Transparency & Kuumba Academy Need To Get Together And Hang Out Sometime

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At the May 2016 Board of Directors meeting for Academia Antonia Alonso, there is a reference to a shooting threat at Kuumba Academy.  Their meeting was on May 23rd.  But from Kuumba Academy, there is complete silence on the issue.  Why am I reading about this on another charter school’s board minutes?  Maybe because Kuumba has not posted any board minutes since early May.  In researching this situation, the News Journal did cover this threat on May 18th.

A text message sent to parents Tuesday said there was a threat of a potential shooting at the building posted on social media.

In the 2015-2016 school year, there were three charter schools in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington: Academia Antonia Alonso, Kuumba Academy, and Great Oaks.  Why did the News Journal only mention Kuumba Academy in the article when three schools occupy the building?  But an even bigger question is this: was texting the only form of communication given to parents?  What if a parent doesn’t have a cell phone?  I know, the odds of that are somewhat slim these days, but it is a very real possibility.

I’m sure this is old news to many, especially in Wilmington, but I saw nothing on Kuumba Academy’s website addressing this.  As I mentioned, their board minutes haven’t been updated since May.  They are in violation of Delaware law.  They haven’t put their financial audit up since 2014.  They are in violation of Delaware law.  They have not put their monthly financial information up since June.  They are in violation of Delaware law.  They are required, as a 501c3 non-profit corporation, to put their IRS Form 990 on their website.  No 990s exist on their website.  They are in violation of Delaware law.  I can go on Guidestar.org and see those 990s, but that isn’t the legal requirement in Delaware.  While their Citizens Budget Oversight Committee has met regularly and minutes are posted for that, within the minutes there are questions from the Delaware Department of Education’s required member (also required by Delaware law for every single charter school CBOC), but the answer wasn’t submitted in the minutes.

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I do not understand why Delaware charter schools are not required to follow the law.  The law may say it, but if no one enforces it, what is the point?  Charters in Delaware are now required, as of today, to record all board meetings and post them on their website within seven business days.  Two charter schools, Early College High School and Academy of Dover, had board meetings tonight.  I fully expect to see their audio recordings up by September 6th.  But for Kuumba Academy, they are missing a lot of the requirements in Delaware code.  I plan on going through all the charter school websites tonight to see who is in compliance and who is not.

In terms of the Community Education Building, I can understand why Academia Antonia Alonso left the building.  They begin their 2016-2017 at Barley Mill Plaza.

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Will The Community Education Building Shut Down? Not Looking Good…

The Community Education Building is a building in Wilmington that was donated by Bank Of America about five years ago to hold up to four Delaware charter schools in downtown Wilmington.  With only three charters in the building and one of them looking to leave, how long can the property sustain itself?  According to the Kuumba Academy board minutes from December, the situation is beginning to look a bit dire.  They can’t even afford to stay open past 8pm in the evening or a proper playground for the elementary school students there.  Both of which, as noted by Kuumba and Academia Alonso parents, is making the school less than desirable for its tenants.  The other tenant, Great Oaks Wilmington, is not too forthcoming in their board minutes.  This could actually explain a few things.

So either the CEB is choking on its own financial weight and will eventually shut down if they don’t fill it up pronto, or there are other plans afoot.  Knowing the folks involved, I would go with the latter…

Both Kuumba and Great Oaks submitted minor modifications to increase their enrollment by less than 15%.  Anything above that would call for a major modification.  As well, remember when Dr. Teri Quinn Gray went crazy about the Christina priority schools at the December State Board of Education meeting?  Remember when the State Board didn’t take action on the WEIC plan at their January board meeting?  Remember way back when a lot of people were saying the purpose of the priority schools was to get them into the Community Education Building?  Only thing with the last scenario is the CEB can’t fit six schools into it.  But they could certainly fit two or three.  Like two or three from the Christina School District, in Wilmington.   But there is a moratorium on new charters, right?  But how would that work if the DOE took definitive action against the Christina School District over the priority schools if the WEIC redistricting plan doesn’t pass?  Would an existing charter take them over or would something new be created?  Or I could be completely wrong and perhaps the Charter School of Wilmington would move to the CEB.  Yeah right, like they would ever give up their sweetheart deal with Red Clay for the space they have now!  After all, didn’t Governor Markell say, when asked where Wilmington students would go to high school, he presumably laughed saying “The Community Education Building!”  Questions to ponder.

The big question this week will be who the State Board of Education wants to please more: WEIC or the folks at the CEB.  And when I say CEB, I also mean Rodel, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Longwood Foundation, Welfare Foundation, etc.  From what I’m hearing, a lot of those folks aren’t too happy with the WEIC plan and want it to disappear…

For now, read the board minutes.  I would love to see this whole strategic plan the Community Education Building has.  I’m fairly sure someone will be reaching out to me on this one.  Aretha is Aretha Miller, the Executive Director of the CEB.  There DuPont is duh, a DuPont!  Raye is Raye Jones Avery who is very connected in Wilmington with pretty much everything, especially the Rodel Foundation…

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Academia Antonia Alonso Submits Modification To Change Location Out Of Community Education Building

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One of the three Delaware charter schools currently residing in the Community Education Building in Wilmington now wants out.  Academia Antonia Alonso Academy, as of January 29th, submitted a major modification to change their school location from the CEB to the Barley Mill Plaza location currently owned by Odyssey Charter School.  Should their modification gain approval, the plan is to lease one of the buildings from Odyssey.  So why would they want to move from the lauded CEB?

After reviewing options of other potential locations, it was determined that a location that can be conveniently accessed by families, can be managed directly by the school, and also provides green space and playground facilities would be preferable to the current location in enabling the school to deliver the educational outcomes that it is striving to achieve.

Now this is some logic I can get behind!  Looking out for students, recess, and families is crucial to school success nowadays.  It is underestimated by our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell.

Given that 61% of La Academia’s students live in the City of Wilmington zip codes of 19801, 19802 and 19805, the majority of the school’s students live in neighborhoods where they may be regularly exposed to violence and crime, and where their families do not feel safe having their children play outside. This makes it even more important that the school be able to offer the opportunity for these children to be able to have safe play spaces.  Non-structured play time has a positive impact on social development and general well-being and allows children the opportunity to practice essential social skills, which in turn improves learning and school climate.

Thank you!  While some schools have reduced or gotten rid of recess, this school is actually celebrating it!

Our school has students in grades K-2 who are young and small, and during transitions they have to either navigate 2 to 6 flights of stairs or wait on elevators that require the school to make multiple trips to transport everyone, depending on the location of their next activity. We have had one incident of an elevator full of students getting stuck for over 20 minutes. A second incident occurred with Kuumba Academy students and staff. This has caused some of our students to be afraid of the elevators. Some of our younger students have tripped on the stairs, and now are afraid of using them.

Sounds like a health inspector needs to get in there as soon as possible!

In order to get our students to the outdoor fenced parking lot that is their recess area, our teachers go down the elevators (or six flights of steps), walk down a full city block, cross a dangerous intersection where accidents have happened right in front of our students, down another half of a city block and into the Wilson Street lot. This typically takes 15 minutes. Adding another 15 minutes for the return trip the students lose precious recess time.  Developmentally, it is critical that 5, 6, & 7 year olds are able to have time for recess and play.

Wow!  How much thought went into student safety for this building?

The Wilson Street Parking Lot, our recess area, has a number of issues relating to safety and supervision.  Several areas in the fence are a concern to the school, as well as there being no barrier (mesh fence or other) to prevent students from going behind the storage unit where teachers have no line of sight. This recess area is not fully secure from the public after hours and dangerous items such as broken glass, syringes and other items are routinely found by both teachers and students. There is no typical playground equipment for the students to use such as swings, slides etc.

So what happens if a student accidentally pokes another student or themselves with a syringe?  Who is responsible for the potential of a student getting HIV or some other disease from a dirty needle?  I would get the hell out of this location too!  I’m guessing Governor Markell and Acting US Secretary of Education John King didn’t go out with the kids to recess during King’s visit last month to the Community Education Building…

To see the full major modification request, please see below.  For the next few months, the school will go through the charter school accountability committee and public hearings.  A final decision will be made by the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education at their April 21st meeting.

Now the big question becomes which charter school will now submit a major modification request to get into the Community Education Building?  I hope no elementary schools based on what I’m hearing!

 

 

 

16 To Watch In 2016: Tony Allen

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Tony Allen wears a lot of hats these days.  First and foremost, he leads the Corporate Communications for Bank of America’s Consumer Banking.  He sits on the Board of Directors at the Rodel Foundation.  But his biggest role in 2015 was the Chairman of both the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Commission (WEIC).

Unless you’ve been living in a hole, the WEIC’s job is to formulate a redistricting plan to get the Wilmington schools in the Christina School District shifted to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Originally, the Wilmington schools in the Colonial School District were to be a part of this initiative, but their board said no.  They are still a part of the commission, but the most recent draft isn’t calling for their less than 300 students to move over.

WEIC has been controversial since day one.  Their biggest hurdle will be how to fund this long-term plan.  Ideas have surfaced over the past few months regarding raising property assessments to current day levels over time.  Many in Delaware oppose this, especially those in Sussex County around the beach towns.  Property values have increased dramatically in this area, and any change in property assessments will hit those homeowners very hard.  Recently, WEIC called for $6 million from Delaware’s General Fund in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell promised members of WEIC at their most recent full commission meeting that Red Clay citizens will not have to pay for this.  So who will?  This is the question on everybody’s mind.

WEIC will present their draft to the Delaware State Board of Education on 12/17, next Thursday.  At that point, it is expected the State Board will vote yes on it in January and it will go the Delaware General Assembly for a vote.  This is where WEIC will face its greatest challenge.  With Delaware projected to have anywhere from a $150-$200 million dollar deficit for FY2017, many are guessing WEIC and the redistricting will be dead in the water once it hits the House and Senate floors.

For Tony Allen, he sees this as a “once in a generation” action.  Others feel this is being rushed through for various reasons.  I have always been suspicious of the overall motivations of the redistricting.  Kilroy’s Delaware thinks it is revenge against the Christina School District.  But there is one thing Red Clay has which none of the other districts do: they are a charter school authorizer, the only one of its kind in the state aside from the Delaware Department of Education.

As recently as last summer, Governor Markell was overheard, when asked about where the Wilmington students would go to high school, as saying “The Community Education Building”.  If WEIC is not all it claims to be from its leaders, expect a lot of heat put on Tony Allen and Dan Rich.  There are many who would benefit from Wilmington eventually becoming an all-charter district.  I pray this isn’t the end result.  I sincerely hope this is not the intentions of Tony Allen.  But I often ask if he has been used in this initiative, if he is one of the chief architects, or if the fears of many are just that.

At the end of the day, it should always be about the students.  Will the students of Wilmington truly be better off under one banner so to speak?  This is the question that all decision-makers will face in the coming months.  These children are the most vulnerable of all Delaware’s children.  The bulk of them come from poverty and low-income, are minorities, and many students with disabilities.  They are the ones that matter.  They are trusting the adults are doing the right thing.  If that trust is broken, how many generations will it take for that trust to be restored?

A Day Like No Other And Why Governor Markell Should Not Be Trusted

Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines.  After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But something went awry.

I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.  I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day.  Two problems arose during their caucus.  One was the issue with Brandywine.  Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose.  Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district.  The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said.  I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.

A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits.  When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building.  This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools.  There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.

When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth.  Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true.  This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware.  Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative.  Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent.  The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC.  The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding.  I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools.  The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen.  If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state.  The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools.  Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay.  Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.

So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from?  It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this.  It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.

None of this exists in Senate Bill 122.  To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this.  The trick will be in the timing.  Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay.  The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written.  This is the crucial moment: funding.  WEIC is required to determine this in their report.  The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away.  Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget.  If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that.  Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.

Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing?  I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September.  Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.

We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools.  We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative.  You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.

If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.

Community Education Building Deferred $250,000 In Rent For Academia Antonia Alonso

According to Academia Antonia Alonso’s board minutes for their December 2014 meeting, the Community Education Building sent the school a letter agreeing to defer another $50,000 in rent, bringing a total of $250,000.00 to date.  As well, it appears enrollment is down and they have applied for a major modification based on these lower numbers.  This was at an emergency board meeting on 12/26/14.  In addition, I reported in early January that Head of School Peter Barry “resigned”.  The DOE Charter School website currently shows Teresa Gerchman as the Interim Head of School, who also serves as the CMO for Early College High School at Delaware State University (at least as of their November board meeting).

I really wish my mortgage company would keep deferring my mortgage!  Hell, if they deferred a percentage of that, I’d have my house paid off!  Is it the CEB deferring the rent, or the Longwood Foundation?  Read about it below!

Governor Markell’s Staff Gives Clarity on Market Street Village-Charter School Teacher Controversy

Governor Markell’s staff has responded with a very good explanation of the true meaning behind both the New York Times and the News Journal’s articles on Market Street Village and the discounts offered to certain populations.  I’m not sure where the disconnect was with both the articles, but this is the official word!

The Market Street Village project is not limited to charter school teachers.  Anyone who fits within the income limitations can live there, including other teachers who meet the income guidelines.  What was reported in the paper reflected the marketing effort related to the project.  

DSHA is financing part the project, as it routinely does for developers of low-income housing projects statewide.  Financing consists of a tax-exempt loan through DSHA to the developer, at market rate and funded by a commercial bank. 

Also, DSHA qualified the project to receive federal tax credits (which are paid by the federal government, but managed by DSHA).  As a condition of this federal tax credit funding, the developer will be required to rent to residents who meet certain income requirements, regardless of their profession.  For example, 5 of the units in the Market Street Village complex will need to be rented to people earning up to approximately $22,000 annually.  58 of the units will need to be rented to people earning as much as approximately $38,000 per year.  The remaining 13 units will be available to persons earning around $45,000 annually.  

In order to show demand for the project, it was important to highlight the new teachers who will be working within walking distance of the Market Street Village. 

However, while the developer may be targeting its marketing to the new employees at the Community Education Building, the program rules do not allow for the units to be marketed or dedicated solely to charter school teachers, or any other specific job class. (bolded for emphasis)

The article suggests that the project is also getting Downtown Development District funding.  To be sure, the project is in the Wilmington district and is the kind of project that the program was designed to incentivize.  But the DDD funding will be distributed pursuant to an application process and none of that has happened yet. 

Whatever happened behind the scenes on this, it appears that going forward this is the real deal.  Like I said, I’m not sure how two major newspapers could have gotten that very specific information, but it is not the case as per the Governor’s office.

Mark Murphy Sinks To New Lows At Priority Task Force, His Arrogance Is No “Myth”

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The Priority Schools Task Force had a meeting today. One would think it would be at one of the priority schools, but no, to rub salt in the festering wound, it was held at the Community Education Building in Wilmington. This is the building that is in a one-mile radius of the six priority schools. The building that has lots of room for charter schools. The only six priority schools in the state. Coincidence? Hardly. But I’m not going to discuss that today. My views on this are well known. No, I am going to talk about the Secretary of Education for Delaware, Mark Murphy. It’s a wonder anyone could fit in the room for the meeting with his big ego swallowing everything up.

According to Mike Matthews, who attended the meeting, the following exchange occurred between Murphy and Matthews:

At the meeting today I asked Sec. Murphy what specifically was wrong with the priority schools considering the evaluation done by his department, the University of Delaware, and the Delaware Association of School Leadership revealed that Stubbs and Bancroft are doing great things. The secretary could not answer my question, instead accusing me of engaging in a “tit-for-tat” by asking such a question. Sec. Murphy did reveal that his office is refusing to sign off on those reports. And then I blurted out “Yeah because you don’t like what those reports revealed!” He was not pleased.

What a jerk! I always knew Murphy was an oddball, but this is pure arrogance on his part. To have a review done of some of these schools, and have them come back with really great things, only to dismiss it like a Massett would dismiss an ACLU complaint, is the very definition of ________ (pick your own word, many have come to my mind since I read this). For those who had any doubt prior to this, the DOE, Murphy, and Markell have made up their mind. They made it up before September 4th. These schools will be charter schools in the very building where the task force meeting was. And Gateway has already been decided on as well. This is my theory of course, not based on actual fact, but a preponderance of evidence and actions.

In other odd news from the meeting, apparently Red Clay’s proposal to the Delaware DOE for the three priority schools in their district would have assistance from the University of Virginia for leadership assistance. No mention was made if there is any cost involved for this endeavor. Some feel this is exactly what these schools do not need, more outside consultants.