If you thought the arrow Delaware Governor John Carney shot through Christina School District’s heart was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet! Plans are afoot. And what will be left standing after Carney does his coup d’état will shock everyone! Continue reading “Carney Cremates Christina”
Updated, 2:53pm: The Delaware State Police cleared the bomb threat around 11am. But a student had to be taken by a medical helicopter due to injuries sustained by a “long fall” according to this article from First State Update.
The first day of school. A time for renewal and transition, not bomb threats. But that happened this morning at Appoquinimink High School. Parents were alerted right away by the district’s Public Information Officer, Lilian Miles. What the alert didn’t provide was information on where the student were evacuated too. This is no joking matter and I sincerely hope this was just a prank and not something more serious. If it was a prank, and the perp is caught, that is a federal crime. I also hope this isn’t a return to the national string of bomb threats America faced in 2015.
Updated with other information about what happened in the district today:
The Christina School District Board of Education passed a controversial motion to send the same funds going to charter schools (from the infamous settlement) to all traditional New Castle County School Districts (except for NCC Vo-Tech). The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would bind Christina School District to sending the same funds they agreed upon in the charter school settlement to Red Clay Consolidated, Brandywine, Colonial, Appoquinimink, and Smyrna School Districts. The price tag for this year will be $350,000 but this is a “forever” contract so those funds will go to those districts for students choicing out of Christina to those districts forever. But another motion, that would have allowed for public comment on the issue, failed. Board member John Young summed up the meeting in three paragraphs earlier this morning on Facebook. Newly sworn-in board member Angela Mitchell abstained from both votes.
Last night, Christina School District BOE motioned to settle with Red Clay, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smryna and Colonial for $350K + this year and each year in the future forever pursuant to the charter school settlement. The meeting was at Sarah Pyle Academy at 7PM.
It was moved to approve the settlement MOU. Then it was moved to be voted on at the 6.13.17 meeting so the public could comment more fully. There was debate. Board members indicated that public opinion would have NO SWAY in their vote. The vote to vote on 6.13.17 was defeated 2 YES, 4 NO, 1 Abstention. Then the vote to approve handing over CSD monies without input from the public was approved 5 YES, 1 NO, 1 abstention. Of course all votes were public, but if you want details feel free to PM me. I am reeling from shock that board members and key employee(s) deliberately and intentionally told the taxpayers to go to hell with regards to their input. My disappointment extends beyond the board and includes CSD employees and the Supers of all NCC schools and Smyrna SD. An unreal night, I assure you.
I hope there is VOCIFEROUS public comment on 6.13.17 to protest the way the board operated tonight.
I always hated the settlement with the charters. But, let us all hope this is the last song on this record…
As I wrote the other night, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Brandywine want their share of the local funds for choice students from Christina stemming from the charter school settlement with Christina last fall. It looks like Colonial and Smyrna have now jumped in as well. The Christina Board of Education will hold a special board meeting on May 24th to discuss this issue. The below document shows how much it would cost Christina if approved.
Christina School District is about to get screwed again! But not by the charters this time. This time it is districts who should be their allies!
Okay, time to let the cat out of the bag. A month ago, and if you blinked you missed it, the Christina Board of Education discussed and voted no on the Chief Financial Officer of their district negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between Christina, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Brandywine. The MOU would have given authority to the CFO of Christina to send those local funds to the three other districts for students that choice to those districts out of Christina. The board said no. Look for a special board meeting sometime next week. From what I’m hearing, now the Superintendents of the districts (all four) want to have the MOU between them. Welcome to Christina Richard Gregg!
That’s what happens when you open Pandora’s Box like that with that stupid settlement between Christina and the charters. I’m talking to you four Christina board members who voted FOR the settlement and then voted against rescinding the settlement a week later. Did I not distinctly hear that it would set a precedent? That it would come back to bite them in the ass? I know I said it. I believe a few others did as well. Karma truly is a vengeful and mean bitch.
Do I have anything against Brandywine, Appo, or Red Clay for going after these funds? I don’t know. The timing sucks. And how soon until Colonial jumps on the train? All this happened because, supposedly, according to some commenter named Elizabeth, Jack Markell had some secret deal with Lillian Lowery and Christina when she became Secretary of Education. The way I’ve heard it, Lowery was involved in a lawsuit when she became Secretary and Captain Jack wanted it all hush-hush so all sorts of crazy crap happened. I heard that from someone who used to be on the board who hasn’t been too quiet about it over the past year or so. Funny how stuff gets out in The First State.
So what happens if Christina’s board says no again? Will the big three (and possibly Colonial) get their feathers in a twist and file a lawsuit against Christina as well? My gut tells me Christina’s board will be forced to vote yes because of the precedent set in the charter settlement. So last week, the board announced they will be laying off 44 or so teachers. Will this cause that number to rise? And how the hell does their CFO Robert Silber still have a job there?
How much money are we talking? I don’t think it would be as much as the cha-ching the charters got, but it will leave a mark on their budget. At this point, anything more is suck city. Here’s a novel idea… how about going after Jack Markell and Lillian Lowery for their side deals that went on. Better catch Jack quick before he goes on his Forrest Gump tour of America! Yeah, like that will ever happen. Captain Jack seems to have some special immunity shield around him. It’s a special kind, where you screw things up for eight years and you get to go biking into the
Education never gets boring in this state. But this will not be a joking matter for the teachers and staff in Christina School District. These are good people who have been the victim of these education funding games for many years now. Throw in priority schools and the constant labeling and shaming of the district. I feel bad for all the districts right now. Students and teachers should not be the sacrificial targets because the adults in charge can’t get their shit together. Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m really getting sick of it.
Here’s the kicker! I submitted a FOIA to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office a couple of weeks ago. This is what I asked for:
Please provide, in PDF format, all reports, letters, guidance, or inspections for any Delaware school district, vocational school district, or charter school generated by the Office of the Auditor of Accounts that is not listed on the Auditor of Accounts website for fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016. This would include any of the above listed documents sent to members of the General Assembly, the Delaware Department of Education, the Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Controller General, or the Office of Management and Budget that would be considered a public document 29 Del. C. Paragraph 10002(1).
Wanna know what I got? Bupkis, that’s what! I got the petty cash letters sent to a handful of charters last year along with the letters about that specific situation sent to various state agencies. For three fiscal years!
Wanna know what that means? The Auditor of Accounts office is NOT auditing ANY school district unless it is an investigation based on something submitted on their tip line. Which means that office is breaking the law. But the General Assembly won’t give them the funds to do their job as required by Delaware State Law (which the General Assembly does: create laws). So who do we take to court? The Auditor of Accounts office or the General Assembly? Who is tracking where the hell education funds actually go? NO ONE! Except myself and Jack Wells it looks like. But yeah, let’s layoff teachers and make classrooms into sardine cans while people in district offices are making over $100,000 in salary. Cause that makes a lot of fucking sense! Let’s keep paying for state testing and all these one-to-on devices so we can just weed out teachers and turn education into a reformer wonderland! as I said, I’m getting tired of all this nonsense. And if I were a teacher, I would be too! If I were a parent (which I am) I would be shouting this from the rooftops: Stop screwing over our schools! And when I say schools, that primarily means the students and teachers. That is the heart of it all.
Now that all the surveys are up, it is time for endorsements! I’ve known who I was going to endorse in a few elections for some time. Some I changed my mind on. Some I have always known who I would NOT endorse. Some I wavered back and forth on. Some races won’t get an endorsement from me at all. I don’t always go with the “popular” candidate. I look, as best I can, at the issues facing education and which candidate is willing to stick their neck out and do what is best for students. The biggest thing is if the candidate knows what the issues are. Without further ado, here come the endorsements: Continue reading “Exceptional Delaware Endorsements For 2017 School Board Candidates”
First off, I want to apologize. I should have had the remaining surveys up on Friday morning. What happened? Life. It happens! But my apologies to the remaining respondents who took the time to diligently answer my 14 question survey. I do have one more district to cover after this one. I should have that up shortly. In this round, we have Appoquinimink. The candidates are incumbent board member Charlisa Edlin, Keinna McKnight, and Trevor Tucker. Only one of the candidates responded to my survey. Which one? Continue reading “Delaware School Board Election 2017 Surveys: Appoquinimink”
The upcoming special election for the 10th Senate District just got very interesting. As we all know, Bethany Hall-Long will vacate her Senate seat when she is appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delaware. In February or March, a special election will take place for her seat. I put up some possible contenders for the seat in an article last Friday. I assumed the Delaware GOP party would pick John Marino as the Republican frontrunner for Hall-Long’s seat. But from what I’m hearing today, a new name is being given serious thought on the Republican side… Continue reading “Will Delaware Republicans Try To Paint The Wall Red In 10th Senate District Special Election?”
Merry Christmas Appo Citizens! Santa is not only bringing you a potential tax increase on December 20th, but while you are voting on the referendum, you can also go to the Education Showcase at ALL the Appo schools! The timing on this couldn’t be more of a coincidence! I am like, totally, for sure, sure some wires got crossed here. A school district would NEVER plan events around a referendum. That just doesn’t happen.
Education Showcase: December 20
Hands-on curriculum-based activities, performances, lessons and special programs showcasing innovative practices across the Appoquinimink School District. Activities will vary by school.
Time, Location: Offered at all schools. Times vary.
Merry Christmas Appo Citizens! Santa might bring you a tax increase for the holidays! Appoquinimink School District is holding a referendum for capital projects and operational increases on December 20th, from 10am to 8pm. The State of Delaware approved their request. I find December 20th to be a very odd date for a referendum. People are getting ready for the holidays and celebrating.
The capital cost part of the referendum will call for the following:
A new High School and Middle School at the Fairview Campus
A new Elementary School at Whitehall
Renovating and expanding Silver Lake Elementary School
Rebuilding and expanding Everett Meredith Middle School
If the referendum passes, the state will pay 75% of the costs and Appoquinimink will pay 25% out of the referendum tax increase. As well, they are also having a second part of the referendum to deal with operational costs in the following areas:
Enhancement and replacement of instructional technology
Staff recruitment and retention
Operating expenses associated with enrollment growth
The referendum would see taxpayers in the district paying an average of $17.36 more a month in school taxes based on an average assessed home price of $88,500.00. Keep in mind, this is the assessed value of a home and not the actual value of the home. I find the new elementary school at Whitehall to be ironic given that the Delaware State Board of Education approved a charter school at that location but the Mapleton at Whitehall Charter School board decided to try their luck in Dover but then gave up unexpectedly and turned in their charter.
A parent of an Appo student sent me this. This is the parental consent form for free and reduced lunch. It’s like the ESEA Flexibility Waivers… “I’ll give you this, but in return I need this and this and this and this…” Parents, watch what you are signing and do research on how much personal data you are allowing to go out about your child. Because even if you trust the district, they are putting that information on grant applications, which go out to other agencies. At that point, the federal law that is meant to “protect” student data, allows that information to go out to other education “research” companies. Nothing in this world is free.
Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s. In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student. Students don’t always learn at the same pace. The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years. Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money. To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine. No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation. They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011. A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report. According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:
…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.
Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute. The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages. In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.
Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing. They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team. I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”. I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.
Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013. At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial. Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age. Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning. More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months. At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.
In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL. She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.
Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America. Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”. What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.
Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware. The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code. Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time. This group shaped the future of education in Delaware. But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.
The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time. There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser. Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE. She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE. She was the person who scheduled all the meetings. An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.
After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions. At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning. He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union. Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University. Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this. Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group. Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group. She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.
Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar. Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call. Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting. “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?” No response. “Is Donna Johnson on the call?” Silence. “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?” Nothing. “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?” Empty air. She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them. Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.
Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction. They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination. The first drove the need for the second.
A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington. The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE. This put the entire city into an educational tailspin. Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE. Parents didn’t know what this meant. Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them. Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations. Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…
Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition. If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording: http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar
The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.
The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.
We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas. Please complete the following survey by September 10th: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.
Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group. We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf
Education Associate, ELA
Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street, Suite #2
Dover, DE 19901-3639
Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed
In the past week, I have heard from several parents in our state that their children are not getting into AP or advanced classes based on either their Smarter Balanced scores or the fact that their parents opted them out of the test. This is a horrible idea. Some of these students are straight A students. What the hell is wrong with these Principals and Superintendents who are making these foolish decisions? While I won’t name schools or districts due to the privacy of these families, I think these actions are abusive on unheard of levels.
When did Smarter Balanced become the barometer of student success in Delaware? The sole purpose of this test is to understand where our children compare to each other, so we can reduce the so-called achievement gaps. Now it is turning into a punitive measurement tool and it is affecting many lives. What kind of sick and twisted crap is this? Who is mandating this? Is it the Delaware DOE or the districts themselves? The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a fraudulent test. It is horrible and how anyone can think this test in any way should decide what classes a student takes needs to take a look at what true education is all about.
We are gearing our kids toward this ridiculous notion of “rigor” at a very early age in Delaware. I get that children need to read at earlier ages. But the way we are going about it, by taking away play time and stripping these innocent children from the very creativity which allows them to grow as a human being is truly sad.
Every single parent of a Delaware student this is happening to needs to be very loud and vocal. They need to tell the school Principal this is unacceptable. If the Principal doesn’t bend, go to the Superintendent. If the Superintendent doesn’t bend, go to the School Board. Go to the State Board of Education. Go to the media. Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, Delaware State News, and the News Journal. Spread this to everyone you know on Facebook and other social media. Email your friends and family about this. Nothing in Delaware ever changes unless the people speak. And on this issue, parents MUST speak. And for those parents who don’t have kids in AP classes, if they are doing this to those students, just imagine how they are classifying other kids. The best thing you can all do is opt out in mass numbers to make this waste of a test invalid. That is the greatest option to end the destruction of public education. You need to advocate for your child. You are their parent. If they are a victim of this insane testing abuse, you have to speak up for them. Do not believe the lies far too many schools, districts, education non-profits like Rodel, and certain legislators are telling you.
It’s bad enough the Delaware DOE endorses ethical trickery with parents who try to opt their kids out. It’s bad enough the Smarter Balanced Assessment students take isn’t the same test for every student (which in my mind makes this test worth less than fools gold). But now we have this. This is a state assessment. Not a district mandated, or even school related assessment. It was created by the state for state usage. It should have absolutely no bearing on a student’s classroom progress. Using Smarter Balanced as a competency-based model of student achievement is not a good idea at all.
Can you imagine how students feel, who try their best in school, only to be victimized because of a once a year test? The heartbreak they feel, like they just aren’t good enough. This is what Delaware education has become, a travesty of epic proportions. We have turned the Smarter Balanced Assessment into the center of education. If it isn’t data walls, it’s accountability. If it isn’t libraries closing for weeks at a time, it is teacher evaluations based on this wretched test. If it isn’t state special education ratings from the feds, it’s standards-based IEPs designed to “help” kids do better on this test. If it isn’t reshuffling of classrooms to have high-performing SBAC students help low-performing SBAC students, it’s fighting parents when they don’t want their kids taking the test. If it isn’t students with disabilities being forced to take this test for 2-3 times longer than their peers, it’s the State Board of Education passing opt-out penalties in their school report card accountability joke. This is NOT the best test Delaware ever made, despite Governor Markell’s comments to the contrary.
When the 149th General Assembly reconvenes in January, their top priority needs to be setting firm laws dictating what this test can and can’t be used for. They also need to finish the job with opt out and codify a parent’s right to opt their child out of these punitive tests without penalty to the student in any way, whether it is AP classes, graduation, summer school, standards-based IEPs, abuse by administration, or denying a student the ability to choice to another school. This could have been written into law last January. I warned them then this issue was only going to get worse. My advice was unheeded by the majority of them. Those that supported the override attempt know the real deal. Those who didn’t need to seriously rethink their position on this.
And for any school in this state that has any type of data wall up in classrooms or anywhere in your schools with student names on them, take them down now. The days of shaming students for a state assessment are done. If any parent sees these data walls in any school, please take a picture of them and send them to me at email@example.com and I will file a Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) complaint the very same day. I will need to know the name of the school and the district. I am in the process of filing a few of these today.
The abuse of students in this state needs to stop. These are children, not testing guinea pigs for the data freaks. Is this really what education is about? Mental torture of children? All in the name of progress and accountability. I don’t think so. People wonder why I am so passionate about education. This is the main reason. What we are doing to kids. We are destroying the future.
The Delaware Department of Education continues their self-righteous Rodel led agendas. In their latest corporate education reform press release, Godowsky and the gang announced the nineteen members of the Delaware Teacher Leader Pilot program kicking off this year. I find it more than a coincidence that most of the districts who got these positions are very tight with the “Leader In Me” program. The only districts selected were Capital and Appoquinimink. Three charters are joining the bandwagon which are MOT, Kuumba Academy and Odyssey.
At their April board meeting, the Capital Board of Education tentatively approved going forward with this program. But they had deep concerns about setting up competitions in schools. They cited the very controversial Delaware Talent Co-op Program from a few years ago and how it caused many problems among teachers. As well, the board was concerned with the amount of time the selected Teacher Leaders would spend out of the classroom and how additional substitute teachers would need to take their place. The principals of these schools were very enthusiastic about the program. Both are “focus” schools, one of the latest “turnaround” labels thrown at schools over low state assessment scores. In a sense, I don’t blame these principals for doing what they can to get their schools out of these false labels put on them by the Delaware DOE. If you go to the Capital board audio recording from their April 20th board meeting, click on the second audio recording link, and the discussion begins around the 1:22:03 mark. When asked how much the program would cost, Superintendent Dan Shelton mentioned the stipend teachers would get but also that the training would take up the bulk of the costs. A figure of $50,000 was thrown around.
The only schools in Capital who are instituting this pilot program are Towne Point and East Dover Elementary. Towne Point is a huge advocate of the “Leader In Me” program. Fairview Elementary in Capital also has this program. Appoquinimink School District brought Leader In Me to Delaware. Payments for this program are made to a company called Franklin Covey. Many of the teachers at Towne Point who advocate for this program are also members of this Teacher Leader pilot program. One of them is also very involved with the Rodel Teacher Council. I have no doubt this teacher is an excellent teacher, but when you see one name associated with so many things I can not support, it is hard to draw the line between saying nothing and pointing it out. I fully welcome any discussion with this teacher about anything written in this article, especially the part I write about later on.
The Delaware General Assembly passed their budget bill in late June with an appropriation of $800,000 in state funds going to the recipient districts and charters towards the Teacher Leader program.
What I don’t understand is how the DOE can move forward with a program that is contingent on approval in the State Budget. The funds for this state grant weren’t approved until late June. But here we have the DOE sending out invitations to apply after Spring Break. For Capital school district, students came back after Spring Break on April 4th. They gave schools a very short time to apply for this program, a matter of 25 days. What was the insane rush behind this? I will touch on this later, but for now check out the press release from Alison May at the DOE:
First teacher leaders announced
Nineteen teachers have been selected to serve as teacher leaders in a pilot program launching this school year. The program is among the first of its kind in the nation to take place at the state level.
Providing this kind of teacher leadership opportunity was among the recommendations of the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. During his administration, Governor Jack Markell has championed the creation of a compensation system that makes Delaware educator salaries more competitive with neighboring states and rewards teachers for helping their peers to best support our students.
“Through this pilot, teacher leaders are provided a career pathway that both rewards educators for excellence and provides opportunities in formal leadership positions,” said Markell, who recommended funding for the pilot in his Fiscal Year 2017 budget that was approved by the General Assembly on June 30. “Through these roles, teacher leaders will use their skills to support schools where they need it most: helping other educators develop their practices and better prepare Delaware’s students for college and careers —all while allowing teacher leaders to maintain a foot in the classroom and earn additional compensation without needing to take on administrative roles.”
The Governor joined Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky today at Appoquinimink High School in Middletown to participate with members of the pilot in a discussion about the coming year.
The five teacher leader roles to launch this year will support educators in the following areas:
· Instructional practice leads will improve the instructional practice of fellow educators using a variety of high-impact support strategies focused on frequent, targeted feedback in educators’ development areas.
· Digital content leads will help educators build their instructional technology knowledge so more students have access to technology that helps improve their academic outcomes.
· Instructional strategy leads will introduce new instructional strategies into schools to help educators meet their learning needs and help schools meet their academic goals.
· Community partnership leads will help students gain access to services designed to improve their physical and mental health, giving them a greater chance at academic success.
· Instructional culture leads will help schools build a philosophy around culture, discipline and culturally responsive teaching.
Schools across Delaware were invited to participate in the teacher leader pilot. A nine-member committee representing educators, administrators and external partners selected eight schools and those schools created selection committees that designed a rigorous, multi-stage process to meet their schools’ needs and choose the 19 teacher leaders.
Each school is identifying a set of goals that teacher leaders will work toward. This summer, teacher leaders and school leaders came together to meet other pilot participants, plan pilot implementation for their schools, and learn more about teacher leadership to ensure a successful launch this fall.
“Being a novice teacher can be overwhelming at first, especially when it comes to lesson planning and classroom management. That’s why we want to use this new position to target support for our novice teachers in these areas,” said Kirsten Belair, who will work as an instructional practice lead at Odyssey Charter School.
The 2016-17 teacher leaders are:
· Amanda Alexander, instructional culture, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)
· Colleen Barrett, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Chelsea Baxter, instructional culture, Kuumba Academy (Charter)
· Kirsten Belair, instructional practice, Odyssey Charter School (Charter)
· Lindsay Bouvy, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Michelle Duke, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)
· Carrie Howe, community partnerships, MOT Charter School (Charter)
· Melanie Fauvelle, digital content, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Michele Johnson, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)
· Kris King, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)
· Heather Patricco, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)
· Heather Mann, instructional practice, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)
· Shana Noll, instructional practice, MOT Charter School (Charter)
· Crystal Samuels, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Katharine Sawyer, instructional practice, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Krista Seifert, instructional culture, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)
· John Tanner, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Kady Taylor, instructional strategy (K-8 reading), Kuumba Academy (Charter)
· Tamara Walker, instructional strategy (K-8 math), Kuumba Academy (Charter)
How does a member of the Selection Committee manage to get selected for this program? Can you answer that for me Michele Johnson? Why do I constantly see the names of the aforementioned Michele Johnson, Robyn Howton and Jennifer Nauman attached to so much Rodel/Vision stuff and now this selection committee? Under whose authority did you allow schools to apply for this before any decision was made granting the authority by legislative decree to a public committee or before the funds were even appropriated for this program? Can you answer that for me Angeline Rivello? Or do you answer to Donna Johnson? Because there is a crystal clear reason she was cc’ed on this email. Who chose the selection committee for a program that, once again, wasn’t even approved? Your email said there was a chance to get a “wide diversity” of schools but we have only one Kent Country district, one New Castle County district, and three New Castle charters. How did that work out? What was the rubric for scoring applications? How many applications were received? Did the selection committee read every single application or what it divvied up among the selection committee?
I think it is past time the DOE fessed up on their sneakiness and manipulation. Secretary Godowsky PROMISED a greater degree of transparency and open communication coming from this Department, and all I see are more lies, secret agendas, emails to select individuals with no public awareness, funds committed to things before they are even approved, focus groups or special meetings with no public notice, no minutes provided for certain things, or even links to certain groups (hello Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition). Meanwhile, you allow charters and districts to allocate money wherever they want with no true oversight, browbeat the auditor’s office until a good woman is put on leave while charters get away with financial murder, manipulate the ESSA regulatory process by claiming to have true stakeholder input when it is really just school administrators and lobbyists, force a school report card scheme on our schools without any regulatory authority to impose it, and have our students take a test that judges everything and the students don’t even take the test. Secretary Godowsky, I don’t care what anyone says, you are a HORRIBLE Secretary of Education. This kind of crap makes even Mark Murphy look okay in comparison. The rot in YOUR Department still exists, more than ever. This happened under YOUR watch. I hope the pieces of silver from Rodel and Markell were worth it…
Angeline Rivello, when I announced Chris Ruszkowski was leaving the DOE, a lot of teachers in this state reached out to me and they expressed how they wanted to give you a chance and hoped the stink from the TLEU would disappear. It is stronger then ever.
Donna Johnson, this just once again proves what I have always known: you don’t believe in transparency and you are well aware of everything that goes on in the Townsend Building. Does your beloved State Board know what you know? How the hell are you even still employed there? All of you are liars, plain and simple. There is no other justification for your actions.
Governor Markell, you tricked us again. You are a mastermind at turning something that looks good on the surface into a tangled web of lies and deception. If I had my way, I would impeach you even though you have less than five months in office.
If those in Delaware thought maybe I would temper things down eventually, my commitment to exposure in this state has NEVER been stronger. Every single day I see the corruption and fraud going on in our state. This isn’t a democracy. We have the most corrupt and vile state government in the country. None of this is about our kids. It is about power, position, and money. You all need to start coming clean before I find out about it. Because if you think only a few Delaware teachers and parents read this blog, you are VERY wrong. You have no idea, no one does, who is watching all of you. Recording every single thing I come out with, just building a very large and thick file.
And I do have a final item to throw out there. How can three contracts, which I can only assume may play into the total of $800,000 for Section 362is program which answers some of my questions for the funds involved in this sham, be signed on the following dates: 4/19/16, 4/21/16, 4/26/16, 5/2/16, 5/4/16, 5/10/16, 5/11/16, and 5/23/16? If these are for this program, and the General Assembly had not approved the funds for this program, how can you have contracts starting before the Joint Finance Committee even released their budget? Or should I assume the Rodel Foundation will be the one training these teacher leaders? With funds from the Vision Coalition? Or should I say Schools That Lead? Because when I look up Schools That Lead’s IRS 990 tax forms, it comes up with 990s for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Since Schools That Lead wasn’t really around then, care to take a guess what company comes up? The Vision Network. And if this description of their purpose doesn’t fit the bill for this Teacher Leader Pilot, I don’t know what does:
When I first started digging into education stuff in Delaware, I remember reading an article on Kilroy’s where he wrote about talking with Jack Markell in 2008. Kilroy wanted to support him, and he asked Markell flat-out if he was going to stop the spread of Rodel into Delaware education to which Markell said he would. Jack lied Kilroy. He lied to all of us. Rodel runs the education show in Delaware. They have for 12 years. Every single decision made in Delaware education has been at the behest of the Rodel Foundation since Jack Markell took office. Together with their order-takers at the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Governor Markell’s office, and the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, they have single-handedly turned Delaware education into a billion dollar corporation. And our kids lose more and more every single day. Because their minions have infiltrated every charter, every district, every state agency, and even our General Assembly. We gave them this power. Now, it is time to take it all back.
Lastly, to the charge that money was transferred out of the tuition fund, Longfellow said that was true, but said that happens nearly every year and is a legal maneuver.
Additionally, Forsten explained that the money went to funds that help settle costs that aren’t part of the tuition tax budget itself.
Mr. Forsten, could you please tell me what the legal maneuver is that allows Appoquinimink School District to transfer funds out of the tuition fund and how it is legal?
I saw an item on Appoquinimink’s board agenda for last night that said “Tuition Tax Clarification”. Assuming this was in response to my articles about their tuition tax warrant last month, I figured I would wait until their board audio recording to address this. But as luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long because Kilroy just wrote an article based off WDEL’s article on the subject at their board meeting Tuesday night. The above quote, taken from the WDEL article, clearly shows that Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows, Chief Financial Officer Dr. Charles Longfellow, and the Appo Board President Richard Forsten aren’t too familiar with Delaware accounting procedures and policies.
You can’t just take money from revenue collected through a tuition tax warrant and apply it anywhere you want. That isn’t how it goes. The law in Delaware is VERY clear about this:
§ 604 Special programs.
(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.
(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.
(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.
(d) Section 602(c)-(e) of this title shall apply to this section.
And let’s see what Section 602(c)-(e) states:
(c) The bill for tuition charges shall be verified by the Secretary of Education within 20 days after receipt of such bill. No bill for tuition charges shall be paid until such time as it has been certified by the Secretary of Education as being true and correct.
(d) For each pupil attending a public school of another district as of September 30, the receiving district shall bill the sending district and the sending district shall pay the tuition charges per pupil on or before January 1 of the fiscal year in which the bill is submitted to the sending district for payment. In the case of pupils attending the public schools of the receiving district for less than a full term, the tuition charge shall be prorated by reference to the period of time during which such pupils actually attended the receiving district’s schools, provided that attendance for part of any month shall be counted as a full month of attendance.
(e) Any reorganized school district sending pupils to the schools of another district shall levy and collect a tax to pay any tuition charges to the receiving district, and such tuition shall be collected by local taxation within the sending district according to the provisions of taxation as set forth in Chapter 19 of this title, except that no referendum shall be required. The sending district shall estimate the amount of, determine the rate for and levy the tax upon the estimate at the time that regular tax levies are announced to the appropriate taxing authorities, and the levy shall be adjusted annually to correct errors in the estimate as provided for in subsection (b) of this section.
So the tuition tax that caused the Appo board to issue a tax warrant last month is based on Section 604, and only Section 604. There are additional areas where these funds can be used though, as per House Bill 1 from the Delaware 146th General Assembly:
House Bill 1, 146th General Assembly:
b. The following provisions shall apply to the Preschool unit:
v. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of special education and related services.
b. The following provisions shall apply to the Pre-K – 12 Intensive Special Education (“Intensive”) unit:
ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.
b. The following provisions shall apply for the Pre-K-12 Complex Special Education (“Complex”) unit:
ix. Districts may use tuition to pay for the local share and excess costs of the program.
So districts can use tuition tax to pay for their local share of special education and excess costs for each specific program. But not for Basic Special Education students, just Preschool Special Education students, Pre-K-12th grade Intensive Special Education students and Pre-K-12th grade Complex Special Education students.
In Appo’s FY2017 preliminary budget, they state exactly what the Tuition Tax increase of $818,000 will be going towards:
I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Appoquinimink School District last month which I promptly received. I had not gone through it extensively until now.
I can see the out-of-district placements for students with disabilities going to Special Schools or day or residential treatment centers going up by $100,000. For FY2016, they spent $2,441,295 for these students. In FY2017, they are projecting it will go up to $2,570,633. That seems like a modest projection based on the history with these payments. I have no qualms with those figures whatsoever. What I do take issue with though is the appropriation section #99970020/99999999 Needs-Based going up from $7,148,711 to $7,863,582 without any justification for that increase. As well, we can see their projected amounts for FY2018 which will generate another tax warrant next year but maybe 10% less than this year’s based on their projected numbers. But Appo did supply two other documents in my FOIA request…
In this document, we see a seven year history with students in the category of Pre-K, Intensive, and Complex. Also included are the teacher units generated from these increases. Note the Pre-K units are going down each year. On the flip side, Intensive and Complex special education students are going up which generates more teaching units as well as services related to those students, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so on.
Now the district was kind enough to give a breakdown of how much went to each category for FY2016. I do appreciate that. It does give quite a bit of insight into where they think the funds should go. Now keep in mind Appo dated this document 7/20/16.
In their projections for FY2017, they based the FY2016 final figure at $9,590,006. But in this document, it is $9,424,524.26. That is a difference of $165,481.54. So they are already way off on their FY2017 budget by having this amount wrong. This is what they based their tax warrant on, the figure of $9,590,006 for FY2016, and they are basing their FY2017 budgeted projection off that number. They are already off. Even in their board meeting Tuesday night, they gave an amount spent as of 6/30/16 on Local Tuition Tax of $9,508,447.03. This was the part of their board meeting where they approved the monthly budget as of 6/30/16 based on their Citizen Budget Oversight Committee recommendation. Even they weren’t given the correct amount. Do I go by a FOIA request, which has to be legal, or their preliminary budget, or the amount their CBOC provided to the board which comes from their CFO? I’m sticking with the FOIA figure because that has the latest figures, as of 7/20/16.
Now look at the document and where it says “Indirect Cost” for an amount of $276,709.36. These are funds they transferred out of their tuition tax revenue bucket into another bucket with no explanation of where it went or why. So adding what they were already off and the “Indirect Cost”, we are up to $442,190.90, which is over half of their tuition tax increase of $818,000 going towards mathematical errors or shifting the money out of the revenue bucket it was supposed to stay in. You can’t just transfer funds out and call that a legitimate expense.
Which brings us to legal costs. In FY2017, Appoquinimink spent a total of $171,783.75 in legal costs for the entire district. But we are expected to believe they spent $124,279.20 out of that figure just for special education legal costs? Furthermore, should funds spent on legal costs in a special education dispute where a parent is suing the district be counted as legitimate funds to come out of a tax warrant? Because I can see at least $28,500 going towards that purpose right off the bat. That means the parents feel the school did not provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their disabled child. And if the school is paying those attorneys, that means at the very least there was some type of settlement involved whereby the district paid the opposing attorney as well as their own attorney costs. As well, we see a payment made to another school covered under legal fees. This could be a case where a parent sued the district and the district agreed to pay the tuition costs for another school. That was for $25,575. So with these VERY questionable legal items Appo feels they can cover under funds generated from a tax warrant, we are looking at another $54,075 in questionable charges in their FY2016 tuition tax expenditures, which brings us up to $496,265.90. We are now up to over 60% of their $818,000 tax warrant increase. I won’t even get into the fact they are paying a school nurse under legal fees. Shall I keep going?
There are legitimate expenses they put on this document. Teacher salaries and their benefits are okay to have in there. Related services, which means “Specialists”, according to House Bill 1, does have some caveats:
“(12) Specialists. All related services units are earned at the district or charter school level. Preschool, Basic, Intensive and Complex related services units earned shall be used to support related services needs of students in those units. Districts may use earned units to hire any related services staff necessary or alternatively choose to provide all or part of those services through a contractual arrangement with a public or private agency. When providing services by contract, the dollar value of the contract shall not exceed the authorized salary for a teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years and employed for a period of 12 months per year as provided for in 14 Del. C. § 1305 of this title, divided by the number of months in the terms of the contract. Partial unit funding is provided based on the dollar value of the unit. Any school district wishing to use funds under the contractual option set forth in this section shall make application to the Department of Education for that use, provided that the State Board may review any objection to the Department decision;”
So, as an example to this, Appo currently has two contracts with Therapy Services of Delaware for three occupational therapists and two physical therapists. This contract is for FY2017, and I could not find one for FY2016. But given that they keep projecting up with students who would need these services, it would stand to reason the contract for FY2016 was either similar or less. But I will operate on the assumption it is similar. That means, based on the above law, the district can’t pay out more than $60,558.00 for a full-time “specialist” based on the Appo Salary Schedule for a Teacher at the Master’s level plus 10 years. In the case of Therapy Services, the contracts call for three full-time occupational therapists and two full-time physical therapists. So they can’t pay more than $302,790. In FY2016, according to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo paid Therapy Services $302,442.63. So it appears they are acutely aware of the laws surrounding these special education services given how very close to the maximum number they could go up to in the contracts.
The reason I brought up a situation where they are doing everything by the book was to illustrate they do know what they are doing. But for some reason, maybe because of how they are audited by the DOE for certain special education costs, they are able to curtail other things that have a dramatic effect on what they are including in the tuition tax part of their budget.
I could go through more of these, but I believe you get my point. Appo’s $818,000 tuition tax increase is based on very faulty math, bad accounting procedures, and violations of Delaware state code from their previous fiscal year. The expenses they are covering under tuition tax don’t hold water with my tests in some areas but in others they do. Yes, I do own the fact that when I originally wrote about this issues, I seriously questioned where $5 million disappeared to. But I quickly corrected that a few days later when I found the missing $5 million in related services. I just didn’t account for the related services amounts in my initial article. But when I’ve already killed over 60% of your increase of $818,000, and I have barely scratched the surface of your entire tuition tax expenditures for FY2016, I have no doubt that percentage would increase. So you are NOT justified Appoquinimink School Board of Education, to approve a tuition tax increase costing the Appoquinimink property owners an additional $7.76 per $100 of assessed property values based on this. As a board, and some have done this in Delaware so they don’t raise the ire of local taxpayers, they can forego or decrease a tuition tax increase based on the projected increase. But what you can’t do is charge more than what should be the budgeted amount. Something Longfellow seems to think is the opposite case according to WDEL:
He said, not only is the district justified to increase the tuition tax based on enrollment, Appoquinimink isn’t even increasing the tax to the fullest extent permitted.
Would I expect the Appoquinimink School Board to know these facts? Not really. Unless you really do some digging like I have, you won’t just find these things on a piece of paper looking at it. But should Longfellow and Burrows know these things? Absolutely. Let’s not forget, their board approved their FY2017 Preliminary Budget and the tax warrant before they approved a $500 increase for administrators in the district at their July board meeting. I called that a sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part. I believe he knew exactly what he was doing. But the board just skimmed right past that part.
“It was just a case of someone not understanding everything,” Board President Richard Forsten said to WDEL after the meeting.
I will give Forsten that. I knew something was wrong and I made some incorrect assumptions. But my gut instinct still told me something was wrong even after I found my error. And then I found Appoquinimink’s errors. To be fair, I received the FOIA request two days after I requested it. But did I get everything I asked for in the FOIA request?
For the most part, I did. But what the FOIA did not cover, and no one has been able to answer, is the breakdown of funds allocated in the categories of related services for intense and basic, as well as allocations for occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and so on. By lumping so much of their special education costs into very broad categories of “consultants”, “other professional service” or “medical services” would not give any member of the public the ability to see exactly what is going towards tuition costs.
Furthermore, neither Burrows or Longfellow ever replied to my email requests to discuss these matters after my original article on July 14th. Not one single email, phone call, or response. Until their board meeting last night.
Part of the blame for this lies with the state. We have a Division of Accounting within the Department of Finance. We have a State Auditor. We have an Office of Management and Budget. We have a General Assembly. They should all be keeping track of these things and providing oversight into not only what our schools are spending money on, but how they are spending money. When I hear a Board President state transferring over a quarter of a million dollars out of an account earmarked for only certain things related to special education as a “legal maneuver”, that concerns me.
“All the numbers are there and they’re all justified, its just that you have to know what you’re looking for,” said Forsten.
Are they Mr. Forsten? I beg to differ…
But the biggest concern I have is the extreme lack of oversight from the Delaware Department of Education in these matters. When it comes to special education funding, especially tuition tax expenditures, they should be looking into these matters. It isn’t a question of “may”, it is a question of “shall” according to Section 352 of HS1 for House Bill 225, the budget bill for FY2016. While this mostly concerns out-of-district placements, the last line says it all…
I’m fairly certain that special education lawsuits should NOT be covered in tuition tax payments. Nor should Indirect Costs going out of this fund. And tax warrants should be based on a specific amount based on the prior year spending, not the highest of three amounts (and most likely the most inaccurate amount). I look forward to their response to this article. Will I get an email, a phone call, or another special section of their board meeting? Or none of the above?
Appoquinimink finally released the documents from their board meeting on July 12th yesterday… six days later. This morning they also put up the board audio recording from the same board meeting. We got a bit of insight into their “special education costs” tax warrant “increase”. And they clearly spell out how much of the money is going towards out-of-district placements and what is staying in-district. We also find out something the money is going towards for those in-district costs. Once again, the district is as quiet as a church mouse in a response to me. I guess they don’t feel answering questions in the state where “sunshine is the best policy” is important.
Now we know the Middletown/Odessa area is growing. I don’t think anyone is questioning that. But they aren’t using this tax warrant increase of 7.76 cents per resident for increased special education costs. They are using it to increase salaries as part of the FY2017 Delaware budget. Which is provided by the state and local funds. As well, they are also using it to increase benefits and pensions. Keep in mind that in FY2016, their amount for needs-based instruction was $6,500,000. Now we are expected to believe it has jumped to $7,860,000? Without a final student enrollment count which won’t come until after September 30th? I know, budgeting is predictive in nature. But in my mind, they still haven’t justified the original $6,500,000 number. They can say what it is for, but until I see a breakdown of exactly what these collected tax dollars in the form of tuition tax is going towards, I’m not satisfied. Of particular interest is the fact that their out-of-district placement costs actually went down between FY2016 and FY2017, even though this was a major thorn in the side for the Appo board just five months ago. I have to wonder who is calling the shots here and who knows about what. I want to believe the board isn’t aware of what is going on. Which is an issue in itself. But clearly Dr. Charles Longfellow would have some insight into this but thus far has not provided ANY information. Nothing. I suppose we are just supposed to take this at face value without any logical explanation whatsoever. How much does Superintendent Matt Burrows know about this?
The entire operating budget is going up over $11 million dollars. That is a lot of coin. That is also a 10% increase over last year. Did the district receive an additional 10% amount of students? They had 10, 378 in FY2016, 9,877 in FY2015, and 9,750 in FY2014 based on their September 30th enrollment counts for the past three years. But we are expected to believe this is about the students…
Now things like a carryover budget don’t really concern me. It is normal to have that. If everything wound up exact I would be very alarmed. That is to be expected.
To see the full presentation, budget, and the budget amendment to increase the FY2016 budget (done based on May 2016 numbers in the budget…very troubling in my opinion), see the below documents. Of particular concern to me is the budget amendment request. This is where it all gets very shady. On the original pdf, if you do the right-click thing for this document and go to properties, it shows the document was created on 6/29/16. But if the Appo Board of Education didn’t approve it until 7/12/16 how can their CFO write a letter like this before the board even voted on it?
After you read those, come back to see what the district wants to get in one of their schools. Keep in mind, they seem to want this more than adding programs to take care of the complex special needs students that live in the district but have to go out-of-district to get the special education services they are rightfully and legally entitled to.
FY2017 Preliminary Budget Presentation
Actual FY2017 Preliminary Budget
FY2016 Budget Amendment Request
While all this is going on, the district really wants a pool. Not just any pool, but a “shark tank”. An actual, indoor pool. While I don’t have an issue with any school having an indoor pool, I would think it wouldn’t be a priority until ALL students living in the district get what they need to succeed. Especially the very students the district doesn’t serve: complex special education students. Granted, this is just in the, pardon the pun, ground stages. But how about an RFP for something similar to the Delaware Autism Program or something like that? Nope, they really want a pool!
RFP for Nanotorium
In listening to the board audio recording from the July 12th board meeting, we once again hear there was not a quorum of their Financial Advisory Committee present at their last meeting, but the board once again approves their monthly financial report. Who is on this committee? Even more concerning is this comment from CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow:
I never budget for assessment growth.
So if we know the entire region of Delaware is growing rapidly, and their CFO doesn’t take this into account in any way, and the board is approving tax warrants based on this, what happens when the district experiences a surplus every year based on this growing population? If the CFO is going to set firm guidelines with his budget like that, why does he overestimate on charter school payouts? (This is the amount the district has to send to charter schools when a local student choices out to a charter school). We did find out that in this district, for every $1.00 they spend in salaries, spends an addition 31 cents to cover Other Employment Costs which covers benefits and pensions. The trailers the school is putting at select schools due to running out of room are all coming out of local funds. This was correctly referred to as “portable classrooms” by a board member and Longfellow. I found it very interesting that Longfellow stated the board couldn’t approve the budget if they didn’t approve the tax warrant for the tuition costs. He did state that was later on in the board agenda, but the two went together. The board is going out for a referendum in December. There was obvious concern from one board member about pushing these tax warrants now prior to a referendum. When asked what each revenue base goes towards, Longfellow said Tuition Tax pays for out-of-district placements and programs for students with disabilities. When asked by a board member if it was accurate to say the increase in tuition tax was based on the district receiving more students with intensive and complex special needs, Longfellow said that was accurate. Giving kudos where they are due, one board member did explain that assessed value and real value of homes are two different animals. He explained the assessed value formula hasn’t changed since 1983. Longfellow explained that the state gives local boards the “right” to increase tuition taxes to make sure students get what they need but it isn’t a “fun right to have”. At no point did the board ask for a breakdown of how this amount increased at such a dramatic rate. There was absolutely nothing put forth in the preliminary budget or the tax warrant request to the board. Just numbers without any justification whatsoever. The board voted unanimously on the tax warrant first and then the preliminary budget.
Later on in the meeting, the board approved an increase for all administrators and specialists of an additional $500 above the state increase of 1.5% or $750, whichever is greater. So at a minimum, specialists will be getting a $1,250 raise for the year. Note the board approved this increase after the preliminary budget was approved, not before. A very careful sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part…
Once again, I implore the New Castle County Council to ask for a full breakdown of these costs before deciding on the tax warrant. If the district fails to give that requested information, I would highly recommend not approving their tax warrant.
In adhering to the district’s policy on Fair Use:
Fair UseUnless otherwise noted, users who wish to download and/or reproduce text and image files from this website for non-commercial educational purposes may do so without the Appoquinimink School District’s express permission, provided that they comply with the following conditions:
- The content may only be used for noncommercial educational purposes;
- Users must cite the district, school, author and source of the content as they would material from any printed work;
- The citation must include all copyright information and other information associated with the content and the URL for the ASD website;
- None of the content may be altered or modified; and
- Users must comply with all other terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file, image, or text.
All graphics, links, and pdfs in this article, as well as the ones about the Appoquinimink School District I posted on 7/14/16 and 7/17/16 are used for noncommercial educational purposes. I hereby cite the district for ownership of all applicable material in all three articles. No document was modified or altered. The district did not notify me of anything associated with this but I felt it was prudent to inform my readers of this. All material can be found at http://apposchooldistrict.com/
This district and board can keep ignoring me but I will not cease publishing my findings and their extreme lack of transparency in regards to this and any other issues I find with them. As such, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Superintendent Matt Burrows and his office to obtain a full breakdown for each dollar spent on their tuition costs and where and to whom those costs are associated. I also included, in the request, any documents presented to the Appoquinimink Board of Education for their July 12th board meeting in regards to the tuition tax increase of $815,000 and their approval of a tax warrant.
Alright, I admit it. Asking Delaware teachers if they would consider taking a cut in their benefits and pensions probably wasn’t the smartest move in the book, but many of you came out in droves to respond. Granted, no administrators, principals, or superintendents replied. The article went over like a resounding thud. But I challenge every single teacher in the state: if not benefits or pension, what do you view as wasted money in our schools? And please don’t say “nothing”. We spend a billion dollars on education in Delaware and that’s just from the state. We also get federal money and local funds from school taxes. While other states may laugh and say “that’s it?”, we are a small state with less than a million people and about 133,000 kids in public education. Since this could be a hot topic with certain folks, feel free to post anonymously on this!
Since I just got home from work and grocery shopping and I’m dead to the world now, just a few updates on recent stuff. They must have a huge cricket crisis going on in the Appoquinimink School District, because that’s all I’ve heard from them since I dropped the special education funding bomb on them last week. I did have an interesting comment on the “Unsustainable” article that had me wracking my brain all day. Delaware school districts and charters might be thinking I’ve slowed down on them and my target of the month is Appo. Wrong! I have a ton of articles that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks. One is about an interesting superintendent situation going on in one of our school districts. That one led to a VERY interesting board meeting last month. Dr. Mark Holodick is winning the “who will be the next Secretary of Education in Delaware poll”, followed by Susan Bunting. Every one seems to be playing pin the tail on the auditor in the past week and everyone wants to know when Tom Wagner is actually going to, you know, do some audits. Kenny Rivera is now the Vice-President of the Red Clay Board of Education and Michael Piccio was voted in as the President. The State Board is having their monthly snooze fest on Thursday. Expect to hear some type of hip-hop hooray about the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results but not the actual final scores cause they aren’t done yet. Both the Christina and Red Clay Boards of Education passed resolutions to suspend the WEIC timeline which will be echoed by WEIC at a meeting on July 26th. On Wednesday, WEIC will be honored by the Progressive Democrats of Delaware as their Education Heroes of the Year. So Elizabeth Lockman gets a two-peat! Jack Markell hasn’t signed the teacher evaluation bill yet, House Bill 399. I guess he was too busy not filing to run for Congress (okay, I never said I bat home runs every time)! Delaware Military Academy wants to build a sports dome, but not with any funding from the state. They said it will all be from private donations. Apparently Chief of Instruction Michael Watson at the Delaware DOE has been “chosen” to be on John Carney’s “transition team”. How very presumptuous of you Mr. Carney. Today is State Rep. Trey Paradee’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday on Facebook. I did hear back from EFIC about their epic fail, which is the Education Funding Improvement Committee’s final report. Apparently “their work isn’t done yet” after having a due date of March 31st which was extended until June 30th. Publius disappeared from Kilroy’s Delaware about a month ago and hasn’t been seen since. He said something about the sign is in the yard. It makes me very curious why he would feel he shouldn’t comment “anonymously” on a blog anymore. Especially in light of a recent vacancy in Dover (totally speculating on this one folks). Unless…
On Thursday, I published a very controversial article surrounding the Appoquinimink School District. To say I got some heat for it would be putting it mildly. After I wrote the article, I did reach out to the district for comment. I emailed Superintendent Matt Burrows, CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow, and their public information officer, Lillian Miles. The only response I received from the trio was an out-of-office reply from Burrows:
What I found ironic about this was the part which states “suspected spam”. Many wondered why I didn’t contact the district first with my findings and ask them about it. Last year, after the opt out bill (House Bill 50) first came out, I emailed all the superintendents and charter chiefs in the state. I had valid concerns about schools refusing parent opt out requests or bullying parents about it. Some parents received veiled threats concerning their child’s ability to attend school during testing, while others received letters from a school district stating they had to acknowledge they were violating the law, sign it, and send it back. That came from Appoquinimink. When the Delaware PTA revealed this at the first opt out town hall last year, I immediately jumped on it and contacted the district. I spoke with Lillian Miles. I advised her the letter was potentially illegal based on the law it cited which did not apply to parents in any way whatsoever. She advised me she would look into it and I never received a response back from her. A few Superintendents responded to my email about the opt out situation. Matt Burrows was not one of them.
Flash forward a year to the 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessment season. Many parents reported getting a very similar letter this year. I once again contact Lillian Miles who informed me if any parent comes to me to direct them to speak to the school principal. I advised her I would not do this and I was advocating for their rights. She seemed to take offense to this and the matter didn’t come up again.
Towards the end of May, I received information concerning “data walls” at various Delaware schools where student test scores were displayed in classrooms or hallways, with the good students on top and the low-scoring students on the bottom. I knew Appoquinimink, based on multiple (double digit) reports I received from sources was one of the biggest abusers of this practice. Data Walls are a part of the “Leader In Me” program which Appo is a huge proponent of. I know one very large district who had some minor issues with it directed all teachers to take down their walls as a result of my article. I did advise, in an email to all the superintendents and charter chiefs, I would file FERPA complaints if I found out they didn’t take down their invasive data walls. Unfortunately, that was by the end of the school year when teachers would be taking down anything on the walls in their classrooms anyways so I wasn’t able to move forward on my promise. Once again, Burrows never responded.
I’m not sure why my email to him yesterday was “suspected spam” as I never received that reply from him in the past (or any reply for that matter). I linked articles in emails to superintendents in the past, so that would not have triggered a potential spam. Perhaps he marked the last email I sent him about the data walls as spam. I have no way of verifying that unless he tells me.
In the meantime, several people informed me of things going on in the district. Many teachers, within the district and around the state, advised me Appo is well-known for an almost “poaching” of the best teachers in the state. The district only seems to want seasoned teachers and doesn’t hire too many novice teachers. While this might be good for students, it is also a huge financial drain on the district. With tenured teachers and those with years, sometimes decades, under their belt, this costs more money in salaries. And with those high salaries, comes the very big costs of benefits and pensions. In FY2016, Appoquinimink spent $37.38 million dollars on teacher salaries alone. While I am not able to verify this because all it says are “salaries”, that number could go up to $39.23 million because under their related services buckets for “regular/basic”, “intensive”, and “complex”, there is an additional $17 million under “salaries”. But this section of their expenditures could also cover occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and hearing, specialists & coordinators, physical therapy and speech therapists. Only Appo and a couple of other districts do not code those correctly in the state accounting system. But Appo also paid $750,000 in “other professional service”, so some of those could fall under that bucket. We simply don’t know.
What I do know, and can now confirm, is where the alleged $5 million went to. In their FY2016 Preliminary Budget, the district gave a presentation to their board which showcases exactly what the tuition funds go towards:
So I was able to solve that mystery with some help digging around for information. And we also know how much they came into the year carrying over from the prior year. But this the confusing part. It shows a projected shortfall of $660,603.00 over the year. Now what we do know, based on Thursday’s article comparing the district’s tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state were over $2.9 million for FY2015 and a bit over $3 million for FY2016, with a difference of over $48,000.00. So this $660,603 shortfall they were expecting was, most likely, not coming from their out-of-district costs. Which leaves the section called “Needs-Based”. This covers their district costs for special education over what the state pays them. In Delaware, this is all based on the student enrollment as of September 30th. I’m not going to sit here and say this is a fair system at all. This is very early on in the school year, and even if a parent requests special education services through an IEP on the first day of school, chances are very good that child, if they qualify, won’t have a signed IEP by September 30th. This means the district has to cover those costs. For every special education student a school has, they earn extra teaching units for these students based on the severity of their disability. These three sections are basic, intensive, and complex. I wrote about this system two years ago:
Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.
Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Students here get one unit for every 6 students.
Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.
If you notice, there are NO additional units for basic special education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. This is something that would have changed had our General Assembly passed State Rep. Kim William’s House Bill 30 which she fought for during most of the 14
8th General Assembly. So who covers those costs? The district or charter school. But since IEPs continue from year to year, any district or charter knows this and should budget for it. One thing to keep in mind. These special education units are not added on to existing units. They are separate from regular education students. What this does not mean though is that every special education student receives a special education teacher in every class in a full inclusion environment. Some schools do this differently and there is little to no consistency with this.
Where this gets interesting is the article I put up about Red Clay’s tuition tax increase. Their 2 cent increase. Keep in mind, compared to Appoquinimink, Red Clay has, as of last September 30th, 2,169 special education students. They have 156 Pre-K, 302 in K-3 Basic, 1,104 in 4-12 Basic, 343 in Intensive, and 264 in Complex. Their complex number is three times that of Appo’s. They have more in every single category. And yet, their needs based funding increase for their tuition tax was part of the $815,000 they talked about at their board meeting last week. Red Clay publicly announced that portion of their tuition tax increase was $250,000.00. That is a $565,000 difference. Since we know Appo didn’t spend a huge amount more for out of school placements between FY2015 and FY2016, are we really supposed to believe they need all those extra funds to cover this gigantic increase for special education students? This is why I was angry the other day. I knew something didn’t smell right the second I saw the WDEL article.
A commenter from the Appo article stated the board discussed how the board was shocked when they got the numbers in from other districts. I listened to all their board recordings for this year, and I only found one where they specifically talked about this issue, from their February 23rd board meeting. I painstakingly transcribed that part of the board meeting. And I do mean painstakingly. Appoquinimink’s board voted last year to record their meetings and put them up on their website. Which I am grateful for, but for the love of all that is holy, please talk into the microphone. Presenters do great with this, but the actual board members are very difficult to hear many times. Governor Markell signed House Bill 61 last month, so all public school boards (including charters) will have to start doing this when school starts. That doesn’t mean you don’t talk into the device that, you know, actually records the meeting.
Here is the conversation. And I do apologize in advance. I don’t know which name belongs to the male and female board members that discussed this with the district’s CFO, Dr. Longfellow.
Female Board Member: I have another question about the tuition. So, for tuition to outside districts, how comfortable are you with the way that they are going to charge us every year? Cause we’ve had issues with Christina. Is it something that seems like when the bills finally come in they make sense, or?
Dr. Charles Longfellow: I don’t see the details, even if I ask for the details. I’m given numbers, I’m trying to say this the right way. I don’t know if they’re the right numbers or not. They seem reasonable, but by law we have to pay what… when they send a bill to the Department of Ed and the Secretary of Education, we asked for detail, we were given detail. That’s as far as we could go with it, so, uhm, that’s the process. Through legislation it could change but that’s where we are.
Female: I know I ask this question every year…
Longfellow: And that’s fine
Female: Are we allowed to request that the DOE audit those kinds of things?
Longfellow: Well they do get audited but not to the detail of what expenses go into what we are billed. They have to track their expenses separately. What they do is take everything they’ve spent on the program, locally, cause the state contributes money too. They can’t charge us what the state pays them. But for all the local dollars that are paid for the programs, they take the number of students that go there, divide it by the number of students we send there, and that’s what they bill us. That’s also been something we’ve said before, that, autism is, you know, a spectrum. So there are some students that need a lot of resources, there are some students that don’t need as many resources. Yet the bill that we get is the same for every kid. So what we have been doing is, there was a time, when we thought about, what can we do to serve students in district that don’t have a larger amount of needs. There were some parents saying, “It’s the Delaware Autism Program. I want my kid going there.” So we would talk to them and find out if that was truly the best thing for them. Is Dr. McAuley here? (No). She could probably give a little more background on that. We did that but that was a couple years back.
Female: It’s always been on my radar since that giant adjustment a couple years ago.
Longfellow: Yeah, I have the fuzzy, but not the warm and fuzzy. Let’s just put it that way.
Male Board Member: Our projected shortfall is $702,000, but how much is the difference of what we thought the shortfall was going to be and what it actually is? Is it a case that the tuition costs are $702,000 more than we thought?
Longfellow: We’re not there yet. We’re still working on projections on all this. Cause we don’t have our bills from those other districts. We don’t have our, uhm, final count from some of the other outside placements.
Male: Cause I’m looking at the numbers you sent us. The tuition tax revenue is estimated in the final budget at $8.5 million.
Male: But then I look to the final budget for expenses, and it has tuition of $9.1 million. But in the original budget, it shows $9.01 million so It looks like it’s $90,000 more. Either way, whether it’s $9.1 million or $9 million is more of a tuition tax we’re paying.
Longfellow: Yeah, yeah, we had a starting balance here, so that’s where that comes in.
Male: So one of the reasons (inaudible)
Longfellow: Let me take a look, because… We might have had to raise it. I’ll have to take a look at the history here.
Female: I think we did.
Longfellow: Yeah, we did raise it. 3.6 cents this year.
Female: That’s in July. We voted on it in July.
Longfellow: Well the bills are due to the Department of Ed in January, so they should be down there. So soon as I get them back from DOE the districts will bill me and that’s when I’ll know. So we have some preliminaries. But there is always a process where they send us a bill and I say give me a list of students behind the bill. They send the list. Our special education department takes a look and says this kid doesn’t belong to us. You never told us about this one, this one’s a ward of the state so the state has to pay 100%. It’s just some back and forth. So typically, we’ll know for most of them by April, but that’s hopeful.
Male: It’s an 80/20 split, right, or 75/25 split, the state pays their share and we pay our share…
Longfellow: Well they earn units, the programs earn state units for the students that are in their programs. So it’s not really an 80/30 split. It could be they’re earning units from the state but they’re charging us for, say, the local side of the salaries for the staff they have in place and the students have some severe needs for related services or additionals resources or something too, so it’s not really a straight rate… that goes back to what Ms. Wright saying “How do we know what we’re actually being billed for?”
Male: So then what happens. I know we talked about how 167 kids we got on September 30th started with us, those special needs kids, so are we stuck with being the state side of their special ed classes?
Longfellow: Yes. And we have to pay the local side of their special ed costs out of what resources we have. That’s part of, when it went up $90,000, that’s part of what’s here.
Notice how they don’t really discuss why they are sending complex special education kids to other districts, but more of the money aspect of it? I know, a board needs to know what is going on financially. Which is my whole point. I’ve seen way to many boards that just take the word of everything told to them. They see a paper with numbers on it, might question a little bit, and leave it at that. There was no discussion around what the nature of the shortfall was. Instead, they blamed it on Christina instead of questioning the actual shortfall. It’s a nice way to dance around the true subject. Where is their special education money going?
Man, taxpayers are getting it this year. Like Appoquinimink, Red Clay citizens are going to get another hit this year as their tax rate leaps up 2 cents to $2.174 per $100 of assessed value. But if you look at the below pictures, it shows a bigger increase. That is because their last referendum had different amounts that would change in the tax rate for the next couple years. But unlike Appo, there tuition tax leapt up .02 cents as opposed to .06 cents. Red Clay has a ton more students with disabilities, and yet their needs-based special education funding only went up $250,000 as opposed to Appo’s needed $815,000 for “increased special education cost”. So Appo still has some explaining to do (I am working on a follow-up article to explain this anomaly).
The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education approved an action item on Tuesday night to cover “rising special education costs” in the district, according to an article by Amy Cherry and Yossi Goldstein with WDEL. To say the reasoning for this tax hike, which will cost the average Middletown resident on average of $65 a year, is misleading at best, would be an understatement. According to the Appoquinimink Director of Finance, Dr. Charles Longfellow:
“Tuition, which is for special education students, is an (estimated) $815,000 increase (for 2017),” explained Longfellow.
That is the basis for their case. But in Delaware, special education funding comes from three sources: the feds, the state, and local funding. Is this $815,000 increase just the local increase or overall? For “tuition”, which is based on special education students choicing out of the district to another district to attend a special school, like the Delaware Autism Program or the Delaware School for the Deaf, the sending district has to pay the other district that portion of funds. As well, it could also be to cover funds for students sent to alternative schools within the district, but since Appoquinimink has no alternative schools, this is a moot point. In a sense, it is the customary tuition, but the districts pay each other. Students in Appo don’t tend to choice out at the higher rates other districts have to deal with. But students with disabilities in Appo do tend to choice out more than students with disabilities in other districts, as detailed by the Statewide Review of Education Opportunities report commissioned by the Delaware State Board of Education last year:
Appo’s biggest student population drain is MOT Charter School. Since the Delaware Department of Education hasn’t published these reports since 2014, it is very difficult to tell just how many students choice in or out of Appo. However, in looking at choice students historically, Appo tends not to bleed out as many students as other surrounding districts. Even more misleading is the fact that, aside from basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, the special education funding from the state is based on the number of special education units in the district. If you have more special education students, you would get more state funds. However, and where tuition funds come into play, when the school cannot provide the special education services to the student based on the individual special education allotment of funding for that student, the state doesn’t pay more. And if the student attends a special school in another district, this is where the tuition costs are created.
But Appo seems to justify this tax hike on their district website:
At the beginning of each new fiscal year, school districts must review their financial obligations and establish school tax rates to be collected on their behalf by New Castle County. A system of checks and balances is in place to ensure fiscal responsibility. This includes a review by the volunteers who serve on the District’s Financial Advisory Committee and approval of the Board of Education. Current and historical tax rate information is available in our budget documents accessible via the links to the right.
It’s funny they bring up the District Financial Advisory Committee, because when you click on that section of their district website, you see no reports or a list of the members of this committee, just a log-in for these special members. Delaware law states each public body must show how the committee representation is made up. While actual minutes or committee members are not required to be listed on a district or charter website, most districts and charters do show this information to support a level of transparency. But not Appo. They don’t even show meeting times, agendas, or minutes for their version of a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.
But even if the district had a massive influx of special education students choicing in or out of their district after the official September 30th count (which determines special education funding from the state for each district), we should see that reflected in their final budget approved by the board on 2/23/16, right? Not so. Their tuition tax did increase by $90,000 from last summer until February of this year. However, only 30,000 of that was for special schools out of the district. Furthermore, on page 12 of the budget, it states they transferred $276,000 out of the tuition pool to another bucket of funding. As well, it was projected the tuition fund would be at $8,407,661 in the initial budget, but due to the transfer and an unidentifiable increase in “Instruction and Operations” to the tune of $425,630.00, it left the district $702,039 in the hole. But it gets more interesting on page 15 when it shows projected revenue of $8,503,168 for the year coming from property taxes. But there is no viable proof anywhere that justifies a $720,000 increase for this in FY2017. At least not in special education. Upon careful review of this budget, they actually overestimated their initial special education costs by over $100,000.00 for the receipt of federal IDEA-B funds, which means they must have had a decrease in students with disabilities, not an increase.
To make matters worse, I checked to see how much Appo spent on special education in FY2016. Since none of our districts or charters are consistent with how they code education funding in many areas, it took some time to find Appo’s portions. According to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo spent over $1.8 million dollars in FY2016 to cover related services for special education in the district. That is what they spent under the categories for basic, intensive, and complex. But those covered special education salaries. When you look at their tuition payments, I’m not seeing $8,503,168 or anything close to that number.
I looked in every possible category to see if it these tuition payments could somehow be miscoded and I found absolutely nothing going towards other school districts. In the above pictures, I also included funds going to Delaware and out of state residential treatment centers. So at a maximum, Appo spent a little over $3 million in tuition payments for FY2016. Perhaps they haven’t paid some of the bills for this? I checked the prior year, and we are looking at a little bit less in FY2015:
So where did over $5 million in funds allocated in their budget for tuition payments go? This is a question only Appo can answer, and I expect we will find out after this article comes out. Keep in mind, this is budgeted funds, so it isn’t missing like someone stole it. They spent it somewhere else when tuition funds are specifically earmarked to cover special education costs. The only other areas where a district board can approve a tax warrant is for reading and/or math specialists and minor capital improvements. In FY2016, Appo spent about $983,000 on reading and math specialists. To be on the safe side, I reviewed a few other districts budgets and what they have allocated for tuition. For the most part, those districts matched their budgeted amount and what appears on Delaware Online Checkbook.
According to the Delaware DOE school profile site, in FY2015, the feds provided 2% of the district’s overall funding, 67% came from the state, and 30% from local taxes with an average district cost per student of $11,226.00. If you compare this to the average for the rest of the state, the feds provide 10% of funds, the state pays 59% and local funds make up the remaining 31%. So why does Appo receive such a small amount of federal funds? Most of that has to do with Title I allocations, which go towards schools with high concentrations of low-income students. For Appoquinimink, their low-income population represents 14.7% of the students in the district. For the state, this average is 36%. As well, the state average for students with disabilities is 14.4% while Appo has a lower number at 11.8%. To break this down even further, the most expensive category of special education is students in a complex status. These are students who need one-on-one support at all times and many related services which are very costly. Appoquinimink has a very low number of this special education population compared to other districts in New Castle and Kent County. The two closest districts in terms of student populations, Brandywine and Indian River, have much higher populations of complex special education students. Appo is at 58% of Brandywine’s total complex population while they are at 36% of Indian River’s number. Even against Colonial, who has 1,000 less students in their overall population, Appo comes at 37% of their complex special education population. We know the district isn’t losing special education students to MOT Charter School because they only have 4 complex students with disabilities and only 69 special education students overall. What does that tell us? Either there aren’t that many complex special education students in Appoquinimink or their parents send these students to private schools. The Middletown/Odessa area is growing at an incredible fast rate, however, it is also one of the more affluent areas of the state.
“That’s why the state and feds protect the right to get this money without going to referendum–they prescribe the services, how to identify them, what needs to be offered,” said Appoquinmink Public Information Officer Lilian Miles.
Of course they protect the right. It allows them to pay less of the allocations they should be paying for special education. But the district doesn’t seem to care, because one way or another they will get this money. They don’t care if they have to gouge the taxpayer. Perhaps those are harsh words, but in light of the biggest fabrication coming from Miles is this absolute lie:
Miles said the population of special education students has doubled over the past five years in Appoquinmink, though it remains a very small percentage of the district’s student body. The growth is representative of what’s happening all across the Middletown area.
Wow, the special education population doubled? That is a massive increase Ms. Miles. However, your statement doesn’t hold water. In checking on the Delaware September 30th Enrollment unit count reports, I found Appoquinimink had the following special education populations from FY2011 to FY 2016:
Even using Common Core math, it is easy to determine that 839+839=1,678. Being that the difference between 839 and 1,268 is 429, I would hardly call that a “doubling”. Unless they are counting the students with disabilities who either graduated or turned 21 over the past five years and are no longer a part of the district population in those numbers, than yeah, I could believe that statement. But it would be a statement built on false pretenses. Granted, the district’s population of complex special education students did double from 43 to 87 students but would that be enough to cover $8 million dollars in tuition costs? Not even closeWhat astonishes me even more is either their board was oblivious to this outright lie or they really didn’t care.
If a tax warrant weren’t approved, Miles said funds to cover special education would have to come from the general operating budget. “You don’t want to short the 90 percent by taking money from their pot–you just have to work to get it right,” said Miles. “It’s raising taxes for the services you are required to provide for this special population.”
So, Ms. Miles, if those funds won’t come out of the general operating budget based on revenue from what I view as a fraudulent tax increase based a board’s suspension of disbelief over special education populations within the very district they oversee, what are you using those funds in the general operating budget for? And furthermore, say nothing happens as a result of this article which happens in Delaware way too much for my liking, and we have already caught you in a major lie concerning the most vulnerable of children, how do we know those funds would even go towards special education? Especially since nine districts put basic special education funding all in one bucket to the state, as opposed to allocating those funds towards buckets like occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapy, and whatnot. And only Appo and Capital put funds going towards complex and intense special education students in these lumped groups, thus making it impossible to find out how much these two districts are paying for certain types of services. But at least you aren’t Brandywine who seems to throw it all in one bucket for basic to regular special education students, assuming they have NO intense or complex special education students.
But according to the special education section of Appo’s website, at least they are fully aware of which bucket these funds should go in:
The most common types of special education services are: Reader or interpreter; Assistive technology; Speech therapy; Occupational therapy; Life-skills training; Personal counseling or therapy; Transportation assistance; Physical therapy; Hearing-loss therapy or audiology; Job counseling or training.
I would strongly suggest the Appoquinimink Board of Education reconvene in an emergency session to rescind their vote cast Tuesday night and actually review this situation for what it is. How dare this district and board use special needs children in their quest for more money, and to add insult to injury, charging every property tax paying citizen in the district to get that money. I looked on the boarddocs section of their website, and most traditional school district boards provide documents to go along with items like this. Not so with Appoquinimink. So there is no way for the public to see this huge increase needed for special education funding based on an already missing $5 million dollars for this purpose. Anyone involved in this should resign now or face charges for fraud. Furthermore, any tax warrants for New Castle County have to be approved by county council. I would strongly recommend this council not even entertain this farce.