Delaware Auditor of Accounts Office Violated FOIA According To Legal Opinion

On September 7th, I filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Even though I did receive the documentation for my original FOIA request regarding a contract that office entered into with Grant Thornton, it came very late.  In fact, it came the day after a highly contested primary for the State Auditor position.  But my FOIA complaint dealt with what I felt were illegal and unethical issues coming out of AOA. Continue reading

Recent Changes At Delaware State Auditor’s Office A Very Bad Omen

Editor’s Note: I was going through my drafts folder today and I found this little gem from June 20th, 2016.  I wasn’t able to fully verify the reason Kathleen Davies was ousted from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  Nobody really knew except Tom Wagner and he wasn’t talking.  I had my suspicions.  Turns out they were just part of the reason.  As Davies continues to get wrongly persecuted by the News Journal during an election, I thought this would be an opportune time to publish this “lost in the drafts folder” article:

For the past couple years, Kathleen Davies has been very busy.  As the Chief Administrative Auditor, she had her hands full with education audits, specifically those dealing with charter schools.  She was in charge of the investigations for Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Providence Creek Academy, and the recent September 30th Count investigation.  Recently, however, there have been two glaring omissions from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s website: Kathleen Davies and the September 30th Count report.  Where did they go?  Are the two connected?

This is Delaware.  Of course they are.  Word on the street is the Delaware Department of Education didn’t like the September 30th report, even though they requested it.  When they asked Davies to make changes, she refused.  This caused an impasse, and the result… Davies and the report are gone.  Apparently the DOE’s influence now stretches across State of Delaware Departments.  All the way to the Auditor’s office.  Ironically, their central offices are both located in the Townsend Building.

State Auditor Race Heats Up As Kathleen Davies Files As A Dem For Three-Way Primary

One of the biggest events next September will be the primary race for the Delaware State Auditor.  Current State Auditor Wagner is retiring and so far, three have filed to run under the Democrat banner.  Today, Kathleen Davies filed.  Facing off against Kathleen McGuiness and Dennis Williams, I see Davies as the strongest candidate with experience that leap-frogs and catapults over the other two.  She is EXACTLY what Delaware needs and will by far do the best job should she win.

While there are some unanswered questions regarding her paid leave from the Auditor’s office, you simply do not pay someone for that long if they did something as egregious as what appeared in the News Journal in 2016.  I firmly believe there is much more to that than meets the eye and someone wanted her to shut up and took swift action.  But it is a new day and a new administration in Delaware.  It is past time the sun shined brightly on The First State and the best place for that is in the State Auditor’s office.

Was A Christina Principal/Former Delaware DOE Employee Placed On Leave For Some Type Of Financial Abuse?

In a letter dated to parents on June 2nd, 2017, Christina School District Assistant Superintendent Noreen LaSorsa sent a letter to parents advising that Kirk Middle School Principal Brian Curtis was placed on leave.  The letter did not indicate if the leave is a paid leave or not.  In conducting a search for more information, I found a post on Facebook to the Christina School District Facebook page where a parent asked the district if he was fired for embezzlement.

When you go to Christina’s Facebook page, all visitor posts are now gone.  I tried to submit a post asking where they all went and received a message that it would be reviewed.  But the post still shows up on Facebook’s search engine.  I edited the picture just for basic privacy rights of the person who submitted the question although it is public information on Facebook.  The response to the parent post by the administrator of their Facebook page was 10:55am on June 2nd.  The timestamp of the PDF letter sent to parents was 11:53am on June 2nd.

Curtis worked at the Delaware Department of Education for four and a half years in the school turnaround unit (i.e. priority schools) before he was hired to become Principal at Kirk Middle School in 2015.  He replaced outgoing Principal Dan Shelton who became the Superintendent of the Capital School District.  Curtis never updated his LinkedIn page with his new position.  I searched for any recent news or events with Brian Curtis in Delaware and found nothing.  While I am sure the district will not release any information pertaining to a pending investigation, this could not come at a worse time in Delaware as the General Assembly is in the final stages of preparing their FY2018 budget which has a current deficit of nearly $400 million dollars.  Many school districts and state agencies are feeling the pinch as budget cuts are expected throughout the state.

In recent years, Delaware school district and charter schools have gone through many audit investigations due to financial abuse of some sort at their schools.  Charter schools Providence Creek Academy, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Delaware Military Academy and the closed Pencader Business School as well as the Indian River School District and Sussex Technical School District have all had reports from that office since 2013.

While working on another article about a situation not related to this one at all, I stumbled across the Facebook post which led me to the announcement about Curtis being placed on leave.  While a question posed by a parent does not give any clear picture of wrongdoing, the fact the school district deleted the ability for anyone to see it on their main district page along with all other visitor posts IS cause for concern.

Audit Investigation Of Sussex Tech Slams District Over $4 Million In Shady Construction Deals

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office just released an audit investigation of Sussex Technical School District.  Construction deals that did not meet Delaware State Code began with a bus parking lot for almost $206,000 and continued with over $4 million dollars with the same company.  Wagner’s report, which can be seen below, found this to be very egregious.  Common Sense Solutions, a construction company owned by Michael Horsey, made a whirlwind of profit from contracts that were not procured by the State of Delaware as required by the law.

The report, in its conclusion, stated the following:

CSS turned their original HS Bus Entrance CM contract of $205,699 into nearly $4,000,000 in payments  by piggybacking the HS HVAC Systems, HS Instructional Shops, and District Office Renovations  projects onto the original CM contract with Sussex Tech as well as providing other services to the District that were not subject to any contract or required State approvals.

Any attempts at resolving the ongoing situation by district employees was met with firm resistance according to the report:

Through various interviews with employees at Sussex Tech, it has been stated that each time someone  began questioning the payments made to CSS, they were pushed out of the decision-making and payment approval processes.

Once again we have a Delaware school district or charter school where serious financial abuse and conflicts of interest are a higher priority than the education of children.  Once again, why are we NOT getting annual audits of ALL school districts as required by Delaware State Code?

Indian River Cuts $3 Million From Budget But No Audit Released Yet On Patrick Miller’s Activities…Hmmm…

SusanBunting

Indian River School District just cut $3 million from their budget earlier this week.  Where will these cuts come from?  Dani Bozzini with WMDT has the answer:

And with more students means more teachers. The district wasn’t getting enough funding to continue the same allocation of their schools budgets so they made some changes.

Instead of cutting teachers and staff’s salaries, the district decided to cut the discretionary part of the budget. The District office was cut by 50 percent and the schools’ budgets by 30 percent.

Here’s the thing though… most traditional school districts don’t cut their budget unless they are having some type of financial problem.  If a school district grows, the property taxes collected for local funds, as well as state and federal funds should compensate for that.  The district’s Chief Financial Officer was put on paid administrative leave in April and then he was able to retire in May.  The State Auditor’s office also began an investigation into the district’s finances.  No report has come out from the Auditor of Account’s office concerning Indian River School District.

I believe the school district should own up to whatever Miller is suspected of doing.  This isn’t the first time mysterious financial issues have come up with him.  He plea bargained his way out of something similar in Brandywine eighteen years ago.

I love how Superintendent Susan Bunting makes it sound so casual in the article with WMDT.

Dr. Bunting tells 47 ABC that students or parents won’t see much of any changes and it’s just little cutbacks to help with their growing population.

Yeah, okay.  You don’t cut $3 million out of your budget unless you are having some serious issues.  Now I have to start looking into Indian River too.  I don’t have time for this.  Just come clean Bunting!  Between charter-district payments, ESSA, being the non-paid watchdog for the Delaware DOE, elections, and everything else, can you just email me and show me what is really wrong with your budget?  That would be super!  Cause if what I’m hearing is true, you guys are going to have to come up with some new spin next month.  I’ll give you a few days, but then I’m getting the shovel out.

Or does this have anything to do with the charter-district payments?  How many students does Indian River send to Sussex Academy?  When did the CFO get put on administrative leave again?  April?  Hmm…

How many inspections are going on with schools over at Tom Wagner’s office?  Time to bring Kathleen Davies back Tom.  You can’t handle all this work!

Dave Sokola Kicks Kim Williams In The Back And Then Thrusts The Knife Into It

Sokola

Senator Dave Sokola pulled a fast one on State Rep. Kim Williams in his latest political trickery because of his uncontrolled bias for Delaware charter schools.

Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 was approved by the Delaware House of Representatives on June 30th, the last day of legislative session. Senator David Sokola refused to suspend the rules and said this bill needed to be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Fair enough. It was heard in committee this week, and it was released yesterday. Fair enough. What he did behind the scenes is what defines him.

House Bill 186 deals with charter school audits. Rep. Williams felt the charter school fraud and embezzlement was a bit too much for Delaware taxpayers and she brought the bill forward to allow the State Auditor’s office to monitor charters more closely. This is something Kathleen Davies from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office was in full support of. The main party who was not in support of the bill was the Delaware Charter Schools Network. They vehemently opposed the bill stating it would cost charter schools extra money. On their website, they set up a “letter to the legislators” system where parents just add their information and a letter is automatically sent to the legislators.

At present, all traditional school districts audits go through the State Auditor’s office.  Charters use their own hand-picked auditors.  This bill would add an extra layer of protection.  As well, ever since the very first charter school closed in Delaware, funds seem to disappear resulting in millions of dollars vanishing.  Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 would put charters on the same equal playing field as traditional school districts and is not an attempt to treat charters any different.  Why would we not want to ensure our taxpaying funds are being used with fidelity and honesty?

Having sent my son to a charter school back in the day, I know how this works when legislation comes up that may affect a charter school.  Parents get emails from the school leader basically saying “Our poor charter school is under attack, we need your support.”  It usually ties to funding and money.

On June 30th, the bill passed the House with all Democrats except State Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques and all the Republicans voted no.

This week, Sokola, along with co-sponsor Jaques and several Senate Republicans filed Senate Bill 171.

Are charters required to have their audits done the same way as Sokola’s Senate Bill 171 states?  Not at all.  Title 29 of the Delaware State Code, dealing with the Auditor of Accounts, specifically states:

(f) The Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits of local school district tax funds budget and expenditures annually. The results of the audit shall be submitted to the local board, the State Board of Education, the office of Controller General and the local libraries within said school district. Expenses incurred for such postaudits herein authorized shall be borne by the local school districts.

This says absolutely nothing about charter schools whatsoever.  With respect to charter schools, Title 14 does touch on this, but the wording is very vague:

The charter school shall contract to have an audit of the business and financial transactions, records, and accounts after July 1 for the prior fiscal year. The results of the audit shall be shared with the Department of Education by October 1.

What Sokola’s bill does completely ignores the authority given to the State Auditor of Accounts in Title 29.  And the charter audit part is not even included in chapter 29 whatsoever.  Title 14 doesn’t even define what the scope of the charter school’s audit should look like, and even with Sokola’s bill this is not defined either.  But Title 29, the section that once again authorizes the Auditor of Accounts of their duties and responsibilities, bolded for emphasis, states:

(a) The audits shall be sufficiently comprehensive to provide, but not limited to, assurance that reasonable efforts have been made to collect all moneys due the State, that all moneys collected or received by any employee or official have been deposited to the credit of the State and that all expenditures have been legal and proper and made only for the purposes contemplated in the funding acts or other pertinent regulations.

This is a direct attempt to sabotage Rep. Williams’ bill in my opinion. Sokola’s bill does absolutely nothing. It is a piece of paper designed to actually protect charter schools from the financial destruction some of them have inflicted on Delaware. After the State Auditor’s office released reports last year on Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover showing well over $300,000 of taxpayer money being absconded by school leaders, along with other reports showing a couple of charters doing very suspect things with school funds, one would think our elected officials would want to make sure charters are held under a bigger microscope.  In the case of Family Foundations Academy, telling the public they aren’t sure what may have happened to $2.5 million dollars along with another $141,000 in funds that may or may not have been personal purchases shows a clear need for more oversight into charter finances.  But apparently not with the Chairs of our Education Committees, Sokola and Jaques.

How does something like this happen when charter schools are supposed to have greater accountability because of their unique structure with the public school environment?  It is political maneuvering.  Senator Sokola is in the 8th District, in Newark.  Since 1990, Sokola has been a State Senator.  I wrote in great detail about Sokola’s history of education destruction last year.  The 8th District is a very unique district.  In this district is Newark Charter School.  Senator Sokola was one of the founding board members of the school.  Newark Charter School has a 5 mile radius for its applicants, which actually extends past the Maryland line.  So it is not a true 5 mile radius, but ensures all its students come from a very specific geographic area.  The 8th district.  This school is considered to be one of the best schools in the state based on standardized test scores, academics, and school climate.  There is usually an extensive waiting list.  Because of this, Sokola is able to hold onto his Senate seat because of his steadfast loyalty to charter schools.  He is also the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Interestingly enough, State Rep. Kim Williams gave insight into this in a comment on Delaware Liberal last night:

House Bill 186 will require charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts like all other public school districts in the state. Currently, only public school districts are audited through the Auditor of Accounts. Sen. Sokola explained to us during the debate of House Bill 186 that his bill, Senate Bill 171, was drafted with the help of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, who represent charter schools and the leaders who have been stealing from Delaware taxpayers. Senate Bill 171 does not require the charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts office. The charter schools will be able to select who they want once again. Senate Bill 171 does nothing except protect the charter schools and not the taxpayers. I for the life of me cannot understand why these people do not care about protecting the taxpayers’ money; they are more interested in protecting the charter schools.

This is Delaware.  Those in power position themselves in the key positions so they can be re-elected over and over and over again.  Sokola is also the chair of the Senate Bond Committee so he can curry favor with the organizations that receive state funding through bonds and grants.  Sokola has not filed for the 2016 election, but his seat is up for grabs.  No opposing candidate has filed either, so there is still time.

I urge every single Delaware citizen to contact every member of the Delaware Senate to vote yes for House Bill 186.  Sokola’s anti-Williams bill will most likely be on the Senate Education Committee agenda for next week.  His bill will be fast-tracked for passage while Williams bill will either be voted down or sit in limbo.

I just wrote the Delaware Senators an email for my full support for House Bill 186, and I would ask anyone reading this to do the same:

Good morning Delaware Senators!

I wanted to ask for you support in voting yes for House Bill 186, State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit bill which passed with overwhelming support in the Delaware House on June 30th, and was released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  As a Delaware taxpaying citizen, I firmly believe our Delaware charter schools need rigorous examination with their finances.  We have seen far too many charters abscond with public funds for personal use in the past few years for their own personal use. 

I firmly believe, after carefully reviewing House Bill 186, that this bill would give the extra protections Delaware taxpayers need to make sure our dollars are being protected from those who would steal money from us.  If we are going to demand accountability in our schools, that needs to start at the top in each and every building.  Every single traditional school district is held to this same process, so why wouldn’t we include charters in this process?

I would urge all of you to read this article by Business Insider which was written on January 6th, 2016: http://www.businessinsider.com/are-charter-schools-the-new-mortgage-crisis-2016-1  This article clearly shows the environment charter schools exist in and there are red flags all over the place.  Charter school accountability and transparency was also addressed in the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama last month.  The ESSA demands more state responsibility in monitoring charter schools.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

Here is a list of the emails for our Delaware Senators, just copy and paste!

harris.mcdowell@state.de.us MargaretRose.Henry@state.de.us robert.marshall@state.de.us greg.lavelle@state.de.us catherine.cloutier@state.de.us Ernesto.Lopez@state.de.us Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us karen.peterson@state.de.us bethany.hall-long@state.de.us Nicole.Poore@state.de.us david.mcbride@state.de.us bruce.ennis@state.de.us Dave.Lawson@state.de.us senator-colin@prodigy.net brian.bushweller@state.de.us Brian.Pettyjohn@state.de.us gerald.hocker@state.de.us bryant.richardson@state.de.us David.Sokola@state.de.us Bryan.Townsend@state.de.us gsimpson@udel.edu

 

Charter School Fraud Ignored By Delaware House Republicans, Education Chair Jaques & Senator Sokola

“Rep. Dukes asked how many charter schools are under investigation.  Ms. Davies said seven.  Rep. Dukes asked if they were serious infractions.  Ms. Davies said some of the investigations are far enough along to know it is really bad.”

One of the most interesting legislative arguments in the past few months has been the saga of the charter school audit bill.  First introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams back in March, the bill has taken on different forms, culminating in a House Education Committee battle from 6/17/15.

The minutes from the 6/17/15 meeting clearly show a House divided with common sense prevailing on the Democrat side (with the exception of Education Chair Earl Jaques) and blissful ignorance on the side of the House Republicans.  When it comes to charter school accountability and transparency, this pattern consistently emerges and it does not bode well for the education system in Delaware when seven schools are investigated by the state Auditor of Accounts.  I asked one House Republican why they voted no on House Bill 186, but he was unable to remember why at the time.  This was late in the evening on June 30th, but I would think anyone would know why they voted no on a bill.

By the time the bill got to the Senate floor, Senator David Sokola immediately tabled the bill and demanded it be heard in the Senate Education Committee.  Sokola has long been a clear supporter of charter schools and has sponsored or supported many bills that give them the lack of transparency they currently have, including the original charter school legislation from 1995.

When the Delaware General Assembly shows a clear bias towards charter schools, who represent only 10-15% of Delaware students enrolled in these types of schools, but takes up so much of the conversation, it is very troubling to know charter schools can get away with so much.  When we have Education Committee chairs on both sides of the General Assembly who very openly make every attempt to protect these schools is extremely disturbing.  Even more alarming is the parents and supporters of charter schools who just don’t care, or continue to enroll their children in schools that have clearly had serious financial abuse.

I contacted the Auditor of Accounts office a couple weeks ago and spoke with Ms. Davies.  I asked again for the names of the other four charter schools being investigated by that office, but she explained she was not able to do so at the time because that could give a presumption of guilt when no judgment has been rendered since the investigations are still under way.  Which I completely understand but there is another side of this issue which I did explain to her.  Parents make choices for their children with different schools and they have a right to know if the school they choose has issues going on.  She understood that, but was still unable to reveal the schools.  I don’t blame her in any way.  It is a thorny issue.

We have to wonder, as citizens of Delaware, why certain legislators seem more concerned with looking good for the Delaware Charter Schools Network than showing clear transparency and open government for the constituents they represent.  Charter schools are not evil in and of themselves, but the secrets, lies, and cover-ups are increasing rapidly and the more they occur the more we see this insane protection of them by some of our legislators.