On the surface, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security is toast. But many key players in the Delaware education world are busy making plans to make sure that outcome does not happen. How do you get a school way below enrollment to survive? You partner up and you do it fast! Continue reading
Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security made some substantial moves at an emergency board meeting Friday night. Including having an existing charter school leader become the President of their board! As well, the distressed charter school put a for lease sign up at their current property. Apparently they have an eye on another charter school’s vacant property.
Margie Lopez-Waite, the current head of school for Las Americas Aspiras Academy in New Castle, DE took over as Board President at their emergency board meeting Friday night. I can’t recall a time seeing an active charter school leader from one school become a board member on another. But this type of situation is not unprecedented. For a brief time, Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey serves on Aspiras’ Board of Directors.
On Tuesday, DAPSS will have their first formal review meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education in Dover. A growing discontent with the former President, Sherese Brewington-Carr, led to the changes. As well, a former board member named Dennis O’Brian went from Emeritus (on the board in honor but not active) to active. Some other new board members were added as well. Many folks have asked me if Sherese is related to Tennell Brewington from Family Foundations Academy and I have not been able to confirm any kinship. Some have speculated they are but Sherese has categorically denied this ever since Tennell’s financial fiasco a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the school put a for lease sign up at their school. They want to move into the old Family Foundations Academy property in New Castle. This is now an administration building for East Side Charter School and Charter School of New Castle (formerly Family Foundations). The first public hearing for DAPSS’ formal review will take place at this building on February 13th.
The Board of Directors at DAPSS has not put up any of their meeting minutes since their November meeting even though they have had three meetings since. They are also out of compliance with putting up their audio recordings of their board meetings as none have appeared since the November meeting as well.
Sources tell me Charlie Copeland has not been active with the school for a very long time and he actually wanted the school closed due to the dwindling enrollment two years ago.
The last time a charter school went through these kind of board member changes was Family Foundations Academy during their own formal review. However, even though FFA was going through a financial-fraudpalooza, they had the student count to justify staying open. DAPSS does not. This should be interesting!
Charter schools in Delaware- they are like a soap opera!
Last night, the Delaware State Board of Education unanimously put Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security on formal review for academic and financial reasons. The 6-0 vote puts the New Castle charter school through a two-month review period where they have to meet with the Charter School Accountability Committee and go through public hearings. The placement of a charter school to formal review status does not mean they are being shut down. Putting a school under formal review is the process. Any decision to leave a school open or shut it down takes place after a formal review and the findings that come out of that.
I knew their enrollment was low but that isn’t the only reason they went under the formal review knife. Academics played a big part. This is always tough for me to support because I loathe the use of standardized testing in punishing any school. With DAPSS, they went from Smarter Balanced to the SAT in a two-year period. In 2015, the SAT was remade to include Common Core.
Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will make her recommendation to the State Board of Education at their March 15th meeting and then the State Board votes on that recommendation. The letter from Secretary Bunting notifying the school of their formal review status, the timeline, and their performance matrices for each category are included below.
Either the Charter School Office was ready for the State Board to vote for the formal review or they are able to predict the future, because the below PDF was created at 1pm yesterday, four hours before the State Board of Education began their meeting! I would have to say the school’s founder, Charlie Copeland, is not happy about this!
The 10th Senate District will have a vacancy when Senator Bethany Hall-Long officially steps down when she becomes the next Delaware Lieutenant Governor. As many predicted, the Delaware GOP chose John Marino as the Republican candidate. Who will the Dems pick? Whoever it is, this will be a hot race. The winner determines which party controls the Delaware Senate. Many felt State Rep. Earl Jaques would run, but he informed me two weeks ago he is NOT running for this Senate seat. Here is the official release from the Delaware GOP:
Republicans Choose Marino for Upcoming Special Election:
Middletown Republican Won 49% Of The Vote in 2014
Newark, DE: The Republican Party of Delaware announced today that they have selected John Marino of Middletown as the party’s candidate for the upcoming special election to replace Lt. Gov.-elect Bethany Hall-Long in the State Senate.
John Marino is a highly-decorated retired police officer, and is currently President of J & J Homes, LLC and a top-producing Realtor®. John has been an active volunteer in the New Castle County community for many years: as the former President of Lea Eara Farms/Summit Farms Maintenance Corporation, a volunteer position which he held for ten years; as a longtime volunteer at a horse rescue; as a Little League Coach at MOT Little League, winning the State tournament and taking his team to the regional championship; as well as a past volunteer for the Appoquinimink Sports Boosters.
Marino has lived for the last 20 years in the Middletown area with JoiAnn, his wife of 25 years, and their three children.
“I am honored that the Republican Party has selected our team for this important challenge,” said Marino. “I look forward to spreading my message of reforming and improving our government to the great people of the 10th District. Delaware deserves much better than we’ve been getting from our state government, and I have a plan to get the results Delawareans deserve.”
State GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland noted Marino’s campaign experience, in particular his 2014 campaign against Hall-Long, where Marino earned 49% of the vote and fell short by a narrow margin.
“John Marino knows how to run a top-flight campaign and earn the votes of the people of the 10th District,” said Delaware GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland. “And the people of the 10th District can see that one-party rule has failed our schools, our government and our economy. We look forward to a fantastic campaign.”
Should Marino be successful, the Delaware Senate would change power for the first time in over 40 years. The Senate will be evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans following Hall-Long’s inauguration.
“The Senate Republicans have been offering consistent solutions for years, only to be shut down entirely by the ruling Democrats,” said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley). “We’re ready to win this race and show Delaware that balanced government can make a lasting difference for them. John Marino is exactly the right person to win this race and serve the people of the 10th District in the State Senate.”
Had Hillary Clinton become President, this election would not mean as much. It still would have been big, but now that we live in Trumplandia and all that will come from that, this should add some extra oomph to this election.
Delaware is missing one of the key players in transparency thanks to a deliberate campaign orchestrated by one or many. Because of this, it may have cleared the way for many charter schools to launch a lawsuit in Delaware.
Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams exclusively released the letters sent to five Delaware charter schools about their petty cash practices last night. They showed some very extreme violations of state code. As well, letters were sent to four other state agencies. These letters were sent by Tom Wagner, the publicly elected Delaware State Auditor, on June 21st to the following charter schools: Odyssey Charter School, Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy, and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security. The state agencies Wagner sent letters to addressing the petty cash violations of state code were the following: Department of Education (Secretary Godowsky), Department of Finance (Secretary Tom Cook), Division of Accounting (Director Kristopher Knight), and the State Treasurer (Ken Simpler). These letters were never publicly released from Tom Wagner or the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Originally, this was an audit inspection and that report would have been released. But before that happened, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts top official, Kathleen Davies, was put on leave last spring. Now we can clearly see why.
Before I get into the results of the letters to the five charter schools, we need to look at motive. The key to any mystery is “Who benefits”? That benefit could be the ability to keep something hidden or being able to reap some type of positive outcome from the situation.
We have so many who could have done it: Ann Visalli, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Kendall Massett, Senator David Sokola, Charlie Copeland, Nick Manolakos, and others as well. We can’t forget the potential role Greg Meece may have contributed either. State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett are very tight and the DOE is in the same building as the Auditor of Accounts Office. It could be a combination of any of these people. It could have even come down from the very top, Governor Markell himself.
Out of all these entities, one of them leads the pack in Delaware when it comes to offering charter schools advice and protection. That would be the Delaware Charter Schools Network, led by Executive Director Kendall Massett. When it comes to charter schools, I have no doubt Kendall is in a key position to communicate issues to charter school leaders. Some charter schools are run by ex-legislators in some sort of capacity. Former State Rep. Nick Manolakos is the Head of School for Odyssey Charter School. Delaware GOP Chair Charlie Copeland is the President of the Board of Directors for Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security. Both are prominent Republicans in Delaware. Many on the Sussex Academy Board of Directors are also Republican. Odyssey Charter School and Delaware Military Academy clearly had the most egregious of petty cash violations out of the five charters. I can imagine the pressure on Tom Wagner from all sides could easily have prompted his decision to make Kathleen Davies go away.
Odyssey Charter School:
- petty cash fund not approved by State Treasurer and checking account used for petty cash not approved by State Treasurer
- 53 petty cash checks over state limit of $500.00, totaled $303,451.65
- 57 debit transactions from petty cash account over state limit of $500.00, totaled $326,574.05
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $88,979.83
Delaware Military Academy:
- had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
- never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian
- checks signed with two signatures but each check signed by Account Custodian who can’t sign checks
- 30 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $114,111.08
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $20,589.31
- failed to provide receipts or invoices for check of $1000.00 for “lunch start-up costs”
Charter School of Wilmington:
- had no written polices and procedures for petty cash
- never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian, was performed by Chief Financial Officer who was not the Account Custodian
- no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
- 13 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $11,228.90
- had debit transaction from petty cash account for $4,000, well over the $500 limit, which was transferred to another CSW account
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $6,174.10
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security:
- had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
- never had account reconciliation done by anyone, including the Account Custodian
- no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
- 8 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $6,440.11
- 5 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $16,377.05
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $26,689.95
So let me get this straight. Kathleen Davies was working on finalizing this report, showing five Delaware charter schools breaking the law, but she got put out to pasture? And all the charters got was these “don’t do it again” letters? That were NEVER released to the public, until now? And look at the cc: on the letter to Godowsky. All charter school leaders and board presidents. My theory that Kathleen Davies was put on leave for bogus purposes is actually proven in the letters to the charter schools. As the News Journal wrote, Ann Visalli with the Office of Management and Budget followed up on a complaint by unnamed individuals at the Auditor of Accounts Office. As a result, Davies was placed on leave (six months after the tip was submitted to OMB) because she failed to use a procurement card for travel purposes and went through the also-existing state reimbursement program. But in the letters to the charters, that standard doesn’t seem to exist because Wagner writes:
We also recommend using a State-issued procurement card (PCard) or direct claim through First State Financials when possible. Regardless of the method of payment, supporting documentation must be maintained for all transactions.
So by Wagner’s own advice to the charters, what Kathleen Davies did is perfectly acceptable. She followed the procedure. Maybe not a preferred procedure, but a procedure nonetheless. Which makes Ann Visali’s actions a complete and utter crock. A complete and utter lie meant to disgrace the one person at the Auditor of Accounts office who was doing their job, and doing it well. But no, instead we get these non-transparent letters from Tom Wagner. And he has the gall to ask Godowsky to collaborate with him on “an event” to make sure all the charter schools know this, even though their leaders and board presidents were included in the letter to Godowsky? How much more special treatment and hand-holding do the charters need to understand the law? Do they need circle time to get this right State Auditor Wagner? This obvious fraud going on in our State Auditor’s office is completely out of control, matched only by that of the Department of Education.
This whole debacle comes down to this: someone or maybe even a group of individuals is protecting charter schools in Delaware. They have enough power and clout to make things disappear or just focus on other aspects surrounding it to cloud the issues. We are seeing this with the charter school lawsuit and I have to wonder if the petty cash information was not made public because of that looming timebomb. One can only assume the charters were given some type of direction in their process for having the DOE review exclusions districts submit for their local funding formulas. They clearly knew the results before the districts did as evidenced by the emails between the finance office of the DOE and charter school leaders. They also had to have known there would be some major blowback from the districts and advocates for the districts based on that. If not, they are complete and utter idiots who truly underestimate the will and resolve of people in Delaware traditional school districts.
This is my new working theory: the charters knew they would wind up filing suit on the local funding formula. I think they knew Godowsky was intentionally kept out of the loop on this and when the public found out about the new charter bills going out to the districts with very elevated amounts, Secretary Godowsky would be forced by public pressure to reverse course. As a result, they would be free to sue the Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education for something they wanted to happen in the first place- a big, fat, and juicy lawsuit. They knew the only thing that could happen for them to get more money would be to create the conditions for a lawsuit to happen. Which they did. Delaware is a very corrupt state. If people don’t see that in this day and age with everything I’ve written, along with many others, they need to get their eyes checked. There are good people, fighting the good fight, but they are overpowered and outnumbered by those who are either corrupt or lend their ears to those who are corrupt. If some cities get a moniker of “Sin City”, then Delaware clearly qualifies for the “Sin State”.
But the charters and their friends had to clear a very real obstacle in their road to the lawsuit. One Kathleen Davies. The same person who was doing the petty cash audit along with other charter school audit inspections. One of those inspections was a tip I sent to the auditor’s office on Newark Charter School and their failure to submit non-profit 990 tax forms to the IRS. While they met the criteria once upon a time for being exempt from filing their 990 tax returns, they knew the conditions which allowed for those exemptions no longer existed. Something the IRS issued very strongly worded guidance to all American charter schools that participate in these exemptions. NCS knew they could not look like a victim in a lawsuit against their feeder pattern district if that audit inspection came out. It had to disappear. We all know true compliance with properly making sure all our schools in Delaware are truly funding student needs is an exercise in futility, despite what the law already requires. But an audit inspection into NCS’ finances would be a much deeper probe. It could have offered a great deal of transparency with their money and what they are doing with it, far past the scope of their annual audit or what appears in their financial statements. But given the pull they seem to have, with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee (Delaware Senator David Sokola), to some extent the Chair of the House Education Committee (State Rep. Earl Jaques), other members of the Delaware General Asssembly, select members of the Delaware Dept. of Education, lobbyists, and companies within the Newark area, I could easily picture Greg Meece being able to rally enough force to make things happen in regards to Kathleen Davies. Once again, I stress, with utmost importance, this is only a working theory of mine and is not grounded in documented fact. I imagine a paper trail that could conceivably supporting this working theory would not materialize no matter how many FOIA requests I might ask for.
Lest we forget, as clearly documented in the above-linked News Journal article, Senator Sokola was the prime sponsor on a bill meant to give charter schools more authority over the choosing of their annual auditors as opposed to the State Auditor of Accounts office. This was in complete contrast with Rep. William’s original bill which would have had the auditor’s office doing the job.
She publicly supported Williams’s bill over an alternative proposal from Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, which would strengthen the rules charters have to follow in picking auditors but leave them with the authority to do so.
Eventually, Rep. Williams and Senator Sokola compromised on a charter school audit bill but the charters still get to pick their own auditor. What the new bill also accomplished was any charter school under investigation by the State Auditor of Accounts office would also be audited for that fiscal year by the Auditor of Accounts. By making the petty cash audit turn into letters instead of a full-blown inspection report, those five charter schools will not get a full financial audit by the Auditor of Accounts office this year. There are also other stipulations in which that office can do a full financial audit on a charter, including the following, based on the text from the signed House Bill 435.
Has failed to maintain a current status with the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filings, if said filings are required of that charter school.
All of this legislative language serves to expose charters who do not comply with the law. But discovery of something like an exemption of an IRS 990 filing not being practical based on the current conditions of the only Delaware charter school in the state to not file said return, would come from something like an audit inspection of the school. Something that is not happening from the Auditor’s office because they got rid of Kathleen Davies and my request to them seems to have vanished into the ether. Even though I provided clear documentation to John Fluharty about this. Granted, the Office of Management and Budget received a “tip” from other officials in the Auditor of Accounts office with the allegations of Davies “not following procedure” with travel expenses in November of 2015, the OMB did not act on this until the petty cash audit neared completion and the NCS 990 audit would have been under way. As well, there was the pulling of Davies’ September 30th Enrollment inspection which was reworked by Wagner and released in September. That report was released two weeks before Davies was put on leave.
At a bare minimum, the Auditor of Accounts office and the Office of Management and Budget must be made accountable for their actions regarding Davies. If she was put on leave for something as trivial as not following suggested procedure while charter schools run amok with their petty cash accounts and the results of which were not made public, even if it was switched from an inspection to non-transparent letters, we have a major conflict of interest going on here. This conflict of interest reaches to the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. As the charter authorizers of these five charter schools, they failed to even publicly broach the subject going on four months since the letters went to them, much less put the charter schools on formal review to address the financial violations of their charters, as they have the ability to do so under Title 14:
515 Oversight and revocation process.
(a) The approving authority shall be responsible for oversight of the charter schools it approves.
(b) In addition to the review required by § 514A(a) of this title, the approving authority may notify a charter school of potential violations of its charter and submit the charter to formal review to determine whether the charter school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures pursuant to subsection (f) of this section.
Both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Board President, Kenneth Rivera, were well aware of the situation because they were included in the letters sent from Tom Wagner. Bloggers like myself exist because of what amounts to severe issues with education in Delaware. Our state has, is, and will continue to fail the most important stakeholders in education, the students themselves, because they fail to adequately provide oversight to make sure our schools do the right thing. Instead, Delaware does its level best to cover up issues with no transparency and institutes polices and measures that have no basis in reality. They are what outside interests want. These “poverty pimps”, corporate education reformers, ed tech charlatans, and those hiding behind the cover of “non-profits” and “community organizations” should not be involved in education at all.
This is what I want to see: Kathleen Davies immediately reinstated, the original charter school petty cash audit inspection completed, and any other pending charter or district audits done with fidelity. As well, anyone else who played a role in this absolute cover-up and smear campaign against Davies needs to be named and held accountable for their parts in this. As State Rep. Kim Williams asked, who audits the auditors? I believe it is time to find out. It is past time the feds got involved in Delaware’s finances. Corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse are rampant in Delaware. If left unchecked, as it has been for some time now, the situation will only wind up costing the taxpayers of the state even more money than they have already doled out without even realizing it.
In the above picture, the people in the “Brady Bunch” format are as follows:
Top- Kendall Massett, David Sokola, Governor Markell
Middle- Tom Wagner, Kathleen Davies, Nick Manolakos
Bottom- Charlie Copeland, Secretary Godowsky, Ann Visalli
History will teach us nothing. Or that’s what they say. In this case, history is teaching us everything. Almost three and a half years ago, Newark Charter School had a major modification approved that allowed them to open a high school. One of the biggest concerns was the financial impact it would have on Christina School District.
During the Public Hearing for their modification request, NCS Board President Steve Dressel said the financial impact of $2.4 million wouldn’t hit Christina until year five of their expansion.
While CSD will make the claim that an NCS expansion will be “devastating”, the reality is the financial impact on CSD is quite small. CSD estimated it to be $2.4 million…
Dressel was correct in one aspect. That estimation was “quite small” because when you flash forward three years later, that number jumped three times the original estimate. In their final budget for FY2016, Christina had a picture in the presentation which showed how much Newark Charter School and other charters receive from them.
Christina had 2,008 students choice out of the district to Newark Charter School. On the Delaware DOE website, it shows NCS had 2,140 students enrolled. That means nearly 94% of their students come from Christina. And that number will go up for both this year as NCS reaches a 12th grade. How do charter payments, which were estimated at $2.4 million three years ago, jump up to $7.3 million? And counting? Did the formula go up that much in just three years? Are we sure this formula hasn’t changed already without anyone knowing? This is a huge financial impact for a school district. This illustrates that NCS knows exactly what kind of impact this has when they get their checks from Christina. And still, they want more.
While some called my article the other day a call for a “holy war” against charters, it was Greg Meece who once said “this is jihad against charter schools,” when the Delaware State Education Association commissioned a report on the impact charter schools have on school districts. This came from a 2008 article in the News Journal. Ironically enough, David Blowman talked about the impact this had on the Brandywine School District to the tune of $2.3 million going to charter schools. Blowman was the key figure in the now-failed attempt at changing the local cost per pupil formula which would give charter schools more money.
At the time of this article, legislation was brought forth to have the State Board of Education limit the number of new charter school applications if it would have a large financial impact on the districts the charters drew their students from. The bill did not move forward in that session, but Meece’s claims of destruction to Delaware charter schools hardly came to pass. The report DSEA bought was released to the press by former State Senator Charlie Copeland. Copeland later opened up a charter school called Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.
I believe history will repeat itself if this new charter funding formula goes ahead at some point. This scenario has been proven time and time again throughout America over the years. The price tag keeps getting higher and higher every year. Even though there was a moratorium on new charters in New Castle County last year, that didn’t stop the State Board of Education from approving many modifications for increased enrollment at some charters. With all the increases, that might as well have been a new charter school. But our State Board of Education, led by an Executive Director who is definitely in bed with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, keeps remaining oblivious to the reality before them.
But Meece, drawing from his infamous “crab bucket” analogy from 2012, still seems to think everyone is out to destroy his “successful” school. Christina is not paying them what they deserve and they want more! Regardless of the consequences. The original opinion piece by Meece is no longer available from the News Journal, but luckily Delaware Liberal saved it for all to see:
Years ago, someone explained to me a phenomenon called the “crab bucket syndrome.” As crabs are caught and tossed into a bucket, the first crab tries to climb out to save its life. Other crabs, seeing his escape plan, grab hold of the first crab’s legs, which pulls him back into the bucket. Eventually, all the crabs perish. In schools, this is a metaphor for, “If I can’t have it, neither can you.” This is what happens when a group tries to “pull down” any other school that shows success can be achieved. This is happening in Newark, where a group is trying to stop one of our most successful public schools, Newark Charter School, from expanding.
As Pandora brilliantly pointed out in her article on this, Meece forgets about all the crabs that are killed so the few can get out as well as the fact that Meece’s actions are what happened to Christina not Newark Charter School. For Christina, the tipping point with Newark Charter School happened three years ago. Now it is just the spear point jabbing at an already bleeding wound.
I have never heard of a charter school basing their model solely on first responders. I’ll just get that out in the open. It is a rather unique model, but for a secondary school model? I don’t know if I would choose to send my child there, even if he wanted to be a first responder. Apparently, many parents agree as the school’s enrollment is precariously low. Even though the Charter School Accountability Committee thinks things are on the upswing, it is based on estimates. If their current trends continue, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security will be on life support very soon. The DOE will be on them, STAT! (Sorry, had to do it!)
The Delaware GOP Chairman, Charlie Copeland, is also the President of DAPSS Board of Directors. When I posted an article about the school’s low numbers the other day, Mike Matthews shared the article on Facebook which drew Copeland to the school’s defense. He responded to my many questions about their enrollment issues and the timing of their modification request with the following:
Just simply call the school and take a tour. You can get answers to all your questions. Be prepared to have your socks knocked off. Life is so much simpler if you just do the right thing rather than join the wackos who make up conspiracies.
I may just take him up on it! I’ve never had my socks knocked off! In the meantime, take a look at the Charter School Accountability Committee’s initial report on their major modification request to officially lower their already low enrollment.