Odyssey Audit Report Out! Lots Of “Can’t Explain” Financial Issues Going On!

The Delaware Auditor of Accounts office released the Odyssey Charter School Agreed-Upon Procedures report today.  The work was done independently by the Santora CPA Group.  The full report can be seen below.

The report shows a good deal of financial expenses that could not be explained by Odyssey Charter School.  The AHEPA gala, meant to raise funds for Odyssey, netted over $72,000 in cash donations.  The charter school only saw over $52,000 and AHEPA kept the rest.  Almost $10,000 in earmarked expenses had no justification or reason for what they were.  The Delaware Department of Education asked Odyssey to explain this as part of their formal review.  An AHEPA conference in July of 2018 had over $3,800 in unexplained expenses.

The report confirmed the Board President, Dmitri Dandalos, who was also the President of the local AHEPA , unilaterally decided on Chatham Bay continuing construction of the Ithaka Learning Center.  This was after a feasibility study determined it was not worth it to open up the early learning center.  This cost an additional $154,217.  The Board voted to pay this in executive session but it was noted in the report that the resolution to pass it in open session had no explanation of what they were paying.  But since Delaware charter schools do not get capital expenses and, therefore, no money from the Bond Bill, it doesn’t really matter in terms of the legality of it all.  Except it should.  Perhaps our legislators can fix that.  Even though it isn’t technically state money, it should still be accounted for.

Some of the expenses listed in the attachment section of the report can be easily explained.  One of the vendors of the school, The Schoolhouse 302, does professional development for the school.  My biggest question about that is why administrators from other school districts are doing a side company.  Those administrators are Joseph Jones, the Superintendent of New Castle County Vo-Tech, and T.J. Vari, a district administrator in Appoquinimink.  And if they are doing this professional development during school hours, why are they getting paid for that and their duties as administrators for their respective districts at the same time?  But I digress…

This report is riddled with expenses spent by Odyssey but did not agree with the amounts reported.  That is a very serious issue.  Last night I was viciously attacked by someone on Facebook for daring to write something bad about Odyssey.  No, I don’t think the school should be shut down.  I don’t have an issue with the education they provide their students.  From what I have heard, it is top-notch.  My issue is with the organizational end of the school.  How the board operates and how they spend taxpayer money is a big issue.  And it isn’t just Odyssey.  It is many charter schools AND districts in Delaware.  Odyssey just happens to be in the hot seat for this right now.  So is Christina School District on some levels.  My biggest problem is how there is no oversight over these things coming from the state.  Why does it take putting a school on formal review before the truth comes out?  Is there no one watching things at the granular level before it blows up?  Like I said, it’s not just charter schools.  It is districts too.  Both need to be watched very closely.  The charters get caught for it more but districts are doing shady crap too.  We all know it.  They know it.  It’s just a matter of time.

I am glad this report got out before the State Board of Education decided on the school’s charter renewal tomorrow night.  If I were the State Board, I would vote to keep Odyssey on probation until their actual renewal at the end of the school year! (special thanks to the friend who explained this could be a viable option!)

Explosive Public Comment For Odyssey’s Renewal, McGuiness Fails To Deliver

Public comment sent to the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education indicates the AHEPA members of the Board of Directors over at Odyssey Charter School STILL haven’t learned the lesson that put them on formal review in the first place!

This prompted Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams to file Freedom of Information Act violations against the Board of Directors not once, but twice!

Sounds like AHEPA has some explaining to do!

Meanwhile, Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness has failed to deliver the audit investigation into Odyssey Charter School.  They informed the school it was “anticipated” by December 15th.  It is now December 18th and the State Board of Education is making an important decision about this school in two days at their monthly meeting.  Once again, missing information.  But hey, let’s give McG a big break because I’m sure she is really busy socializing around Delaware for every opportunity she can get to let folks know she is Kathy McGuiness and some useless facts about the Auditor of Accounts office!

My prediction: further probation for Odyssey Charter School until all the facts come out on this stuff!

Odyssey Charter Board Gets Stern Warning From Delaware DOE As Wagons Circle Around AHEPA & Their He-Man Woman Haters Club

The ongoing saga with Odyssey Charter School continues!  As the AHEPA members of the Board continue to do whatever the heck they want, attention is being drawn to their stunts by more than just Odyssey staff and parents.  The spotlight on the school is not good as members of the General Assembly and the State Board of Education are giving complaints to the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  But the DOE isn’t the only state agency looking into the many conflicts of interest from the Odyssey Board of Directors as evidenced by the below email from Charter School Office leader Leroy Travers: Continue reading

Will Charter School of Wilmington Try To Have Delaware DOE As Their Authorizer?

After the beat down and humiliation they received from the Red Clay Board of Education last night, the Charter School of Wilmington is very angry.  They were called out as a racist school while their charter was renewed for 5 years instead of 10.  Are they going to do something about it? Continue reading

Charter School of Wilmington Gets Slammed Down By Red Clay Board With 5 Year Renewal Instead Of 10 Year

The Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education gave the Charter School of Wilmington their renewal but not the one CSW was hoping for. Continue reading

The Battle In Red Clay Over Charter School of Wilmington

On Wednesday evening, the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education will decide on Wilmington Charter School’s charter renewal.  While it is a certainty their charter will be renewed, an even bigger question is on the table. Continue reading

Charter School of Wilmington Needs An Audit Investigation!

Charter School of Wilmington is up for their charter school renewal with Red Clay Consolidated School District.  The Red Clay board discussed this charter renewal with Dr. Sam Paoli, the President of CSW, at their meeting tonight.  It came out that CSW is breaking state law in a very major way. Continue reading

Leaderless DOE Fails To Deliver On Charter School Transparency & The Big Plan For NCS

When you don’t have a leader going on a fifth month is it any wonder the Charter School Office is going to Hell in a hand basket?  As the authorizer for seven charter schools under renewal this year, the Delaware Department of Education can’t even follow their own timeline.  It seems like things are going on behind the scenes with Newark Charter School during all this. Continue reading

The Lies Greg Meece Says About Newark Charter School

Greg Meece runs Newark Charter School.  For 18 years, Newark Charter School is rated not only one of the top charter schools in Delaware but one of the top schools.  There is a multitude of reasons for this but it boils down to diversity.  At their public hearing for their charter renewal process, Meece made a comment that is sure to rile up the diversity crowd all over again.  Meece openly lied about his own school. Continue reading

Which Delaware Charter School Leader Called Their Students Something From An Old Polish Proverb?

A Delaware charter school leader sent an email about student climate and discipline to their staff in April.  While I understood some of the leader’s concerns, referring to your students as monkeys in a circus is probably not the wisest thing to say in this day and age.  If you don’t believe me, ask Roseanne Barr.  Even if it could possibly be explained in any context,  (see “Not My Circus Not My Monkeys” for why this is crossed out) another email sent from a former staff member only cements the racist tone of the school leader given what the school has been doing gave me some heartburn because of what it suggests. Continue reading

Seven Delaware Charter Schools Up For Renewal Next Fall!!!!

Every year, the Delaware State Board of Education gets to vote on charter school renewals.  This year, there are seven charter schools up for renewal.  I believe this is a record and will keep the Charter School Office busy from now until then.  But this year could be different for these renewals because of events going on the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education that are beyond their control. Continue reading

CSAC Recommends DAPSS Stay Open For One Year With Conditions While Queen Margie Exerts Control

At the Delaware Department of Education building in Dover, the Charter School Accountability Committee recommended Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security stay open for another school year with very stringent conditions.  At that point, Colonial’s Board of Education could very well decide to take over their charter.  Queen Margie once again made it all about her.  But the discussion that reached this point was very intense.  Much more information here than you will find in the Delaware DOE press release. Continue reading

State Board of Education Renews Charter For Academy of Dover

The Delaware State Board of Education renewed the charter for Academy of Dover.  This will give the school a period of five years, as every established Delaware charter gets, until their next renewal.  But there were some concerns from the State Board of Education.

The topic of Academy of Dover’s enrollment was the talking point for the State Board in discussing their charter renewal.  Their numbers, as I reported a couple of months ago, have been declining.  If those numbers don’t start increasing, they could face the unfortunate prospect of dipping below the state required 80% of their enrollment.  By state law, all charters must be at 80% of their approved enrollment by April 1st for the next school year.  If a Delaware charter does not meet their numbers, they are placed under formal review with the Delaware State Board of Education.  That process is somewhat similar to the charter renewal process but focuses more on the subject that places them under that review.  But it is still a daunting task.

For now, I’m sure Academy of Dover is celebrating their renewal but with a bit of apprehension.  As Capital expands their programming, which is the main feeder pattern for Academy of Dover, the charter school will have to step up their game to compete with Capital and Campus Community School, their main charter school competition in Dover.  Time will tell!

What Is Up With Prestige Academy?

A few weeks ago, I put up an article about Prestige Academy folding into EastSide Charter School’s mini-empire.  I received this information from someone who has always been a very reliable source of information.  This person earned their stripes.  Since then, I have heard nothing on this.  Not one peep.  Today, at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the Charter School Office will give their monthly charter school update.  According to this update, Prestige Academy will still close this year.  At the beginning of October, I broke the news that Prestige’s Board of Directors wrote a letter to the Delaware Dept. of Education which stated they would not pursue the renewal of their charter and would close at the end of this school year.

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So what happened?  Got me!  Many things could have happened: the original plan of the school closing (which looks reasonable at this point) will go through, my source got really bad information, or this merger with EastSide could still go through but they are holding their cards at this point in time.  EastSide swooped in at the last-minute and probably saved Family Foundations Academy from closing down at the beginning of 2015.  When it comes to Delaware charter schools and the Delaware DOE, you never know what deals are cooking behind closed doors.  I welcome any confirmation on what could be going on here or if, indeed, my source got bad information.  Like I said, this source is very reliable.

Charter School Accountability Committee Recommends Charter Renewal For Academy of Dover With No Conditions

This will be short and sweet, but the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee voted on Monday to recommend the Academy of Dover for charter renewal with no conditions.  The committee, created through the Delaware Dept. of Education Charter School Office, will issue their final report next week.  In December, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will make his recommendation to the State Board of Education at their monthly meeting.  The State Board will then have a vote on Academy of Dover’s charter renewal.

One major thing that came up at their initial committee meeting last month was their enrollment.  It dipped this year and has been on that trend.  The committee advised Academy of Dover that if this trend continues they could face major obstacles in the future which could put them in a very precarious financial position.  Charter schools in Delaware are required to be at 80% of their approved enrollment by April 1st before the next school year.  If they don’t, they go on formal review.  This will be something Academy of Dover will have to deal with going forward until they get their numbers back up.

I think the closure of any school is a very serious decision and if it has to happen, it better be for some damn good reasons.  Academy of Dover is not anywhere close to that level.  I will do a follow-up on this when the report comes out next week.

Breaking News: Prestige Academy To Become A Part Of The EastSide Charter Empire

Move over bacon!  Here comes something meatier!  It looks like we have a charter school “district” coming in Wilmington.  How very interesting.  Word on the street is Prestige Academy has been invited to become a part of the EastSide Charter “district”.  We will now have three charter schools in this “district”: EastSide, Family Foundations Academy, and now Prestige Academy.  Add in the very big connections between EastSide and Gateway, and we are seeing a budding school district within already existing school districts.

This is NOT a joke.  But questions are rising up faster than Buccini-Pollen apartment buildings in Wilmington!  Last month, the Board of Directors at Prestige Academy wrote a letter to the Delaware Dept. of Education indicating they would be surrendering their charter at the end of this school year and would not be attempting to renew their charter.  They based their decision on low enrollment.  So if they wrote this letter and did NOT have their initial Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, how can this even happen?  Whether they join or not, they still have to go through the charter renewal process and deal with their very low enrollment.  But once again, the word on the street is the DOE will let this go through.  Even though they haven’t changed anything on the charter renewal part of their website for the 2016-2017 year for Prestige’s renewal.  But still, Secretary Godowsky would have to give his assent to the State Board of Education who would have to vote as a majority.  I really shouldn’t predict what they are going to do.  They have their own minds.

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I have a novel idea.  Maybe the enrollment would go up if they changed locations.  Being across from a men’s prison for an all boys school with a huge African-American population isn’t the wisest idea.  It didn’t work out for Marion T. Charter School either (they went down years ago).  But it looks like we could have a Wilmington School District in the future, just not the kind any of us expected (actually, Kavips did when the whole priority schools thing went down).  I’m sure some will say “You’ve got this all wrong”.  We will see what comes out in the wash!  How ironic that the charter school lawsuit against Christina would also coincidentally come out at the same time, which all three schools in the EastSide Empire are a part of…

Academy Of Dover’s Do Or Die Moment Has To Happen NOW!

Academy of Dover is up for charter renewal this fall.  The Secretary of Education will announce his recommendation at the December State Board of Education meeting and then the State Board will vote on it.  The school has a gigantic hurdle to overcome: their enrollment.

Today, the Charter School Accountability Committee released the report from their initial  meeting with Academy of Dover on October 10th.

Mr. Blowman noted that the school’s enrollment has declined steadily over the years, from 308 students in school year 2013-14 to 247 students this school year.

That is a very serious drop!  Their approved charter enrollment is 300 students.  Charters can’t go below 80% of that, so their magic number is 240.  How bad is it?  To put things in perspective, they decreased their Kindergarten classes from 3 to 2 this year because of lower enrollment.  That is their bread and butter for future growth.

Ms. Johnson stated that if the current 2016-17 enrollment is projected out based on the trends to date, the school would be at 46% enrollment in four years, well below the required 80%. She added that this trend is occurring at every grade level versus one particular cohort. She reiterated that the school must provide a strong plan to mitigate this year’s reduced kindergarten enrollment and the low year-to-year retention rates.

Teacher retention was also an issue, but Academy of Dover is not immune to this issue.  Many charters and districts regularly suffer through this process each year.

This is my problem with charter school renewals.  So much of it is based on standardized test scores.  Far too much of it.  I can’t sit here and mock charters about low test scores while demonizing them in traditional schools.  This very huge flaw in education is universal.  For any school to feel they have to create a “Smarter Balanced Boot Camp” to drive up scores shows exactly what is wrong with the system to begin with.  This school already has a long day, from 7:45 to 3:30.  By keeping struggling students until 5pm and factoring in transportation, that is half of a student’s day.  Gone.

One thing I was very happy to see was a minor modification request submitted by Academy of Dover to reduce their number of school days from 200 to 180.  Citing a lot of absenteeism of students the first two weeks of school and the last two weeks, the school said they are listening to parents.  But of course the DOE has to pick that apart as well.

I believe the DOE needs to take a strong look at their Charter School Accountability Committee.  The non-voting members, at least two of them, had a lot to say during this meeting.  More than I’ve seen in a long time.  But when one of the voting members could potentially stand to gain if the school shut down… that I have a huge problem with.

The next Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, where the committee will give their final recommendation, will occur in late November or early December.  I think the school has come a long way since the Noel Rodriguez days.  I think they realize what their major mistakes were and have attempted to take swift action.  The addition of Gene Capers, a former Principal from Capital School District, as a curriculum director, was a stroke of genius.  Cheri Marshall has come a long way.  While she was thrust into a position of leadership based on another person’s wrong actions, she has grown in that role.  I saw a confidence in her at the renewal meeting last week that I didn’t see during their formal review a year and a half ago.  While this may seem to be too little too late for those who are no longer at the school, no human being can change the past but they can try to make a better future.

I gave this school a very hard time the past couple of years.  So much of that surrounded a central theme: transparency.  I think the combination of Rodriguez’ shenanigans, special education issues, and their start and stop time of the school year are playing a major part in their current enrollment woes.  My recommendation: approve their minor modification and let them stay open.  See what happens in the fall.  If their enrollment falls below 80%, the DOE will be forced to follow the law.  But give them a chance.  We have had far too many charter schools close that serve minority and low-income populations the past few years.  It is not good.  They have to get special education right, but they are not the only school in this state struggling with that.  We must, as a state, clearly define a better strategy for special education and make sure all schools are consistent with that path.

 

 

Breaking News: Prestige Academy Decides Not To Renew Their Charter, Will Close At The End Of This School Year

The Delaware Dept. of Education posted a letter from Prestige Academy on the charter school renewal portion of their website.  The Board of Directors has chosen not to renew their charter!  Read the letter!