Guest Post: “Kathleen Davies Vindicated But Delawareans Still Lose”

Last week, the News Journal reported Kathleen Davies won her Merit Employee Review Board appeal hearing.  She will be reinstated at the Auditor of Accounts office after a two and a half-year ordeal.  She ran for State Auditor but lost to opponent Kathy McGuiness in the September 6th Primary.  McGuiness won the General Election so the two women will soon be working in the same building.

Eric Morrison wrote a guest piece on this saga and what it means for Delaware: Continue reading

Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!

The Sound Of Silence

Over the past year or so, I’ve written a lot of emails that never got a response.  I save all of them, and since I am so often accused of not reaching out, I thought I would publish those sent emails.  There are many more going back to the Mark Murphy days, but I will get around to those another time.  In the meantime, see what questions or requests I had that no one ever answered.  On some of these, they did respond, but when I responded back the sound of crickets was all I heard.  There are those who always respond to me, and I do truly appreciate those people.  And some I disagree with on policy all the time.  But for those who choose to ignore me, please see how I will be dealing with this practice at the end of the article going forward.

This email was sent during the infamous “school report card opt out & participation rate” saga from last fall.

Schwinn915

For the Parent Strike on 9/17/15, I sent a letter to the editor to all the major media in Delaware.  The News Journal actually edited parts of it which changed the whole context of what I wrote in parts.

NewsJournal923

The PTO at Las Americas Aspiras was telling parents the school would lose ALL funding if too many parents opted out.  I reached out to their Head of School.

LopezWaite113

To be completely fair, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky did reply to the original email, but after that… complete silence when I called him out on a few things.

Godowsky115

Godowsky116Pt2

Godowsky116

Last fall I reached out to Matthew Korobkin who was assigned to the Secretary’s area at the Delaware DOE to work on a special education strategic plan.  I had heard of him, but I did reach out to him in good faith to talk about special education.

Korobkin119

This was a second request to Governor Markell’s education policy advisor, Lindsay O’Mara, to clarify some questions about expenses when the Governor speaks for private education companies.  No response…

Lindsay1110

About a year after I posted an in-depth article on Rodel and their CEO Paul Herdman emailed me about not reaching out to them first, I thought it was time to attempt to reach out to him after he completely ignore my response to him the year before.  Once again… nothing…

Herdman1125

I did get a few responses to this one, done in the spirit of the holidays, but nothing from Jack Frost…

Markell124

This was a second request to Governor Markell asking him to contribute to a New Years Day article.  I asked folks to list three things they wanted to see in Delaware education in 2016.  I guess Jack didn’t have any…

Markell1230

While there is no guarantee that a letter to the editor will be published or even considered, a little bit of acknowledgment, which the News Journal did in the past, would have been nice…

NewsJournal112

Last January, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques asked for my opinion on getting opt out for students with disabilities.  I was vehemently against the idea as I believed it is any parent’s right to make that choice and shouldn’t be “allowed” for one group over another.  It angered me that he would think I would support that kind of idea, so I wrote this.  US Secretary of Education John King did respond to this, but not with anything truly addressing the issues I wrote about…

JaquesMarkellKing

For anyone following the former Delaware Treasurer Chip Flowers FOIA situation with Governor Markell’s office, I had a little bit to add to that situation.  Funny how precedent is set on issues when it is in the Governor’s favor…

Gibbs315

I did finally get a response to this FOIA request concerning National PTA President Laura Bay (no records found), but this wasn’t the first time I addressed FOIA issues with the Delaware DOE which they are acutely aware of.  To be fair, Alison May did respond to these emails, but from Godowsky… nothing!

Godowsky321

I submitted a request through the Delaware DOE’s request for data forms for actual data.  Especially information concerning their data.  Sometimes I think they like to mess with me…  The first pictures are screen shots I took of the actual request as I was doing it since the DOE doesn’t send an automatic reply showing what you requested.

DOEDataRequest

DOEDataRequest2

DOEDataRequest3

 

Peoples526Pt3

Peoples526Pt2

Peoples526

After I read a special education due process decision for Cape Henlopen School District, I saw an inherent flaw in Delaware code in regards to this decision.  I reached out to legislators who I know tend to advocate for special needs students.  Granted, it was the second to last day of the legislative session, but I have yet to receive a response from any of the legislators with one exception.  I did discuss it with Kim Williams in person, but for the others, nothing.

SpecEdLegislators629

I sent this one last week to Christina School District CFO Bob Silber.  No response.  But I have since found out these VERY high non-state employee travel costs were paid with federal funds which makes me even more curious…

SilberEmail712

For the past few weeks, Jack Wells has been hammering Delaware State Auditor Thomas Wagner to more effectively (and in some cases actually) audit school funding.  Wells tends to include a lot of folks on these emails, including myself.  I jumped on the bandwagon.  Either Wagner doesn’t read his emails or feels everyday citizens of the state that elected him into office aren’t worthy of a response.  I asked him to look into the Appoquinimink tuition funds situation.  To date, nothing from Wagner….

WagnerEmail714

Here I am basically telling people in response to a Jack Wells email that all too often, folks in Delaware who have the power to change things ignore the pleas for help and transparency coming from Delaware citizens.  I did get responses from Rick Jensen and Colin Bonini (who wasn’t even on the original email).  And some of the usual citizens on this email chain.  But for the power brokers…zip…nada…zilch…

Everyone714

As well, I also emailed Capital School District to find out why they lump special education funding into one big bucket on their expenditure codes instead of giving breakdowns…

SheltonSokolowski714

While this was just sent two days ago, I think history proves that Delaware Governor Jack Markell doesn’t respond to anything I have to say.  He did once, and that was when I sent something to his personal email address which was made public through a FOIA another citizen obtained.  And that was basically saying “we both want what’s best for students and we won’t always agree”…  For a Governor who believes transparency and accountability are SO important, he can’t even get through the gate with those two things…ob

GodowskyMarkell719

I have many more examples of this non-response environment in Delaware which I will put up in the future.  From here on out, if I send a request to someone who is a Delaware state employee and they fail to respond in a week, or within a week after an out-of-office reply shows a return date, I’m just going to publish the original email I sent… no matter what it says.  This is my idea of transparency.  If you think this is arrogant or presumptuous on my part, then keep ignoring me.  I think it is arrogant to ignore people as if we are just little tiny bugs you can swat away…

Ask Teachers One Question And…

Alright, I admit it.  Asking Delaware teachers if they would consider taking a cut in their benefits and pensions probably wasn’t the smartest move in the book, but many of you came out in droves to respond.  Granted, no administrators, principals, or superintendents replied.  The article went over like a resounding thud.  But I challenge every single teacher in the state: if not benefits or pension, what do you view as wasted money in our schools?  And please don’t say “nothing”.  We spend a billion dollars on education in Delaware and that’s just from the state.  We also get federal money and local funds from school taxes.  While other states may laugh and say “that’s it?”, we are a small state with less than a million people and about 133,000 kids in public education.  Since this could be a hot topic with certain folks, feel free to post anonymously on this!

Since I just got home from work and grocery shopping and I’m dead to the world now, just a few updates on recent stuff.  They must have a huge cricket crisis going on in the Appoquinimink School District, because that’s all I’ve heard from them since I dropped the special education funding bomb on them last week.  I did have an interesting comment on the “Unsustainable” article that had me wracking my brain all day.  Delaware school districts and charters might be thinking I’ve slowed down on them and my target of the month is Appo.  Wrong!  I have a ton of articles that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.  One is about an interesting superintendent situation going on in one of our school districts.  That one led to a VERY interesting board meeting last month.  Dr. Mark Holodick is winning the “who will be the next Secretary of Education in Delaware poll”, followed by Susan Bunting.  Every one seems to be playing pin the tail on the auditor in the past week and everyone wants to know when Tom Wagner is actually going to, you know, do some audits.  Kenny Rivera is now the Vice-President of the Red Clay Board of Education and Michael Piccio was voted in as the President.  The State Board is having their monthly snooze fest on Thursday.  Expect to hear some type of hip-hop hooray about the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results but not the actual final scores cause they aren’t done yet.  Both the Christina and Red Clay Boards of Education passed resolutions to suspend the WEIC timeline which will be echoed by WEIC at a meeting on July 26th.  On Wednesday, WEIC will be honored by the Progressive Democrats of Delaware as their Education Heroes of the Year.  So Elizabeth Lockman gets a two-peat!  Jack Markell hasn’t signed the teacher evaluation bill yet, House Bill 399.  I guess he was too busy not filing to run for Congress (okay, I never said I bat home runs every time)!  Delaware Military Academy wants to build a sports dome, but not with any funding from the state.  They said it will all be from private donations.  Apparently Chief of Instruction Michael Watson at the Delaware DOE has been “chosen” to be on John Carney’s “transition team”.  How very presumptuous of you Mr. Carney.  Today is State Rep. Trey Paradee’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday on Facebook.  I did hear back from EFIC about their epic fail, which is the Education Funding Improvement Committee’s final report.  Apparently “their work isn’t done yet” after having a due date of March 31st which was extended until June 30th.  Publius disappeared from Kilroy’s Delaware about a month ago and hasn’t been seen since.  He said something about the sign is in the yard.  It makes me very curious why he would feel he shouldn’t comment “anonymously” on a blog anymore.  Especially in light of a recent vacancy in Dover (totally speculating on this one folks).  Unless…

Thinking Out Loud

The first thing I’m wondering is how many people will go past the read more part of this article if they are just going to my homepage to see what I wrote beneath that.  But seriously, the main thing I’ve been thinking about (in regards to education) is a state legislator and a charter school.  And how, when everything comes up, somehow, some way, it always circles back to the two. Continue reading

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: The Charter Thieves

The biggest Delaware charter school news this year definitely belonged to the three charter bandits: Sean Moore, Tennell Brewington, and Noel Rodriguez.  The first two were the heads of school at Family Foundations Academy while Rodriguez belonged to Academy of Dover.  Altogether, the trio managed to abscond over $300,000 of school funds for personal purchases.  And that was just the verified amount.  Over $1.3 million could not be verified as school or personal purchases by the Auditor of Accounts in Delaware.  That is some serious coin!

Luckily, none of them are currently employed by the schools.  *Brewington surfaced at Christiana in the Emotional Therapeutic Support classroom as a one-on-one teacher.  Shortly before Thanksgiving she was no longer there.  Moore and Rodriguez have been very quiet.  Rodriguez was last seen at the Amazon Distribution Center in Middletown but he was let go around the same time the auditor investigation into Academy of Dover came out last June.

Many are wondering why the three are not in jail.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle, a huge supporter of charters in Delaware, was wondering the same thing.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said his office is looking into the matter.  This is why State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 needs to pass, which would make all charter school audits go through Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  Resistance from the Delaware Charter Schools Network reached a fever pitch last Spring, even resulting in the non-profit recruiting parents to fill out an online form on their website which automatically went to the Delaware legislators.  The bill passed the House on June 30th, but every single House Republican voted no along with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and Chair of the House Education Committee Earl Jaques.  When the legislators return in January, this bill will be in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.

In October, Wagner’s office released a report that showed some other charter schools that had very suspect incidents of financial abuse.  Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep’s incidents were not as egregious as those of Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, but they are still a pattern that needs to change at Delaware charter schools.  In years past, Pencader Business School and Delaware Military Academy were also investigated for misuse of state funds.  While this is certainly not indicative of all charters in Delaware, it is far too many.  Education is about students, not a personal ATM machine!

*This article has been corrected to give a more accurate read on where Dr. Tennell Brewington wound up.  Apologies for the error!

State Auditor Releases Report On School Tax Collection & Agreed-Upon Procedures

Delaware State Auditor Thomas Wagner issued the annual “School Tax Collection and Debt Service Management Agreed-Upon Procedures Engagement” report for Fiscal Year 2014 on August 14th, 2015.

This includes all school districts.  What is interesting is the four school districts in and around the city of Wilmington.  Due to the restructuring of the former New Castle School District in 1981 into the current four school districts: Brandywine, Christina, Colonial and Red Clay Consolidated, the Delaware Department of Education actually allocates the taxes to the four school districts.  No big mystery or anything, but noteworthy!