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.

 

 

Academy Of Dover: IRS Issues, Mold, Legal Fees, & Settlement Issues

Back in March, I found something incredible in regards to how the Internal Revenue Service revoked the 501c3 corporation status of Academy in Dover back in 2012 for failing to file their 990 tax forms for three consecutive years.  It appears they did get this status reinstated with the IRS, but it could also shed some light on their current financial issues.

AoD501c3IRS

I won’t pretend to know who a corporation, even a charter school, goes about getting their 501c3 status reinstated by the IRS.  But they did, on 2/15/2016.  The article I posted in March did not show that date at the bottom the above picture.  But I was contacted by the school who told me they were able to work things out with the IRS.  I was not given the nature of the resolution, but something else I found last night could show possible expenses at the school.

For each year Academy of Dover did not file their tax returns, there could have been continuing IRS penalties.

IRS Tax Penalties For 501c3 Not Filing Returns

The IRS defines gross receipts as:

Gross receipts are the total amounts the organization received from all sources during its annual accounting period, without subtracting any costs or expenses.

So if Academy of Dover received over $1 million during any of the years they didn’t file (which they did), they could still be on the hook for a lot of fines.  If the IRS revoked their status in 2012, based on not filing for three consecutive years, and they just filed their 2014 tax return this year (which would be the tax year they got an extension on last year to file by this February), that means they are looking at a minimum of five tax returns that were not filed on time, if at all.  The only one they have posted on their website is the 2014 one.  Guidestar.org, a popular website that shows tax returns for non-profits, only shows the 2014 return as well.  So say they didn’t file a return for five years.  That could be a maximum of $50,000 for each year, totaling $250,000.00.  That could certainly throw a monkey wrench into their budget, especially since they already paid $500,000 over the past fifteen months as part of their settlement to Mosaica.  Adding to this is another settlement in the amount of $30,000 that was due by the end of the year as per their May board minutes.  The minutes did show that half of that would be covered by their insurance.  But with potential IRS penalties up to $250,000 depending on the number of actual years they didn’t file, a $50,000 payment to Mosaica, and another $15,000 settlement, this school sure does rack up the expenses that may not have been necessary if someone didn’t drop the ball somewhere.  Keep in mind, aside from what insurance paid ($15,000), all of this comes from your pocket Delaware taxpayers.

I am merely speculating on this.  They could have reached a deal with the IRS.  As well, they may not face penalties for the years between the revocation of their corporate status with the IRS and when they were reinstated.  Either way though, it is frightening this was never brought up during their various formal reviews, charter renewals, and other DOE “oversight”.  But it is something the board should openly discuss at their next board meeting.  If the Delaware DOE doesn’t address this during their charter renewal process this fall I would be shocked.  Charter schools are required by Delaware law to post their 990 IRS tax returns on their website, something many of them are guilty of not doing.  Better to get it out in the open now.  I don’t see anything in their board minutes aside from the board approving their latest tax return, which is also part of Delaware law for charter schools.

There is one matter which was sent to me anonymously by someone who did not want to be identified.  Apparently, when it rains up to half of the school can flood.  Their sewer gets backed up.  When this happens, students are sent to one side of the building.  Further complicating these issues is a matter of potential mold at the school.  I haven’t seen this addressed in any of the board meetings.  But if there is mold present, that could be very serious for anyone in the building especially if there are spores released into the air.

I have no doubt much of this could be traced back to Noel Rodriguez for some of the years he led the school.  The man was not competent to lead the school, much less do the right thing when it came to the school’s finances.  But he has been gone from the school for almost two years now.  The school could have very well spent a lot of that time trying to reach an agreement with the IRS, on top of the Mosaica issue.  But now is the time for the board and the school to open up about these matters.  It could very well save them from getting their charter revoked!

 

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

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

Academy of Dover Confirms Teacher Struck Student And Did Not Call The Police or Attorney General Office

Today at the Charter School Accountability Committee meeting at the Delaware Department of Education, Academy of Dover confirmed the “incident” alluded to in the letter the DOE sent them last week. A teacher struck a student but no details were given about the nature of the assault. Academy of Dover Head of School Cheri Marshall did state the teacher was immediately suspended without pay, and then terminated with board approval. But then it was said the teacher resigned, so the details are a little fuzzy. This is the same school that insisted former Head of School Noel Rodriguez “resigned”, but it was confirmed today by board member Nancy Wagner that Rodriguez was physically removed from the building. This completely contradicts Marshall’s firm “he resigned” to me when I called the school for confirmation on Rodriguez’s termination last fall. I guess when an employee is terminated at the school, the official stance is “they resigned”.

Marshall did say it was a student they had issues with all year long and numerous calls were made to the child’s mother. The mother was immediately called when the incident happened. The mother declined to press charges. However, there was no mention by Marshall or any member of the board about contacting either the police or the Attorney General’s office to report the crime. It is required by Delaware state law to report all incidents of this nature. When asked again if there was any other part of this investigation, Marshall said no. The DOE informed Academy of Dover the mother contacted them about the incident.

In regards to Noel Rodriguez, it was confirmed by Wagner that Rodriguez and several staff members had tumultuous encounters. But this did not come out until after Rodriguez left, as Wagner stated staff were too scared to come to the board. The suspicious purchase card transactions were described as a very stealth-like operation by Rodriguez in setting up different accounts. The board were not even aware of these many purchases until last fall when their annual auditor notified them of several red flags coming up. Wagner also reported the former board members all had very close ties with Rodriguez, much like Family Foundations Academy’s former board was set up during the Moore/Brewington era.

The Mosaica $2 million judgment came up, and the school stated they were not ignoring the judgment and tried for many years to work things out with Mosaica. It surprised the school when the court overruled on a previous ruling and the judgment was enforced last month. The judge involved in that ruling will be hearing arguments against his ruling on June 22nd. The State Board of Education and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy will make their decision on June 18th. Academy of Dover’s attorney did state an agreement could be worked out between the two parties prior to that court date, but nothing is firm or in writing. When asked how long the new court ruling could take, their attorney said it could be the same day or it could take weeks.

In my opinion, even with all the changes the board may have made, it is obvious there were and continue to be serious issues with the school’s ability to effectively educate its 300 students. With financial judgments and past mismanagement, employee theft of state funds, a teacher striking a student, and the board’s inability to realize what is going on until after the fact, I fear for the students at this school. If I were their parents, I know what my choice would be. A board should be more aware of what is going on at a school, and the fact the teachers and staff were afraid of the head of school speaks volumes about the board’s decision making ability.