On December 20th, the State Board of Education will decide on seven charter school renewals at their monthly meeting after hearing the decision by Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting. Meanwhile, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education will decide on Charter School of Wilmington’s charter renewal. Two charters want a ten-year renewal. Two have submitted minor modification requests to decrease enrollment. Yesterday, the Delaware DOE’s Charter School Office released the final reports for all seven charters up for renewal through their office. Continue reading
The Red Clay Board of Education meeting the other night was one for the record books! The highlight of the meeting was the Charter School of Wilmington renewal discussion. Dr. Sam Paoli, the President of CSW, got drilled and grilled with a ton of questions about CSW’s demographics and recruitment efforts.
The absolute best part of the conversation was when Jose Matthews, the husband of Mike Matthews, the former President of the Delaware State Education Association, told Paoli the following: Continue reading
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
There are always gems to be found when you comb through district and charter board minutes, agendas, and websites. I did that last night and found a ton of stuff! Instead of coming out with a dozen or more articles about it, I thought I would just combine all of it one fell swoop! There is A LOT of material in here so dig in! Continue reading
Odyssey Charter School teachers and staff voted and an overwhelming majority decided to join the Delaware State Education Association. This is the second charter school in Delaware to do so in 2018. Last Spring, the Charter School of Wilmington also voted to join DSEA. In 1997, Positive Outcomes joined DSEA but opted out in 2000. Delaware College Prep joined in 2012 but closed a few years later due to low enrollment.
With 131 for and 16 against, over 89% of the educators in the school decided a teachers union was the best option for them. Prior to 2018, it was virtually unheard of for Delaware charters to unionize. What turned the tide?
For Odyssey, the decision was clear- they did not like decisions the board was making and felt their voices were not being heard. When former leader Nick Manolakos did not have his contract renewed, the school hired two to take his place. But the tipping point was when their former Board President, who had just resigned, became a leading contender for a third highly paid administrator.
Over the summer this led to those teachers and parents questioning the board about decisions that would affect the school. Parents saw fundraiser after fundraiser to get more money for the school but didn’t feel the money was going towards what the school promised. But they had money for all these administrators.
Congratulations to Odyssey Charter School for joining DSEA. With two joining this year, will more Delaware charters follow? Even with forces joining together to muffle DSEA it has become more apparent than ever that teachers want respect and to have their voice heard. They are the second most important part of a school after the students. They have rights and deserve to organize and fight for what is theirs. They deserve due process and the right to air grievances.
Parents of students at Odyssey Charter School received the following email tonight from the Head of School, Denise Parks. If Odyssey teachers and staff do vote to unionize they would become the second Delaware charter school to do this. In May, Charter School of Wilmington voted in the majority for joining the Delaware State Education Association.
Good evening, OCS Families–
Our new leadership team continues to work to improve communications and also to promote transparency in school developments. To reinforce these efforts, I want to make you aware that OCS has received notice from the State of Delaware, Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that the Odyssey Charter School Education Association (“OCSEA”) has filed a petition to represent certain academic and facilities employees here at OCS. This process ultimately will lead to an election to determine whether OCSEA, as the union, will represent this group of employees in collective bargaining negotiations. I want you to know that the leadership team strongly believes that remaining union-free is the right thing for both OCS and for the staff involved. I will endeavor to keep you informed of key developments as they occur in this process. Please contact me if you have any questions. Whatever the outcome of this vote, I look forward to a productive year for our school.
Yours in education, Denise Parks Head of School
A few days ago I put an article up about petty cash abuse in our districts and charter schools. No state agency has yet to give an official response even though they are all well aware of the article at this point. I’m fairly sure if there were an investigation that came out of this the last person they would tell is me.
The interesting snafu in all this is Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security. They are already on probation from their formal review. While not using a petty cash for fun time at the school is not a condition of their probation, the fact that money was used for fun time and who knows what else is a concern. I’ve heard lots of tales about how that money was used. An auditor would have a field day with this.
Like I said, I’m not too concerned with the folks who did it once or twice. Those can be explained. In fact, one school district made it a point to contact me. It is the chronic offenders I take issue with. Most especially the two that got a letter from Tom Wagner less than two years ago saying “Don’t do it”. No one should be doing it to begin with but when you get a letter like that and essentially flip the bird and do the same thing all over again, I have ZERO respect for you. Sounds like Sam Paoli has more on his plate than just CSW teachers joining the union!
I was really hoping Margie Lopez Waite and the board at DAPSS would act on this immediately. But no, when I go to the DAPSS website I see the SAME person on there who was behind the school’s petty cash splurging. On the taxpayer’s dime. I don’t mind paying taxes so kids can get an education. But I take a very serious affront to school leaders who want to break the rules and treat state money like it is their own piggy bank to play with. Yes, I’m talking about you Herb Sheldon. Margie acted lightning fast last Winter in getting someone off the school website. But I guess playing with school funding is an okay. Gotcha! I understand now!
Will anyone in the state actually do more on this issue than send more letters saying “Don’t do this”? When does REAL accountability start happening?
If you read the News Journal article on the Charter School of Wilmington teachers voting to unionize, it was filled with reasons why President Sam Paoli did not want the teachers to unionize. The article failed to capitalize on why the vote happened in the first place- CSW President Sam Paoli.
At this point it is unclear why the educators wanted to unionize or by how large a margin the vote was successful.
I have those answers. Continue reading
Last night, Charter School of Wilmington teachers made a huge vote. They became the only current charter school in Delaware to join the Delaware State Education Association. As such, they will be a part of the National Education Association as well. This opens the door for other charter schools to unionize in the future. Often, when one domino falls…
The vote was not won by an overwhelming majority but enough for it to pass. I’ve been hard on DSEA and NEA recently but that was because of very unique and limited circumstances. That was a case of bad apples in the bunch and perception. Even with that, I do support the unions and see them as a last defense against education reform that is bad for schools. This CSW vote changes the landscape in Delaware.
I’ve heard rumblings about severe dissatisfaction with CSW leader Sam Paoli for months now. Nobody wanted to go on the record though. A teacher was terminated in the Winter over a minor disagreement with Paoli. Many claim he rules the school with an iron fist and teachers, parents, and students are against this dictatorship. By unionizing, these teachers regain some sense of control over their job security. The CSW board is not elected so it allowed Paoli to run around unchecked.
There have been other charter schools in Delaware that have looked into unionizing but this is the first to actually do it. Last summer, teachers at Providence Creek Academy wanted to but you must have at least 50% of the vote in favor of it.
More information as it becomes available.
Updated, 10:50am: This is not the first time a Delaware charter school joined DSEA. Positive Outcomes did many years ago but it only lasted a year.
I did not forget charter schools in my mammoth Freedom of Information Act request! With the above charter schools, the amount of employees making over $100,000 varies, usually based on student count. Two of them have NO employees making over $100,000. For Charter School of Newcastle and East Side Charter School, they are grouped together because they fall under the umbrella called Vision Academies. For five of these charter schools, comparing their demographics to Charter School of Wilmington is crazy. It has never been a secret that I have extreme issues with CSW’s demographics. Two of these schools are in Dover, one is in New Castle, and the other three are in Wilmington. Continue reading
The Greek-themed Delaware charter school, Odyssey, sent out a letter to parents in their area advising them they are still accepting students. As most involved in Delaware education know, schools get their funding based on the September 30th student count. Odyssey is trying to beef up those numbers to get more money.
This is a bad idea in very bad taste. The window for school choice in Delaware closes in mid-January. As in eight months ago. While charters are certainly free to accept students after those dates if they have room, actively
soliciting students after the school year has already started is lousy judgment. It is poaching, pure and simple. It is money driven, not student driven. But what many forget is that some charters tend to kick out high-risk students after September 30th. And guess what? Some keep the funding they received.
On DSEA President Mike Matthews Facebook page, he brought this up yesterday. While he didn’t name the school, State Rep. Kim Williams said she is aware of it and did notify the Delaware Dept. of Education. Will the charter-friendly DOE actually address the situation or just play along to go along?
As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with actual charter schools and the reason for their existence. But I do take issue with situations like this, when profit and money result in grown-ups making poor decisions. There are good charters out there but unfortunately when certain charters keep coming up in events like this it is hard to not view the charter problem as a whole. Whether it is discrimination, poor special education, cherry-picking students, or using lobbying power to get more money at the expense of districts, the Delaware tends to side with the charters. Even worse, they tend to turn a blind eye to recurring issues such as the ongoing financial cesspool that is Providence Creek Academy, the enrollment preferences at Charter School of Wilmington, or the discrimination factory we call Newark Charter School. Odyssey should not be attempting to get students from districts this far into the school year.
Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting put the hammer down on Odyssey or will she allow this poaching journey to continue? And what is your take on this bad education practice?
Last night, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education voted unanimously for the district to develop an Equity Plan through their long-standing Diversity Committee. The resolution, written by board member Adriana Bohm, would charge the committee to develop the Equity Plan, which will be presented to the board by April of 2018. Many community members came out to give public comment in support of plan.
Where this gets a bit sticky is the two charter schools Red Clay authorizes, Charter School of Wilmington and Delaware Military Academy. As their authorizing agent, Red Clay can conduct their charter renewal process along with formal reviews, modifications, and other such matters. But they cannot dictate district policy to those schools and make them follow it. Both schools have substantially lower populations of racial groups the Diversity Committee would talk about. Failure to address this huge gap between the districts and those charters would ignore the inherent and not-to-be ignored problems of race in the district. Based on enrollment preferences, those schools have the tendency to pick and choose who they want based on “specific interest”.
I definitely think Bohm’s resolution is a good one. Red Clay had mixed results with their Inclusion Plan over the past few years which has prompted significant changes in the way the district handles special education. Based on 2016-2017 data, Red Clay has more minorities than white students, with the largest of those minorities being Hispanic students at around 30%. But what I don’t want to see this committee doing is basing student success on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores. I do not believe these are a valid measurement of student success in any possible way. Many in the African-American community feel these are a valid measurement since they include all students, but when the test is flawed it is not a good measurement.
To read the entire plan, please see below.
All relationships have their ups and downs. Such is the case between former Kilroy’s Delaware commenter Publius e decere and former Pencader board member and current Christina board member Harrie Ellen Minnehan. Throw in a wild card like Henry Clampitt, former board member of Charter School of Wilmington, current board member at Gateway Lab School, and also a candidate for the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education, and you have what I like to call a bizarre love triangle (which just so happens to be an awesome tune by New Order). But what I found this morning… that brings this triangle to a whole new level… Continue reading
Ron Russo, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Caesar Rodney Institute, wrote a blog post yesterday with a BOLD PLAN for Delaware schools. By even mentioning former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Foundation for Excellence in Education in the very first sentence, it was hard to lend any credibility to this piece. But I read the whole thing out of morbid curiosity.
…Governor Jeb Bush, the keynote speaker, told the attendees that they had to, “Be big, be bold, or go home.”
I would have left at that point and proudly went home. Jeb Bush has made a ton of money capitalizing off the backs of schools and students. He is the very essence of corporate education reform. I give anything he says zero weight.
Russo seems to view former Red Clay Consolidated Board President William Manning as the Messiah of Delaware education:
He recommended a confederation of independent schools each locally managed and free of regulations about who to hire and how to teach. The schools would be evaluated only by performance data that would be shared with the public.
Manning’s vision created charter schools that do not serve the populations within their district boundaries. Quite a few Delaware charters have selective enrollment preferences that seem to further segregation and push out kids with high needs. Manning was the lead attorney in the lawsuit against the Christina School District when charters that serve Christina students sued the district to get more money per student. Eventually the lawsuit wound up becoming a settlement that further stripped funds away from the district. Russo’s BOLD PLAN is modeled after the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200:
The Caesar Rodney Institute is supporting a systemic change to our education bureaucracy called the “BOLD PLAN”. It significantly alters the way the current education system operates by empowering the individual schools to make operational decisions to best serve their students.
In theory, this would be a great idea. However, Russo lost me yet again when he brought up the VERY controversial priority schools as a potential model for this plan:
CRI’s BOLD PLAN incorporates the best features of the 1995 Charter School Law and the Memorandum of Understanding designed by Delaware’s DOE for Priority Schools. If the changes proposed in the MOU were expected to raise the performance of the state’s lowest performing schools, why wouldn’t those changes be offered to all public schools?
Sorry Ron, but the priority school Memorandums of Understanding were absolutely horrible and did more to create parent backlash in Wilmington than anything seen before. So what would this plan consist of? Therein lies the rub:
BOLD legislation would specify areas of local decision-making. Such areas would include: 1) Authority to hire and dismiss all staff; 2) All programing inputs (school calendar, schedule, curriculum aligned to Delaware standards, instructional practices and methodology, textbooks, technology, etc.); 3) Marketing and planning; 4) Support services including transportation, food, and maintenance; 5) Budget preparation and expenditure control with surplus operating funds retained by the school. Schools will have autonomy from any district or Delaware DOE requirements not mandated by state or federal law.
This legislation has more holes than a donut shop.
- What happens if the board membership or the Superintendent of the district is not operating under normal parameters of their function? What if personal grudges get in the way of a sound decision to hire or dismiss all staff? Delaware is a small state and conflicts of interest are well-known in this state.
- You lost me at “Delaware standards”. If you truly want to give local education authorities the coveted local control, they would be free to set their own curriculum without being tied to any type of standard pushed down from the state or federal government. I have yet to see any indication Delaware will get rid of Common Core which was created under false pretenses.
- Don’t they already do this anyway?
- See #3
- That would not be a good thing. Delaware charter schools already keep their surplus transportation funds in a sweetheart deal with the General Assembly and there is no apparatus to make sure those funds are being used with fidelity. What is the point of even having a district or charter board if the school can do whatever it wants with extra money? This proposal sounds like anarchy.
Russo’s logic becomes even more confusing when he casually drops the Rodel Visionfests and Race To The Top into his conversation:
The BOLD PLAN complements Delaware’s other education improvement efforts (Visions, Races, etc.). In fact, it may even complete them.
I don’t think completion of those plans is something anyone in Delaware really wants. Race To The Top was an unmitigated disaster with funds going to the state Department of Education more than local school districts. The Vision Coalition goals further perpetuate many bad corporate education reform policies. It is hard to take anything they do seriously when the CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, Dr. Herdman, makes over $345,000 a year.
Ironically, Russo channels Dan Rich who has been very involved with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s proposed Wilmington redistricting. But Russo doesn’t bring him up in any way related to that endeavor but rather his involvement with the Vision Coalition:
At the very first Vision 2015 meeting hosted by Dan Rich, then Provost of the University of Delaware, he ended the meeting by telling the attendees that if they wanted to improve Delaware’s public schools they had to be bold and, if they didn’t want to be bold, they should get out. Hmmmm, it seems that Dan was way ahead of Jeb.
Comparing Rich to Jeb Bush almost seems insulting. Of course, any education push should be bold. But by telling people if you don’t like it to “get out” or “go home” it is essentially saying if you don’t agree with us we won’t give you the time of day. That is NOT the way education issues should be ironed out and only creates more of a divide. The Delaware charter school experiment, now well into it’s third decade, has met with very mixed results. It has not been the rousing success the forefathers of the original legislation thought it would be. Why would Delaware even entertain this idea based on that? And lest we forget, all this imaginary “success” is based on standardized test scores, of which Delaware has gone through three different state assessments since then. Sorry Ron, but this is not a BOLD PLAN. It is an old plan, that just plain doesn’t work.
I have to wonder about the timing of this article. The Caesar Rodney Institute has long been a fierce supporter of school vouchers. Delaware has been very resistant to that system under Democrat control but under the Trump administration and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education, it is not surprising to see Russo coming out with this type of article. President Trump and DeVos want a federal school voucher system that has already met with disappointing results in several states.
According to the draft minutes of Charter School of Wilmington’s latest board meeting, the school lost a lot of money due to Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky deciding not to move forward with changes to the local funding formula for choice schools in Delaware. So why didn’t CSW take the same sort of action Newark Charter School and fourteen other charters did in their decision to sue Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education?
According to their chief financial officer, CSW lost $90,000.00 due to Secretary Godowsky’s decision. That isn’t exactly chump change. But it also says a lot. It means it wasn’t just charter schools that take from Christina schools that were affected by the decision. While I don’t know the exact amount of students CSW has from Christina, I know it isn’t that much. So I would guess that CSW’s stated “loss” is due to Red Clay. On the flip side, Providence Creek Academy joined the big lawsuit and only has a very few students from Christina. I guess when you do it as a huge lump thing, matters like attorney fees and whatnot can be divvied up evenly among the many parties. It would not make sense from CSW to sue Red Clay, even if they had Delaware Military Academy join them. That would make their attorney fees a lot higher. If they lost, the amount they could expect to gain would be much less than $90,000.00.
With all this being said, I still think this lawsuit is complete idiocy in motion. It is just another excuse to go after Christina. And I still have a sneaky feeling there is much more to all this than meets the eye. Something doesn’t add up. But I’ll figure it out. Trust me on that!
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
Kevin Dombrowski wants the Charter School of Wilmington model to expand around New Castle County according to an article by the Delaware Business Times yesterday. Dombrowski works in Wilmington as the Senior Vice President of Global Business Development for Morningstar Inc. The article was about his selection as an honoree of the DBT40, which are 40 emerging Delaware businesss leaders and innovators. Dombrowski has also been heavily involved with the KIPP charter school chain. He currently serves on the Leadership Council for KIPP Philadelphia Schools and was a board member at KIPP Chicago for three years from 2009-2011 according to his LinkedIn account.
I would work to remove the barriers in place to practical educational reform in Delaware. Specifically, I would remove restrictions on new charter school developments and build out a plan to launch several new versions of the Charter School of Wilmington throughout New Castle County to meet the excess student demand and to provide more exceptional public school options for families in the area.
Now I’m not sure how much Mr. Dombrowski follows education in Delaware. I’m not sure if he is aware CSW has long been mentioned as a very controversial school based on their selective enrollment preferences. I don’t know if he knows even the Delaware Dept. of Education will not consider CSW as a reward school based on those preferences (something that seems to have escaped their notice with Newark Charter School, but I digress). I don’t think New Castle County could survive replication of Charter School of Wilmington as a chain of sorts. Unless, of course, they did away with those selective enrollment preferences that result in very low numbers of minorities (except Asians), students with disabilities, and low-income students. Then, and only then, would we be able to measure the true success of CSW. Mr. Dombrowski, were you aware that CSW was one of the named schools in the American Civil Liberties Union complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights?
The Delaware accounting system is a train wreck of epic proportions. I found 100% proof funds were switched around that benefit certain schools. We have one charter school that can’t even follow proper accounting procedures and another charter school that seems to think Student Body Activities are their personal playground.
For something like this chart, I would expect to see school districts firmly in the lead, but we don’t see that at all. Cape Henlopen is a bit of an oddity when it comes to Delaware school districts. They get a lot of money from school taxes and the residents in those areas don’t seem to mind paying them. But Newark Charter School, with $445,000 in student body activities? That is an excessively high amount. For a charter school with a student population of less than 14% of the neighboring Christina School District, they spend 17 times more on activities for students than Christina. Four districts and one charter don’t even have anything coded as “Student Body Activity” with the state: Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Delmar, Sussex Tech, and Sussex Academy. Do they not have any student body activities or do they just put it somewhere else in the Rubik’s Cube called the Delaware Financial System (DFS)?
So how does this even work? Are districts and charters paying out for field trips and fun activities and then reimbursing those costs as revenue generated from parents paying for them? Are these schools paying for them without collecting any money from students? Or is it a combination of both?
Do these activities affect the bottom line for the per student costs for each district and charter school?
Rocketing to number one with $108,000 in student body activity costs based on their number of students is Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security (DAPSS). That sure is a lot of field trips! We know they bought a fire truck for their students last winter, but those funds were generated from a collection by students. So what accounts for such a high amount based on their student population? I went on Delaware Online Checkbook and found that DAPPS is coding all their student transportation costs under student body activity. So that throws their numbers way off! We can clearly see the transportation costs as part of this category, with an amount totaling $84,236. Had they coded this correctly, under student transportation, their costs for student body activity would have been a little over $23,000.
For Newark Charter School’s student body activity expenses on Delaware Online Checkbook, there is no explanation for their very high amounts. While we do see transportation costs, they are not as high as DAPSS. They appear to be transportation costs associated with field trips. What is even more bizarre are the many payments going to certain individuals. As if they are parents or teachers. We see amounts going out to American Airlines for 26 purchases of what I assume to be airline tickets at $818 each and one for $875 totaling over $21,000 on 2/5/16 which were bought with the state procurement card on 1/15/16. I reviewed NCS board minutes and found no mention of any big field trips for students taking place that would warrant such high airline ticket prices. The state’s accounting manual is explicit that no state employee can purchase first class airline tickets. So where was this trip to that cost $818 for each ticket?
Cape Henlopen has an obscene amount of p-card activity associated with student body activities under student body activity. Like Newark Charter School, I see a lot of names associated with these charges.
Where this gets incredibly odd is when I went to look at examples of student body activity for different school districts and charters. A Delaware citizen submitted a FOIA request to the state and received the FOIA in early July. All of this citizen’s information was run by the Department of Finance on 7/2/16 for every single district and charter school’s expenses for Fiscal Year 2016. June 30th was the end of the fiscal year. All the charts and graphs I have made to date have been based on those figures. But upon review, amounts are changing in the state accounting system. The total expenditures for each district and charter are the same, but funds are moving around in the coding system. As an example, Odyssey Charter School showed over $35,000 in student body activity costs. But when I look now on Delaware Online Checkbook, the amount is over $153,000. This trend occurred with many districts and charters, some for nominal amounts and some for rather considerable amounts. And this is just under student body activity expenses.
In looking at Odyssey, it became clear something was up, so I was able to actually find the exact amount that was shifted over to student body activity.
In the above picture, we clearly see Odyssey Charter School, as of 21:06:44 on 07/02/16 had a total amount for FY2016 in Student Body Activity in the amount of $35,831.91.
In the above snapshot, taken from Delaware Online Checkbook today about ten minutes ago, we clearly see an amount showing $153,958.79. The difference between the two is $118,126.88. That is a rather steep increase for student body activities! In looking at their expenses for student body activity for Odyssey, I found two rather large amounts going to First Student Inc. This is the bus company Odyssey uses. As seen in the below picture, the two charges were for $69,486.40 and $48,640.48. If you add those up, you get $118,126.88. Now why would those funds be shifted from some other category to student body activity?
The two payments to First Student Inc. are listed in the below picture.
So if $118,126.88 was shifted to Student Body Activity, where did the funds come from? If Odyssey’s total expenditures didn’t change, what happened to the money? In the FOIA from 7/2/16, it clearly shows Odyssey’s Fleet Rental costs at $612,546.34.
Now watch what happens when I go on Delaware Online Checkbook to find out the current Fleet Rental amount for Odyssey Charter School…
Wait, it went down from $612,546.34 to $494,419.46. That is a difference of $118,126.88…
There is one thing charter schools get that traditional school districts don’t get. Some call it the transportation slush fund. Every year, in the epilogue to the state budget, there is a stipulation that allows charter schools to keep any difference between their budgeted amount for transportation and what they actually spend. For Odyssey, this is listed as “Transportation” in their budget. These costs go up each year. But how much did charter schools get to keep from these surplus funds. Surely it wasn’t that much. In the below pictures from FY2014 and FY2015, we see how much charters get back from this slush fund.
Odyssey has clearly benefitted from this arrangement with legislators that has continued for the past seven years in the epilogue of the state budget. I sincerely hope charters aren’t hiding any funds so they can actually get more from the Delaware Charter School Transportation Slush Fund then they already are!
What I am more curious about with these coding changes are 1) Why are they happening, 2) Who is making the changes, and 3) Are both the districts or charters and the state aware of these changes if only one of them are making the changes? Something to keep in mind is this simple fact: this is only for Student Body Activity. There are hundreds of codes in the Delaware Financial System. This is just what I could find for our schools in one code.
In the picture above, this is based on rounded off figures to the nearest dollar which is why the Odyssey number doesn’t match up with the $118,126.88 I mentioned a few times. I have not been able to look at the other schools to see where the money is going to. Odyssey was easy because of the high amounts involved. While some of these amounts are small, what other shifts are going on? Why are they going on for other areas if they are? We know districts and charters code things incorrectly but who monitors that? Does anyone? And how much does all this shifting of taxpayer dollars affect funding for the next fiscal year?
I would strongly recommend each district or charter school Chief Operating Officer or Business Manager proactively gets in touch with me and voluntarily lets me know of any changes being made to the Delaware Financial System, the justification for these changes, and how they are able to do it. If they aren’t aware of these changes, they need to let me know that as well. Because as I go through each of the different codes in the coming weeks, I will find more. I’ve already done a cursory glance at different (and major) categories and found excessive sums of money shifting around. If you don’t get in touch with me, don’t get upset when I blast the lack of transparency from your school or district in each article. We know this is happening. So the choice is simple: be held accountable or be honest. If there is funny business, you know I will expose it and call you out on it. And each time, I am submitting requests to the State Auditor’s office for each and every category. So you can ignore me all you want, but know that someone else will be knocking on your door. And if the State Auditor’s office ignores this, it is time to take steps at a Federal level. None of you who are manipulating funds will be allowed to do so anymore. If the Auditor won’t hold you accountable, I will. And I will make so much noise you won’t be able to hear above the outcries of the citizens in your district or charter school. This begins now. I don’t want to hear any crap about “I didn’t know” or “no one ever told me”. You are all subject to the rules of this state. Your excuses are exactly that: an excuse. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you won’t have anything to worry about. But someone has to shake all this up and see what settles at the bottom.
I sincerely hope I’m not spoiling anyone’s party and ruining a chance to get some extra money for themselves. The party’s over. Deal with it.
In December of 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and the Delaware Community Legal Aid filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education. The complaint was against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The allegations in the complaint were around how the state and Red Clay, as charter school authorizers, allowed charters to develop segregation and discriminatory practices in their enrollment. Almost three months later, after the ACLU gathered information from people around the state, they submitted the information to the Office of Civil Rights in their regional Philadelphia office. Since then, their has been no official resolution on the matter.
Back in February, the Racial Justice Program of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation based out of New York reached out to the Office of Civil Rights for a status update. This is what they received back:
None of the charter schools listed in the complaint officially changed any of their admissions policies as a result of this. The Delaware Enrollment Preferences Task Force submitted their final report to the General Assembly shortly before the holidays last year, and not one piece of legislation has come out to address the issues. There is still a great amount of inequity in some Delaware charters compared to their neighboring school districts. I find it ironic both the Delaware DOE and the US DOE are so concerned about civil rights groups when it comes to high-stakes testing and how opt out could bring us back to “dark days” as some have put it. But when it comes to visible and transparent discrimination and segregation, the one office in the federal Government who could actually do something about it is sitting on it.
In looking at the OCR website at ed.gov there have been OCR complaints filed and resolved after the Delaware ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid filed their complaint. One was filed in September of 2015 and received a resolution in February of this year. The only cases showing from Delaware involved ones with Colonial School District, PolyTech and Family Foundations Academy from 2014. The longstanding Christina OCR resolution doesn’t show on the list because it only counts resolutions from 2013 and up.
I don’t see civil rights groups in Wilmington screaming about this. Why is that? When it comes to education and segregation, this is a shining example. Why are they so quiet on this issue but will say they know Smarter Balanced is a bad test but it is the only measurement for minority students to know if they are succeeding or not compared to their peers? I have to wonder how much influence the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell may have in making this drag out. Or possibly even higher up than them. Are any of our Delaware congressmen following up on this? John Carney? Tom Carper? Chris Coons? Or how about even Delaware’s own Vice-President Joe Biden? I’m certain this isn’t a resolution the Delaware Charter Schools Network wants to come out any time soon.
We need to rally civil rights groups on issues like this and not ones about opposition of parent opt out of high-stakes tests. I am calling on ALL Civil Rights groups to hammer the Office of Civil Rights office in Philadelphia, phone number (215) 656-8541, to make sure they are not stalling on this very important case.
Thank you to Richard Morse, Esq. for the Delaware ACLU in responding to my request to his office for information and allowing me to publish the response from the Office of Civil Rights.
This is the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing feature of this blog. Below will be several groups of statements and facts. Two will be true and one will be a lie. It will be your job to guess or determine which is fact and which is fiction! Comment away!
*EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy are blaming their Smarter Balanced scores on the fact their kids are not as computer literate as their peers in other schools
*Sussex Academy won’t be able to finish their pool because of mercury in the ground.
*Freire Charter School signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Wilmington Police Department
*Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick was so happy their referendum passed he was seen doing cartwheels the next day.
*Academia Antonia Alonso wants no help from the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE with their upcoming move to property at Odyssey Charter School.
*Howard High School of Technology suspended students who were in the bathroom the day of Amy’s death and kept suspending them for weeks on end without any form of due process.
*Charter School of Wilmington held a legislative breakfast.
*Charter School of Wilmington wants an audit inspection to be released that has been on hold since March.
*Charter School of Wilmington will be allowing 20% of all students with disabilities who applied this year to be admitted to the school in August.
*Early College High School parents are not happy about the school’s grading system since the school’s scores didn’t match up with Delaware State University’s grading system
*Penny Schwinn is coming back to the Delaware DOE.
*Dr. Lamont Browne mentioned my blog post about his resignation at a Family Foundations Academy board meeting.
*Family Foundations Academy held pep rallies prior to the school’s testing window for the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment to pump up kids.
*A Delaware State Representative recently had a Facebook post titled “State Representative Looking For Beaver”.
*The same State Representative found some beaver and had a barbecue.