As part of their audit investigation with the State Auditor, the Superintendent of Indian River School District and the Director of Personnel told the Auditor of Account’s Office there had never been any formal complaints against their former Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Miller. They lied. Warning: some of the language used by Patrick Miller in the parent’s complaint is NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Continue reading
Brandywine School District. Indian River School District. Indian River Volunteer Fire Company. What do all three of these have in common? Patrick Miller. A man accused of financial fraud in the two districts who is not behind bars. High crimes and misdemeanors indeed! But he is a free man. How is that even possible? Continue reading
At the Christina School District Board of Education meeting two weeks ago, Chief Financial Officer Robert Silber gave insight to a very interesting meeting at the Delaware Department of Education concerning the recent decision to give Delaware charter schools a portion of match tax funds through the local funding formula. Silber’s description of Delaware Secretary Education Dr. Susan Bunting’s reaction during this meeting was surprising.
The memo that they also sent to districts said that due to the uncertainties associated with the budget, we’re holding off on a determination of match dollars until legislators made a determination around how the proposed reductions were going to occur. They didn’t want, as they expressed it to us, they didn’t want to make a decision in advance that may have been different based upon the budget (state) for this year since there were a lot of talk legislatively around match tax. The Department then came out with a position statement that said they believe match taxes are operating expenses and as an operating expense should be included. District business managers then turned as a group and said to the Department, as part of the process, that we would like to have a meeting to discuss that. That meeting occurred last Thursday (August 3rd) and I would say that the Secretary and a member of her staff were there, listening. But there was no decision rendered at that meeting and we have not seen anything since that point in time to know whether or not they listened to our concerns. One of the concerns that we expressed, and is probably the easiest one for me to grasp around, is that when you take a look at the various match components that exist, one of those matches is for reading resources. Reading resource teachers are, by the definition of the dollars enabling legislation to begin with, was very specifically targeted to elementary schools. So we posed the question to the Secretary, once these dollars go into the formula, those same dollars are going to a high school. It doesn’t make logical sense and we asked that be considered. She’s considering it.
Come on Dr. Bunting! As someone who comes from a traditional school district, you know how this stuff works. Charters lobby for more money, whether it is justified or not. Just because they want it doesn’t mean it is right. I get that everyone wants a piece of the funding pie but sometimes the taste isn’t so palatable. Don’t give in to this Bunting! We live in a state where charters are able to keep their excess transportation funds. It is VERY hypocritical for the Department of Education to give in to the charters while that anomaly exists. We need a Secretary who will stand up to these freakish money requests from the charters and do what is right! We need a home run here, not a bunt!
The Delaware State Auditor, Tom Wagner, released a follow-up today to the Indian River School District audit investigation. The original report, released days before the district’s December referendum, showed very damning allegations against the district’s former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller. Today’s memorandum from Wagner came out before another referendum the district will be holding on March 2nd. While the follow-up shows significant improvement there are still some areas of concern as shown in the below report.
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!
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.