Under The Radar, Another Delaware Charter May Go Down Tonight

All the media attention has been on Delaware Met, but another charter school may face the charter revocation knife in less than twelve hours!  The Delaware Department of Education is the charter school authorizer for most of the charters in the state, but three of them fall under the watch of the Red Clay Consolidated School District: Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep.  The last of those is on formal review, and the odds are in favor of Delaware College Prep getting their charter revoked at the Red Clay board meeting tonight.

If this happens, and Delaware Met goes down at the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow, that will be five charter schools shut down in the past few years: Pencader Business School, Moyer, Reach Academy for Girls, Delaware College Prep and Delaware Met.  For a state with anywhere from 22-25 charters (it is getting hard to keep track with the openings and closings), this is an abysmal track record.  Delaware doesn’t have the charter chains like many other states.  Most of them are “mom and pop” charters.  Most of these are serving children with needs greater than other charters.

The inner-city charter experiments are clearly not working.  Sure, folks can say East Side is a resounding success, but when you look at their Smarter Balanced results, they weren’t much better than their traditional school district peers.  I am not saying I agree with using standardized test scores as a measure of success or failure, but for the sake of argument, their perceived “growth” blew up with their SBAC scores.  The problem is also the charters who do “perform” well.  This is another illusion cast upon our state because of their enrollment practices.  We all know who those players are but nothing ever changes.  So we continue this game of Russian Roulette with our Wilmington students.  We are rolling the dice with them and the results are horrible.

And yet, the charters with some of the most egregious financial abuses in our state stay open.  Academy of Dover and Family Foundations Academy collectively wasted over $300,000 in taxpayer funds for personal use.  Their schools are still open.  Their former leaders are not in prison for outright theft.  But we will bounce students around Wilmington through choice and charter openings and closings without any regard to the amount of instability this inflicts on our districts, our communities, and most of all, the students.

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: The Charter Thieves

The biggest Delaware charter school news this year definitely belonged to the three charter bandits: Sean Moore, Tennell Brewington, and Noel Rodriguez.  The first two were the heads of school at Family Foundations Academy while Rodriguez belonged to Academy of Dover.  Altogether, the trio managed to abscond over $300,000 of school funds for personal purchases.  And that was just the verified amount.  Over $1.3 million could not be verified as school or personal purchases by the Auditor of Accounts in Delaware.  That is some serious coin!

Luckily, none of them are currently employed by the schools.  *Brewington surfaced at Christiana in the Emotional Therapeutic Support classroom as a one-on-one teacher.  Shortly before Thanksgiving she was no longer there.  Moore and Rodriguez have been very quiet.  Rodriguez was last seen at the Amazon Distribution Center in Middletown but he was let go around the same time the auditor investigation into Academy of Dover came out last June.

Many are wondering why the three are not in jail.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle, a huge supporter of charters in Delaware, was wondering the same thing.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said his office is looking into the matter.  This is why State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 needs to pass, which would make all charter school audits go through Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  Resistance from the Delaware Charter Schools Network reached a fever pitch last Spring, even resulting in the non-profit recruiting parents to fill out an online form on their website which automatically went to the Delaware legislators.  The bill passed the House on June 30th, but every single House Republican voted no along with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and Chair of the House Education Committee Earl Jaques.  When the legislators return in January, this bill will be in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.

In October, Wagner’s office released a report that showed some other charter schools that had very suspect incidents of financial abuse.  Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep’s incidents were not as egregious as those of Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, but they are still a pattern that needs to change at Delaware charter schools.  In years past, Pencader Business School and Delaware Military Academy were also investigated for misuse of state funds.  While this is certainly not indicative of all charters in Delaware, it is far too many.  Education is about students, not a personal ATM machine!

*This article has been corrected to give a more accurate read on where Dr. Tennell Brewington wound up.  Apologies for the error!

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Kathleen Davies

Behind the scenes in Delaware is a woman who had a VERY busy 2015.  Kathleen Davies is the Chief Administrative Officer at Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  She is the name on all the inspection reports for Delaware charter schools.  Academy of Dover.  Delaware College Prep.  Kuumba Academy.  And yesterday’s Delaware Department of Education inspection (of which they were cleared).  She even has a pending audit investigation with Family Foundations Academy.

These actions did not go unnoticed by one Delaware State Representative.  Kim Williams introduced House Bill 186 (after going through a few revisions) to mandate charters go through the State Auditor’s office when contracting for auditors.  It became one of the lightning rod bills of the season, which prompted Davies to testify to support the bill.  She told the Delaware House Education Committee the situation with the charters was worse than they could imagine.

During this time, the Academy of Dover audit inspection was finishing up.  When the report was released, all the Delaware major media picked up on it.  Former Principal Noel Rodriguez had used well over $160,000 in school funds for personal purchases, along with numerous other egregious activities.  In October, Davies released a report on four charters.  Two were cleared of any wrongdoing, but Delaware College Prep and Kuumba Academy had some nasty findings.  And apparently, while that was finishing up, her office was working on the report on the DOE!

With Delaware Met’s pending charter revocation, will the auditor’s office step in?  While their closure has more to do with academic and organizational reasons the financial picture is not pretty at this point.  And that whole real estate deal is begging for an investigation.  I hope though, for Davies sake, her charter school audits decrease in 2016!

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Jennifer Nagourney

Jennifer Nagourney serves as the Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  To say she had a hell of a year would be an understatement!  Nagourney’s role is to oversee the charter schools in Delaware and to make sure they are in compliance on academic, financial, and organizational performance frameworks.  When a charter school has issues, she is one of the main DOE people who determines what type of action to take.  Her office works with all of the other offices in the DOE.

2015 started off with a bang in the form of Family Foundations Academy.  After former Heads of School Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington got caught with their hands in the school finances cookie jar, the Charter School Office put the school under formal review a year ago.  After a whirlwind amount of speculation, the school’s board and leaders was essentially taken over by East Side Charter School.  A few months later, no less than four Delaware charters went on formal review: Academy of Dover, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School.  All came off formal review status but they are all on probation.  Two were new charters scheduled to open in August who received the designation due to low enrollment which affected their financial viability.  Two were for academic reasons, and of those two one was for their former school leader embezzling from the school (Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez).

As the 2014-2015 school year ended, two charters officially closed due to charter revocation decisions by the Delaware State Board of Education.  Moyer and Reach Academy for Girls closed their doors forever, but five more were opening up in August: Delaware Design-Lab High School, Delaware Met, First State Military Academy, Freire Charter School, and Great Oaks Charter School.

Towards the end of September, issues started to rise with one of the new charters, Delaware Met.  After the school was placed on formal review by the State Board in October, the Charter School Accountability Committee voted yesterday for a recommendation of charter revocation at the end of this marking period, in January 2016.

Earlier in the year, with all of the charter movement, as well as the designation of the sixPriority Schools in Christina and Red Clay, the Wilmington Education Advisory Commission recommended a charter moratorium in Wilmington until the state could come up with an action plan for charters in Delaware.  This became legislation in the Spring, and this all morphed into the current Wilmington Education Improvement Commission which is leading a redistricting effort in Wilmington.  While charters don’t make the news a lot coming out of this, they are certainly a part of any plans that come out of the commission.  The State Board of Education will vote on this in January 2016.  Meanwhile, the DOE and the State Board are working on the Statewide Resources for Educational Opportunities in Delaware to determine how all schools in Delaware can best serve their students.

Due to the events at Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, House Bill 186 caused controversy in the Spring.  Introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams , Hosue Bill 186 dealt with how charter schools are audited.  The bill morphed a couple of times into the final bill which passed the House in June and will land in the Senate Education Committee come January.  As well, State Rep. John Kowalko openly and publicly opposed the Charter School Transportation Fund and the Charter School Performance Fund.  Rep. Williams also introduced a bill to make sure if a charter school student transfers mid-year to a traditional public school district, the money would follow the student.  That bill has not even been heard by the House Education Committee, over ten months after its introduction.  I’ve heard rumblings of legislation which would make sure traditional districts send timely information on students that transfer to charters, especially in regards to IEPs and discipline.  Which is fine in theory, but there is a caveat in the potential legislation about the districts paying for the funding if the charters don’t receive that information in a timely fashion.  That will be a bill to watch in 2016 if it garners enough support to become potential legislation.  It will be a lightning rod of controversy between the pro and con charter crowd in Delaware.

All of this charter school activity has certainly kept Nagourney and her staff on their toes at the DOE in Dover.  With a staff of four, this is a great deal of work for this office.  Add in modifications, performance reviews, special education compliance, standardized testing, and leadership changes among the charters in 2015, Nagourney definitely had her busiest year ever at the DOE.  It is no secret I have issues with many concepts behind charter schools as well as the DOE, but I believe the Delaware DOE has come a long way in terms of monitoring the charters and taking action when needed.  This can all be attributed to the leadership of Jennifer Nagourney.  While her name doesn’t get thrown around in the media the way Secretary Godowsky or even Penny Schwinn does, make no mistake that Nagourney is one of the busiest leaders at the DOE.  I am hoping, for her sake, that 2016 does not throw as many challenges her way.  In fact, the Charter School Office is taking another look at how the Organizational part of their charter performance framework is made up and a working group will be starting to make recommendations on this.

Nagourney, in my opinion, is one of the strongest leaders at the Delaware DOE.  This is not an honor I usually give to anyone down there!  At least there is only one charter opening up next year in the form of Delaware STEM Academy.  I am pretty sure the DOE will be watching very carefully at how any new charters use their planning period between approval and opening to make sure a Delaware Met never happens again!  My biggest wish for this office to carefully monitor special education at Delaware charters.  I’m sure that falls under the watch of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE, but I can say with certainty they are missing a lot.  It is not every charter, but it is far too many.  I have tons of issues with special education as a whole in Delaware, but some charters do not even know the most basic fundamental aspects of special education laws.

Underneath all of this is a potential ticking time-bomb in the form of the ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid complaint to the Office of Civil Rights a year ago.  This complaint alleged certain charter schools discriminated against minorities and students with disabilities in their application process.  If it becomes a law suit, it would be against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District who is the only district charter school authorizer in the state.  Information was sent to that office in February this year, but no ruling has come down since.  This could happen at any time.

Charter Update To State Board of Education Puts 8 Charters At “Tier 3” Status

The Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education will give a presentation to the State Board of Education on Thursday, November 19th.  Among other things, they have rated charters on a scale of 1-3.  These tiers will have 1 being good, 2 some issues, and 3…not so good.  The charters at the Tier 3 status are Academia Antonio Alonso, Academy of Dover, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Delaware College Prep, Family Foundations Academy, Gateway Lab School, Odyssey Charter School, and Prestige Academy.  This list does not include the charters that opened this year because there is nothing to compare their organizational and financial frameworks to.  But even though Delaware Met and Delaware Design Lab are not on this list this does not mean they aren’t in trouble.

Delaware Design Lab High School is on probation following their formal review last year for low enrollment before they opened.  The school did get their enrollment up, but according to this report the Charter School Office is reviewing their budget and enrollment and are on some type of corrective action.  Delaware Met is on formal review for pretty much everything not even three months after they opened.  One interesting observation was their final Charter School Accountability Committee meeting has been changed from November 30th to December 1st.  I would imagine this is because the DOE has to face the Joint Finance Committee over at Legislative Hall on the 30th.    It looks like the Charter School Office will be pushing more involvement with parents at the charters with Parent Teacher Organizations.  Parent involvement is never a bad thing!

So Which School Did Newark Charter Want To Join Their “Coalition”?

On Friday night, I put up a post about the Newark Charter School Coalition and how they met with an Assistant at a charter South of the Canal resulting in the firing of said employee.  As I wrote the other night, the principal was not privy to this conversation and was none too pleased when she found out about it.  Oh wait, I didn’t say she, did I?  So which charter was it?  There aren’t too many in Kent and Sussex. Continue reading

Kuumba, DE College Prep, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations, Providence Creek, DE Military Academy, Pencader…When Do We Make It Stop?

Charter school financial abuse.  It happens.  All the time in Delaware.  It doesn’t matter what the amount is, despite what the News Journal writes.  These are adults, playing with taxpayer money meant for students, not their own pocket.  But our State Government allows this to happen.  Delaware has no Inspector General.  Legislation meant to curtail these types of activities and lend transparency is held in limbo or doesn’t pass.  And the Delaware Charter School Network lobbies against it.  State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 would allow more oversight of charters through more extensive audits.  Every single one of the House Republicans, along with the House Education Committee Chair Earl Jaques and the Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no.  It passed the House on June 30th, but Senator David Sokola refused to let it be heard on the Senate floor unless it was heard in committee first.  Yet, numerous other bills had rules suspended that evening.

These schools are under the purveyance of the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Why do these matters come out years after the fact after the damage is already done?  These are not elected board members at charters.  And their leaders are picked by these unelected board members.  Many of the charters websites are a joke.  Minutes aren’t always posted, agendas aren’t posted, sometimes even financial monthly statements aren’t put up.  No charter board records their meetings.  No purchase card activity is listed separately from their monthly financial statement, if it even includes that.  None of these so-called leaders have ever done jail time.  The average citizen would in a New York minute.  But we want to hold up these leaders as if they don’t walk on the same ground as the rest of us.  We don’t want to hold them accountable, but by God, we will get those traditional school districts in line.

Let me get one thing straight.  I like Jennifer Nagourney, the executive director of the Charter School Office at the DOE.  I think if she had her way, there would be many changes with charter schools.  I also believe her hands are tied by her bosses who look the other way over these kinds of offenses.  The school goes on formal review, we have the dog and pony show with the Charter School Accountability Committee, a public comment period, a formal Public Hearing, and then the State Board meets and says “Golly gee, how did this happen?” or “Why is this happening so much?”  But they put forth nothing to attempt to stop it.  But they will sneak in regulation after regulation to hold teachers and schools accountable based on a bogus assessment.  It has become a joke.  The State Board and the leaders at the DOE will kiss Rodel’s ass while they pay millions of dollars to consultants to “fix” our schools.  And the results of all these reports are always the same.

The Head of School at Kuumba Academy, named in the Delaware State Auditor’s report today sits on the Accountability Framework Working Group.  If you are not aware, this committee has the task of how to frame Delaware’s accountability school report card.  If Sally Maldonado can’t manage finances correctly and allows herself to be reimbursed for funds that are already included in her job function and her salary, can we trust her to help lead our public schools with decisions as big as this?

And then we have Delaware College Prep Board President Yardise Jones telling the State Auditor’s office “I am not following why DCPA needs to justify expenses incurred to run its business.”  While schools deal with business, the problem in Delaware is far too many “leaders” and “reformers” look at and treat schools like a business.  Children are not a profit center.  They go to school to learn.  They are not there for kickbacks into your piggy bank.  They are not there for the extra perks you get for your non-elected position on a board or your “entitlement” as a leader picked by a non-elected board.  If you want to steal from children (yes, it is stealing no matter how you slice that cake), get the hell out of education.  I have no sympathy for thieves who recklessly allow themselves to take funds that are not their own and then make excuses later.  And Delaware General Assembly legislators: you need to do something about this.  About all this education nonsense in our state.  You don’t answer to Rodel, or the Delaware Charter Schools Network, or even to Governor Markell.  You answer to the people that elected you.  The people are sick of the abuse and scandal.  And we are waking up.  Just because you get 200 emails from charter school parents after a p.r. blitz from Kendall Massett with a scripted response, that doesn’t mean passing a bill designed to fend off this kind of abuse is wrong.  It is the only right thing to do, so get off your buts and do something.  Pass House Bills 186 and 61 in January.  Stop the fraud playing out in our state.  Unless you want to join the unelected on some charter school board.

*This article has been corrected to state every single one of the House Republicans voted no on House Bill 186, not the House Democrats.   The only House Dems that voted no were Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques.

Thomas Edison Charter School DEFINITELY Under Investigation By State Auditor

As I trolled through charter school minutes throughout the day, in-between working on another project, and reading with my son, I got to the last one, Thomas Edison Charter School.  Lo and behold, Thomas Edison is under investigation by the Delaware State Auditor.  While it doesn’t give specifics and why they are being investigated, their July 2015 board minutes give no illusion about this matter.  I first reported this in the Spring, and some folks said I am reading too much into it.  Thank you, I know the difference between an investigative audit and a regular audit.

State Audit Update

Auditors are coming to the school during the week of 07/27/15 to begin the audit.  The auditors are requesting the Board meeting be moved back one week to allow them to meet State deadlines and to report findings to the Board.  The Board did not have an objection to the request.

Back in May, the State Auditor’s office revealed during a House Education Committee meeting on House Bill 186 that seven Delaware charters were under investigation, and they were not light matters.  We already knew about Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover.  I soon found out, once again based on board minutes, that Providence Creek Academy was another.  And then in June, I discovered two possible other schools: Thomas Edison and Odyssey Charter School.  The State Auditor’s office isn’t able to verify this information.  While I still haven’t been able to confirm Odyssey, Thomas Edison is definitely number four.  The first three were for financial abuse, involving procurement (purchase) cards and actually opening accounts under the school’s name for personal use.  What has Thomas Edison done to incur this inspection?  I’m sure we will find out soon enough.

Once again, what is the DOE doing about this?  I have yet to hear of any action being taken on Providence Creek Academy and Thomas Edison, even though it is now public knowledge.  Both Academy of Dover and FFA were put on formal review in part due to these kinds of things.  And who are the other three charters?  The wheels on the bus go round and round…

To read the actual board minutes from Thomas Edison’s July meeting, look below:

Family Foundations Academy: Where Is The Investigative Audit? Are They Still On Probation?

Family Foundations Academy, a Delaware charter school in New Castle, DE, formally requested an end to their six-month probation.  But their investigative audit may come out at the same time.  Last December, Delawareans were treated to a month long ordeal surrounding Family Foundations Academy.  During the school’s charter renewal, allegations came out against the co-leaders of the school for financial mismanagement.  It was also revealed the State Auditor’s office was going to investigate the school’s finances. By the end of the month, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington were out, and the board was radically changed in the first month of the year as members of EastSide Charter School took over.

The State Board renewed their charter but put FFA on formal review.  In March, the State Board put the school on probation for six months.  This will end later this month if the State Board agrees to it.  But in the meantime, while on probation, the school submitted and was approved for a major modification concerning the location of their elementary and middle schools.  And the Auditor’s report hasn’t even come out yet.  When can we expect this?  Given the timing for Academy of Dover’s similar situation, I would say sometime in the next month to month and a half.  It took the State Auditor’s office about ten months to complete their investigation on Academy of Dover, and that report came out on 6/24/15.  The State Auditor opened their investigation into FFA sometime in December, 2014, so we should expect the report this month or next month given the same trajectory.

Has FFA satisfied the terms of their probation?  That will be up to the State Board of Education to decide, but the school seems to think so if you read the below letter.  A frequent commenter on this blog raises a very serious question though about overall board membership at Delaware charter schools: Should board members reside in Delaware?  This is mandatory for traditional school boards since they go through the election process.  I would think it would be in our best interests to have the same for charter schools.

Say It Ain’t So! Academy of Dover Violating Probation Terms With DOE! **UPDATED**

In a shocking and unexpected announcement yesterday, the Academy of Dover is not meeting the terms of their probation!  Once again, it is all related to financial transparency!  Seems they can’t get their act together…

When will they ever learn?  And do I mean the DOE or Academy of Dover?  Both!  This school has been flaunting the rules for years now.  The DOE needs to shut them down.  If they aren’t following the terms of their probation (which I think they got off very easy with), they need to go back on formal review!

UPDATED, 8/21/15, 1:47PM: I reached out to DOE Public Information Officer Alison May to find out if the State Board of Education acted on the news Academy of Dover is in violation of their probation terms, and she indicated they did NOT take any formal decision on the violations.

They should have always had a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  The fact they can’t even get this group to meet regularly with the majority of members to actually show up is sending a clear message to citizens and parents of Delaware: we will do what we want and the DOE will let us.  Only the DOE can reverse this arrogant trend!

And the oddest part about this report? The last page entitled “Good News” with a blank page. This says it all!

Delaware Charter School Compliance and Transparency Report 2015

“Head of School Report: School is completed for this year.  This year should go down in the history books as gone for good and never have history repeat itself.  We need to learn from the past.”

The above quote was found in a Delaware charter school’s board minute notes recently.  About a year ago, I went through all the charters websites and graded them on certain things: board minutes up to date, agendas for next board meetings posted, and monthly financial information posted.  I will be grading each charter based on this information again this year, but I am adding in Citizens Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) notifications and minutes.  I’m not including charters that haven’t opened yet or charters who got shut down this year cause really, what’s the point?

I can say a lot of the charters have become more compliant and transparent with these in the past year.  But some have not.  I gave a little bit of slack on the board minutes.  A lot of them had a meeting in the past week, so I don’t expect them to get the June minutes up right away.  If you see red, it’s not a major thing, but they need to fix it.  If it’s in BOLD red, they are majorly breaking the law and they need to fix that ASAP!  State law mandates charters put up their monthly financial info up within 15 days of their last board meeting.  As well, you have to have a CBOC committee and meetings.  Two of the charters on here with some big dinks are on probation already so they need to get on that.  Two others are up for charter renewal, so they definitely need to jam on it!

Academia Antonia AlonsoAgenda: no (only has two agendas for two board meetings in past year listed), Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: has meetings listed through end of 2015, Grade: C-

Academy of Dover– Agenda: Yes, Board minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: July 30th, Grade: B

Campus Community School– Agenda: July 2015, Board minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: March 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: not listed, Grade: D

Charter School of Wilmington– Agenda: Yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: not listed, but does indicate no July meeting, Grade: B

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & SecurityAgenda: no, website gives generic agenda for every meeting, Board Minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed, last shows June 2015, Grade: F

Delaware College PrepAgenda: no, Board Minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: April 2014, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: none listed, last shows June 2015, Grade F- for Formal Review

Delaware Military Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: January 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, states meets 4th Monday of the month, Grade: D

Early College High SchoolAgenda: no, Board Minutes: May 2015 (states June meeting had no quorum which is majority of board members present to approve items up for action), CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: no, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed but states meets 4th Thursday of the month, Grade: F

Eastside Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: Shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A

Family Foundations Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A

First State Montessori AcademyAgenda: no, Board Minutes: February 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, shows meets 4th Thursday of the month, Weird Fact: Uses WordPress as their website, the same as Exceptional Delaware…, Grade: D+

Gateway Lab School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 18th, Bonus: shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A+

Kuumba Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, Grade: B

Las Americas Aspiras Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: yes*, next board meeting: none listed, states meets 4th Thursday of each month, *Superstar: Monthly Financial report is excellent, shows both what the DOE wants AND what state appropriations and codes are needed!!!!, Grade: A+

MOT Charter SchoolAgenda: no, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: not sure, shows agenda for June 2015 meeting but last meeting was in May 2013, CBOC Minutes: May 2013, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, Grade: F

Newark Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 18th, Bonus: board meetings listed through June, 2016, Grade: A+

Odyssey Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 12th, Grade: A-

Positive Outcomes– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 19th, Bonus: board meetings AND CBOC meetings listed through June 2016, Grade: A+

Prestige Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: none listed, website only shows members of CBOC, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed, shows meets 3rd Tuesday of each month, Grade: F

Providence Creek Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 25th, Bonus: does have all future board meetings through June 2016 on school calendar, Grade: A+

Sussex Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: February 2015, next board meeting: September 16th (no meetings in July or August), Grade: C

Thomas Edison Charter– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 17th, Bonus: Has all board meetings listed through June 2016, Grade A+

There you have it.  The Exceptional Delaware July 2015 Charter School Compliance and Transparency Report.  8 out of 22 need to do some serious damage control quick.  Because once DOE Jenny (as Kilroy calls her) reads this report, she’s going to have some serious questions for some of you!

Oh, I forgot one thing.  The quote up above will be shown later today as part of another article.  Because even though that school wants to forget about the past year, the past is knocking on their door!  More later!

Academy of Dover Gets A New Assistant Principal…From The DOE!!!!

Chantel Janiszewski, formerly with the Delaware Department of Education, has taken a position of assistant principal at the Academy of Dover charter school.  At the DOE, Janiszewski served as a Deputy Lead of Penny Schwinn’s branch, the area where accountability and assessment are the big deal.

I met her once, at the DOE Town Hall meeting for parents and citizens last fall.  This was a presentation given by the DOE over the new “school report card” accountability system approved by the US DOE in the flex waiver requests.  Most parents weren’t too keen on this new system, meant to grade schools.

Prior to working in Schwinn’s branch, she worked in the Charter School Office for a couple years.  Between the DOE, the Laurel school district, and University of Delaware, Janiszewski has hopped around quite a bit in different education positions in Delaware.

Academy of Dover definitely needs new leadership given the events that culminated in their formal review.  They are still on probation status, but no updates have been reported on the DOE website.  The other three charters that were on formal review have reported in as required, but nothing from the embattled Academy of Dover.  Janiszewski’s LinkedIn account shows she started her new role in July 2015.  As well, the Academy of Dover website shows her as assistant principal as well.  If anything, Janiszewski’s time with the Charter School Office at the DOE should make anyone at Academy of Dover crystal clear on what they need to be accountable for.  Cheri Marshall is listed as the Principal of the school.

I wish Chantel Janiszewski all the luck in the world, and I certainly hope it lasts longer than her last administrator position… http://www.wboc.com/story/12933479/seaford-high-school-principal-resigns-interim-leader-named

Indian River School District Board Opts Out Of DSBA Membership

Mark Fowser with 105.9 wrote an article concerning the Indian River School Board.  Like the Christina Board of Education last September, they have decided not to continue with the Delaware School Board Association.  This will save the district $13,000 a year.  Christina, in their vote last September, saved over $21,000 by withdrawing from the association.  Their president, James Hudson, said DSBA “no longer has the capacity to represent our interests statewide and in the Delaware legislature.” 

This is very interesting.  Two school districts in the state.  Will others follow?  At last month’s state board of education, DSBA President Sue Francis did indicate she would be working with Academy of Dover in helping their school board get situation after their tumultuous formal review.  This will be something to watch in the upcoming school year…

Del. State News Article: Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez Going To Attorney General’s Office

“The Auditor’s office was concerned by the length of time the alleged financial mismanagement continued while under the oversight of the Board of Directors, Department of Education, independent auditors, Innovative Schools, the Charter School Accountability Committee, and Division of Accounting.”

According to an article by Craig Anderson with the Delaware State News, the State Auditor’s office in Delaware sent their audit report on Academy of Dover to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office.  What the article had, which I haven’t seen before, is this:

Also, the Auditor’s office alleged, “Given the magnitude of the problem at (Academy of Dover), there may well have been additional exceptions prior to July 2011.”

Once again, this article states the State Auditor’s office receive an anonymous tip on their fraud hotline regarding ex-principal Noel Rodriguez’ rampant and unauthorized spending.  Rodriguez is trying to find a seat on a non-profit board, according to Anderson.  A few sources have told me Rodriguez was working at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Middletown, DE until he was let go once the news came out about the allegations leveled against him in the Auditor’s report.

Many have wondered why Rodriguez is being made an example of while they dynamic duo from Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, got a get out of jail free card.  According to a letter to the DOE, Moore and Brewington settled with the school and hints the attorney general’s office was involved in this financial settlement after they pilfered over $90,000 from that charter school.  But one thing to consider is the State Auditor has not officially released a report on Family Foundations Academy yet.  They started an investigation into Academy of Dover in August, 2014, and their report came out last month.  So if it takes roughly ten months, we might see a report on Family Foundations Academy by September.  The $90,000 figure was based on a forensic audit done by Auphsite Consulting, but I have a suspicion the State Auditor will discover a much higher amount of fraud by Moore and Brewington.

As for Rodriguez, it will be interesting to see what his next move will be.  Will he attempt to offer a plea bargain?  If there were others involved in criminal financial mischief at the school, I could see Rodriguez pointing the finger.  The next few months should be interesting for all seven of the charter schools under some type of investigation or review with the State Auditor’s office.  I am very curious what kind of financial issues are under investigation with Providence Creek Academy…

Charter School Fraud Ignored By Delaware House Republicans, Education Chair Jaques & Senator Sokola

“Rep. Dukes asked how many charter schools are under investigation.  Ms. Davies said seven.  Rep. Dukes asked if they were serious infractions.  Ms. Davies said some of the investigations are far enough along to know it is really bad.”

One of the most interesting legislative arguments in the past few months has been the saga of the charter school audit bill.  First introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams back in March, the bill has taken on different forms, culminating in a House Education Committee battle from 6/17/15.

The minutes from the 6/17/15 meeting clearly show a House divided with common sense prevailing on the Democrat side (with the exception of Education Chair Earl Jaques) and blissful ignorance on the side of the House Republicans.  When it comes to charter school accountability and transparency, this pattern consistently emerges and it does not bode well for the education system in Delaware when seven schools are investigated by the state Auditor of Accounts.  I asked one House Republican why they voted no on House Bill 186, but he was unable to remember why at the time.  This was late in the evening on June 30th, but I would think anyone would know why they voted no on a bill.

By the time the bill got to the Senate floor, Senator David Sokola immediately tabled the bill and demanded it be heard in the Senate Education Committee.  Sokola has long been a clear supporter of charter schools and has sponsored or supported many bills that give them the lack of transparency they currently have, including the original charter school legislation from 1995.

When the Delaware General Assembly shows a clear bias towards charter schools, who represent only 10-15% of Delaware students enrolled in these types of schools, but takes up so much of the conversation, it is very troubling to know charter schools can get away with so much.  When we have Education Committee chairs on both sides of the General Assembly who very openly make every attempt to protect these schools is extremely disturbing.  Even more alarming is the parents and supporters of charter schools who just don’t care, or continue to enroll their children in schools that have clearly had serious financial abuse.

I contacted the Auditor of Accounts office a couple weeks ago and spoke with Ms. Davies.  I asked again for the names of the other four charter schools being investigated by that office, but she explained she was not able to do so at the time because that could give a presumption of guilt when no judgment has been rendered since the investigations are still under way.  Which I completely understand but there is another side of this issue which I did explain to her.  Parents make choices for their children with different schools and they have a right to know if the school they choose has issues going on.  She understood that, but was still unable to reveal the schools.  I don’t blame her in any way.  It is a thorny issue.

We have to wonder, as citizens of Delaware, why certain legislators seem more concerned with looking good for the Delaware Charter Schools Network than showing clear transparency and open government for the constituents they represent.  Charter schools are not evil in and of themselves, but the secrets, lies, and cover-ups are increasing rapidly and the more they occur the more we see this insane protection of them by some of our legislators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware Attorney General Office Investigating Ex-Principal Noel Rodriguez of Academy of Dover

According to an article on WBOC’s website, former Academy of Dover Principal Noel Rodriguez is being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust division of the Delaware Attorney General’s office.  This office, which opened in January when Attorney General Matt Denn took office, also investigated the former heads of school at Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, but no charges were filed in that case.

The heat is on for charter schools after this report came out.  With seven charters under investigation by the State Auditor, Tom Wagner, you can be sure legislators will be pushing for radical change.  One of them, State Rep. Kim Williams, finally got her House Bill 186 released from the House Education Committee after Chair Earl Jaques sat on it for a week.  The bill goes to the House for a full vote, but it is not on any agenda yet.  Furthermore, even if it passes the House, it would go to the Senate Education Committee, which probably won’t convene again until January 2016 when the legislators take their 6 month hiatus.

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

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

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

Academy of Dover State Audit Report Released! State Board of Education & Murphy Should Revoke Their Charter!!!

“A clear and consistent message is needed from all state agencies about fiscal accountability over all charter school funds including local funds.”

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office released their report on Academy of Dover, and it is much worse than anyone thought.  Here are the highlights:

-Academy of Dover has no contract with their financial management organization, Innovative Schools, which could set up another legal situation for them…

-For three years, Rodriguez used $127,866 in school funds for personal use, the state was unable to determine if ANOTHER $129,458 was for school or personal use…

-The school had a sexual harassment lawsuit in which they settled, costing the school out-of-pocket over $36,000 in legal fees and over $97,000 in insurance funds.  This was due to Noel Rodriguez, the former principal…

-Academy of Dover kept allowing Rodriguez to use his cell phone until March 2015 even though he resigned in October 2014, added an additional $1,696 in charges…

-Academy of Dover’s average class size is 19 to 1, drastically lower than most traditional school districts, but the average student to adult ratio is 10 to 1…

-In trying to seek guidance on the overall purpose of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the organization did not respond to that request…

-During the three year spending spree, there was no oversight from any of the following organizations: Academy of Dover, their board, DOE, Charter School Accountability Committee, Division of Accounting, independent auditors or Innovative Schools…

-Rodriguez had a “special relationship”, according to the below report, with a music teacher. As well, he treated employees to Happy Hour numerous times, reimbursed them for alcohol purchases, and gave bonuses to teachers with NO board approval…

“Charter schools consistently receive instruction from DOE, Division of Accounting (DOA), and OMB that they may use their local funds as they deem appropriate, which is inconsistent with laws and regulations.”

The below document, produced by Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner, is a sickening and disgusting look at over three years of taxpayer funds going towards one man’s addiction to material items.  We know from last week’s House Education Committee meeting, seven Delaware charter schools are under review by the State Auditor.  It is time to wake up Delaware, and change this system of fraud and abuse.  Starting with the DOE, because based on what I’m seeing in this report, Academy of Dover needs to be shut down.  They had zero oversight over Rodriguez for over three years.  And they continued to give him special privileges with a cell phone after he “resigned”.  Their probation needs to be revoked and Rodriguez should be arrested for openly violating state law and regulation!

Why do we continue to allow organizations like the Delaware Charter Schools Network have any say on legislation that would protect our students and taxpayers from this sort of waste and abuse, but they refuse to answer questions about their very purpose to a state auditor’s office?