it. That is their entire staff. They have an office in Dover. But of course many Delaware school board members govern the whole thing and decide what legislative priorities are best for school boards, even if those legislative priorities don’t even affect a member school district. So who are these elected officials and Governor-appointed Delaware board members, running 13 out of 19 Delaware school districts, who serve in another capacity for an organization that doesn’t file IRS 990 Non-Profit tax returns? Thanks for asking!
Officers- President: Joseph Brumskill (Brandywine), 1st Vice-President: Jennifer Burton (Cape Henlopen), 2nd Vice-President: Matthew Lindell (Capital), Treasurer: Cynthia Brown (Poly-tech), Director of Special Affairs: John Skrobot (Brandywine)
Other members of the Board of Directors: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Bobby Benjamin (Colonial), Nina Lou Bunting (Delaware State Board of Education), John Schulties (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), John Lynch (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Martin Wilson (Red Clay), David Tull (Seaford), Chris Malec (Smyrna), George Torbert (Sussex Tech), and Walter Gilefski (Woodbridge)
Legislative Committee: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Dr. Roni Posner (Cape Henlopen), John Martin, Jr. (Capital), Leo Magee (Colonial), Barbara Rutt (Delaware State Board of Education), Ronda Swenson (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), Mark Stellini (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Nancy Cook (Poly-tech), Kenneth Woods (Red Clay), Jeffrey Benson, Jr. (Seaford), Ron Eby (Smyrna), John Oliver (Sussex Tech), and Walter Rudy (Woodbridge)
They also have corporate members! Those are Stecher Financial Group, Johnson Controls, and Adelphia Furniture Inc. Two of those companies aren’t even out of Delaware!
On their calendar they have ZERO events on it, so we don’t even know when this organization and their various officers and legislative committees even meet. This is like the evil twin of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. For all the bitching I do about them, at least DCSN files their IRS 990 501c3 tax returns. Oh yeah, that’s because they didn’t get their status revoked for failing to file NINE YEARS. 28 school board members throughout the state. Do they get paid for their service to DSBA? We don’t know cause the non-profit doesn’t file a tax return!
My bad, the Delaware Online Checkbook changed over to the new Delaware Open Data Portal thing Governor Markell officially launched yesterday. So I can see that Delaware School Boards Association received $210,177 in FY2016. Here is the breakdown by district:
Cape Henlopen: $32,600.00
Delaware Department of Education: $13,930.50
Lake Forest: $10,300.00
New Castle Co. Vo-Tech: $8,784.50
Red Clay: $26,322.00
Sussex Tech: $4,862.00
And the following two school districts, who aren’t even members, didn’t seem to mind paying DSBA in FY2016:
Appoquinimink: $5,400 (cost per student: $1.92)
Indian River (dropped DSBA in fall of 2016): $3,000.00
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Because not only does DSBA bill school boards for dues, but also food, instructional supplies, and computer supplies. And it doesn’t matter if it is paid out of the Delaware Special Fund or the Delaware General Fund. Keep in mind all the below amounts are out of the overall totals listed above, but some of these categories are outlandish given the scope of what DSBA does. Ones I colored in red are potential audit red flags (I know, stop laughing)!
Appoquinimink: Computer Supplies– $2,700.00
Cape Henlopen: Computer Supplies– $9,100.00
Colonial: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00
Colonial: Meals w/in State (Breakfast/Dinner)- $349.66
Lake Forest: Computer Supplies– $34.00
Lake Forest: Equipment Rental-$2,700.00
Lake Forest: Food- $173.00
Red Clay: Other Professional Service- $8,100.00
Seaford: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00
Woodbridge: Other Professional Service- $421.50
Delaware Department of Education: Training- $208.50
I’m sorry, but in what kind of world does DSBA, which amounts to a lobbyist organization, provide computer and instructional supplies? Did Lake Forest rent a crane or something from DSBA? I didn’t see a school supply or rental tab on their website. And why do districts code these expenses all over the map? The food amounts would have been higher if other districts didn’t code it as association dues. So we elect school board members who go to meetings at DSBA, which gets over $200,000 of taxpayer money with a staff of two, and those school board members charge their districts for food? Are you frigging kidding me? And why is Cape Henlopen, who has half the amount of students in their district as Appoquinimink or Cape Henlopen, paying DSBA the most out of all the districts? And Woodbridge only has 2,466 students but DSBA gets over $18,000 from them? There is something seriously funky going on with this. Some of these districts are paying obscene amounts to this non-profit (who doesn’t file tax returns as a non-profit).
And don’t think for one minute it didn’t dawn on me that the Delaware Dept. of Education, who pretty much decides who sits on task forces and committees, and always seems to find room for someone from DSBA on them, pays a lobbyist organization who helps LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS over $13,000.00. I see Mr. Marinucci at most of the meetings I attend these days when the DOE is involved, especially ones around the Every Student Succeeds Act. I know, that is what lobbyists do! But when I see school boards wasting time with legislative priorities that don’t even concern their school district, an obscene amount of taxpayer money going to a non-profit that doesn’t bother to file tax returns, school districts coding expenses for this non-profit under whatever category they want (probably to get funds from the state and not out of their local funds), and the same organization not filing tax returns as a non-profit for almost a decade, I have some pretty major beefs with this organization.
The Cape Gazette did an article on DSBA on July 31st, 2015, a month after Indian River voted not to rejoin. They spoke with the First Vice-President, Jennifer Burton:
Cape Henlopen school board member Jen Burton serves as first vice chairman for the DSBA. She said membership is worth the $9,000 a year Cape pays, even though the association is going through some changes.
But when that membership becomes 3 1/2 times more than that $9,000 a year, what is the worth then Ms. Burton? Apparently Indian River didn’t feel the same way:
Indian River School District Board of Education withdrew July 13 from the Delaware School Board Association, saying $13,000 the district would have paid in dues could be better spent elsewhere.
“The Board came to the conclusion that its DSBA membership was no longer productive and that continuing to pay thousands of dollars in dues to the organization was not a responsible use of taxpayers’ money,” Hudson said.
But I guess it is okay for Indian River to use this organization for FREE at the expense of other district’s taxpayer money, right? Which means part of my school taxes, along with every other Capital School District resident, are going to pay for Indian River to rejoin something they felt wasn’t a responsible use of money? I guess when it is free, that’s okay. I don’t think so! I don’t pay local school taxes for Indian River. I pay them for Capital. And if I were citizens in the other DSBA districts, I would be upset too. I don’t elect school board members so they can help bail out other districts who don’t know how to spend their own money. If they want a bail-out on their DSBA dues, go to the state. That’s why I pay state taxes, not local taxes. DSBA has a lot of nerve asking other districts to do this. And yes, if you are not an employee of DSBA but serve as an elected official for your school district but serve on one of their boards or committees, you are acting as DSBA. Don’t believe me? Listen to Colonial’s Board of Education discuss this during their October 11th board meeting. Go towards the bottom of the page on this link to hear it.
In a presentation on DSBA, it was announced that the board of DSBA voted to allow Indian River to rejoin DSBA with full voting rights for free because of their “financial distress”. Yeah, distress caused by themselves. Just wait until that audit comes out! But let’s give them DSBA services for free! Colonial board member Melodie Spotts, upon hearing that DSBA hasn’t filed their tax return for nine years, put forth a motion to remove their membership in DSBA. The motion was defeated 4-3. Spotts was concerned how it would look after their board just voted to go out for a referendum. There was a lot of talk about promoting transparency around their refernedum and the appearance of paying membership fees to an organization that doesn’t appear to have financial transparency.
So DSBA, care to cough up nine years worth of tax returns and show the citizens of the state who elect school board members if they truly are getting their money’s worth?