It seems random events are not so random at Providence Creek Academy, the charter school in Clayton, DE. It now appears that the audit investigation into suspected fraud by a former employee was missing a lot of information. Two other employees were also taking funds meant for students for their own personal use. Head of School Charles “Chuck” Taylor covered it all up. Continue reading “The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation”
It was one of those blink and you miss it moments. In the midst of budget negotiations in the early hours of July 1st, the Delaware House of Representatives voted again on House Concurrent Resolution #39 after Senator Colin Bonini added an amendment in the Senate. The bill passed the Senate but because the amendment was added, the House had to vote again.
Bonini’s amendment removed charter schools from being a part of any district consolidation discussion. When the bill came back to the House, State Rep. Kim Williams added another amendment which would remove the Delaware Charter Schools Network from membership on the district consolidation task force. It was a logical amendment. If charters didn’t want to be a part of the discussion, why would they want membership? The amendment barely passed with 21 yes and 20 no. The sole Republican yes vote came from State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman. Democrats who voted against it were Earl Jaques, Melanie Smith, Larry Mitchell, Quinton Johnson and Pete Schwartzkopf. None of those Dem votes really surprise me. Some who voted yes surprised me, but I have seen similar votes with charter related bills this year so perhaps there could be a shift in thinking on that front.
The Delaware Department of Education is the support agency for this task force. While no meetings have been scheduled at this point, the final report is due to the General Assembly by January 30th, 2018. I expect this task force will get going at some point later this summer.
House Concurrent Resolution passed the Delaware Senate a short time ago with amendment by Delaware Senator to take charter schools out of the district consolidation task force’s discussion. A prior amendment in the House from State Rep. Earl Jaques included charter schools in the task force discussion. Oddly enough, Senator Bonini’s amendment didn’t remove a representative from the Delaware Charter Schools Network from the task force.
Senator David Sokola said this bill did not have to be heard in committee but felt it was an important enough topic to have that voice.
Senator Bryan Townsend expressed hope that charters would be a part of the task force’s review. He said the intent of the legislation is a coordinated school system. He recognized Delaware’s unique education system and understood the ideological discussion of Senator Colin Bonini but still felt all Delaware public schools should be part of that system.
Senator Bonini’s amendment passed with 12 yes, 8 no, and 1 absent. For the concurrent resolution, it passed with 17 yes, 3 no, and 1 absent. I imagine it will come back to the House tonight.
Senator Townsend’s Senate Concurrent Resolution #39, requesting an advisory opinion from the Justices of the Delaware Supreme Court on the efficiency of Delaware’s public school system, was defeated in the Delaware Senate with 9 yes, 10 no, 1 not voting, and 1 absent. House Bill #142, dealing with training for School Resource Officers in situations dealing with students with disabilities, passed the Senate with 20 yes and 1 no. The Kim Williams sponsored bill goes to Governor Carney for signature.
For well over two years, Providence Creek Academy has been searching for a new Head of School. Let me repeat that. For over two years. And guess who is on the committee to hire a new Head of School? Chuck Taylor. The not-so-interim and more like permanent Head of School. How many interviews have they had? What is the hold up? If I were a betting man, Chuck is so glued to that school he weeds out anyone who could possibly replace him. In reviewing their board minutes for the past nine months, there has not been one mention of this committee or any type of interviews for a candidate.
I’ve always been curious how a charter school leader can hold that position when they aren’t even certified to do so. We hold that standard for traditional school districts, why not a charter school? This came up with the Delaware DOE during the school’s renewal a year and a half ago but I haven’t heard squat about it since. I would have to believe more than a handful of qualified candidates knocked on their door for this job. I have a sneaky feeling there are some in the PCA community who are wondering the same thing. How they aren’t exactly enamored with Chuck in this role. That they may be questioning his ability to effectively govern the school with his qualifications. I’ve also heard, and not just recently, that he rules over the school AND the board with an iron fist. A season of discontent? You better believe it! Many feel Taylor abuses his position and he owns their Board of Directors.
When he isn’t busy with PCA, Chuck helps out with the Delaware Charter Schools Network as the President of their board. He also serves on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education. How does a former shop teacher get so involved with charter school policy at the state level? Which will be very busy in the fall with no less than five charter school renewals on their plate.
In 2013, Chuck Taylor left Providence Creek. He “resigned”. He resurfaced in the fall of 2014 after a brief stint as interim Head of School at Campus Community School in Dover. The circumstances surrounding his sudden “resignation” are mysterious. I’m sure the reasons are tied up in some type of non-disclosure agreement. But when truly strange things started happening at the school in October of 2014 and many became worried about school safety and security, Taylor came back. It was meant to be temporary, but two years and eight months later he is still there. He guided the school through their renewal process last year but during all that one of their former employees was named in an audit investigation and alleged to have embezzled money from the school.
In April, the PCA Foundation was approved as a 501c3 non-profit. Somehow, this will allow the school to get a loan from the USDA according to their April board minutes. It also appears the Delaware Department of Finance approved the school for procurement cards with a maximum limit of $5000. Their board minutes do not specify how many p-cards the school received and which staff will receive them. The school was selected as one of two pilot schools for the changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system. The changes, which came from House Bill 399 last year, were not implemented at PCA and they bowed out of the new alternative pilot. They did, however, hire a non-educator to conduct their teacher evaluations at the school. This DPAS-II coordinator’s education experience consists of summer camp counselor experience. During the Spring, many parents became upset over a field trip waiver which parents felt did not adequately protect students. Quite a few spoke out in public comment during their May Board of Directors meeting.
To those who want to say “Here he goes again, bashing on charter schools”, that is NOT the case here. Aside from the ongoing Newark Charter School ruckus, I’ve probably been harder on districts than charters in the past six months. But all I will say is there is legitimate cause for concern and I’ll leave it at that. In this era of reduction in workforce notices and budget cuts, fear is a very powerful thing. I would love it if educators at PCA went on the record with whatever is going on there, but I also understand a need for staying quiet in what could very easily be seen as a hostile work environment. Delaware has fairly extensive Whistleblower laws on the books.
I don’t have all the details yet, but the Delaware State Board of Education is being held for another year in the Delaware Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee. There are several areas of concern the committee still has with the State Board of Education. I also heard someone from the State Board of Education named John Marinucci as the State Board’s contact person for all Delaware school boards. Marinucci is the Executive Director of the Delaware School Boards Association. Only 15 out of the 19 school districts in Delaware belong to that organization. None of the Delaware charter schools do either. So how could Marinucci possibly represent all the school boards to the State Board of Education? Anyone who has been around the State Board of Education knows who acts as a liaison between Delaware charter school boards and them- Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.
As soon as I know more, I will update this article. I heard this on the fly from several people while I was down at Legislative Hall today. Actually, I heard a lot of things down there today! All I can say is get ready for an absolutely crazy time from now until June 30th (July 1st for those who know how things work in Dover). If you think the conversation is heated now, strap your seatbelt on and get ready for an insane ride until the end of the legislative session!
Will Executive Director Donna Johnson and the State Board of Education meet the requirements to get out of Sunset review? I guess we have to wait until next year! But the fact they are being held over until then means they did not satisfy the committee. Meanwhile, long-time State Board of Education receptionist Danielle Moore is retiring at the end of June. I’ve seen Danielle probably hundreds of times between the Townsend Building and Legislative Hall. She is an awesome lady and is always courteous and genuine. Best of luck on your future endeavors Danielle!
Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads. As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters. This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.
As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools. The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st. They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out. But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett. As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000. How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money? How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?
If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education. They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters. Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE. This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina. The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this. The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it. And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly. But instead, they kept this a secret for many months. They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset. These were huge funding changes with charter payments. This was not a wise move for the charters involved. By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war. It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent. It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.
In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters. Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.
She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.
“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.
There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement. The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District. As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement. It states:
In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD. The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students. If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.
So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?
For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.
Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:
§ 604 Special programs.
(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.
(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.
(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.
The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government. They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade. They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades. Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined. The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers. It is not something the district can change on a whim. And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for. What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs. Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services. Then we get into the definition of a comparable service. Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?
Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section. It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways. State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters. As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do. That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws. We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware. A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law. Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process. I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters. Which is even more concerning in my eyes. The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task. A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.
What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability. This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it. Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case. It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina. That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have. Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds? Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds? The settlement does not define that.
If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district. They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students. They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district. That would take away from those students. But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts. They base this on projections within their own district. How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts? For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year. It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.
If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money. She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them. Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations. They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do. All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters. Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend. And charters are free to use this money as they please. So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get? When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs. In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges. You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding. That was the way the law for charters was set up. It was the price of admission into Delaware public education. So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.
Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education. Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations. By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns. But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns. The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School. They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit. The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding. But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are. I have grave issues with that. And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.
In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:
“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.
What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers? Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law? When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school? When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do? Massett cherry-picks her statements. She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true. And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics? Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request? The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information. And what happened? Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information. And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools. Kendall called that “a myth.” Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere. Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration. It is not legal action. It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education. With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way. For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.
Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas. At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state. Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network. In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics. But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools. They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization. I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize. But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from. It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it. That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.
In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware. The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. He promised billions of dollars to charter schools. To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education. A charter school lover if there ever was one. I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events. Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.
In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education. She will exert her influence on the General Assembly. If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it. She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way. But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole. If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big. But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware. There are other things that perform the same damaging results, but we can control how this particular relationship evolves. Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere. If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games. And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra. It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation. Fair goes both ways.
If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement. Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of. It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.
The Delaware Dept. of Education held the third meeting of the Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities in Delaware today. I can’t even make an abbreviation out of that one. Do not be confused with the Strategic Plan for Special Education that the DOE is also working on. In any event, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams was NOT a happy camper. While she is not a member of this committee, she attended the meeting and had some words to say to the DOE.
Apparently this committee came about as a result of an amendment on House Bill #56, the Wilmington charter school moratorium legislation signed by Governor Markell in 2015. The Dept. was tasked with reviewing all educational opportunities in the state including charter, district, and vo-tech. The DOE contracted with Public Consulting Group (PCG) to write up the report which came out last December. PCG continued to work on the strategic plan and came out with another report in October. In the October report, PCG made a reference to a District-Charter Collaboration Task Force. Which is ironic since they didn’t post minutes nor did they come out with a final report.
At one point during the meeting today, Delaware Senator David Sokola mentioned a need for low-income and special education information on school choice applications. David Blowman from the Delaware DOE allowed me to speak and I mentioned how the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, of which Sokola was a member, voted in the majority that information like that should not be on choice applications. I mentioned that it was recommendations from the task force but it showed a clear decision to not have those items on choice applications. Blowman agreed with me and said those items should not be on applications. This prompted Rep. Williams to speak…
In August, Rep. Williams contacted the DOE about this strategic plan. She contacted PCG and discussed the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which met for a year and a half, kept all their minutes, and came out with a mammoth-sized final report which was sent to the DOE and the General Assembly. She emailed a link to PCG. Nothing even mentioning the Enrollment Preferences Task Force made it into PCG’s October report. Williams blasted the DOE for this by stating she failed to understand how this strategic plan is meant to provide opportunities for ALL students. She was clearly (and understandably) upset the report gave no mention to a task force she devoted a year and a half to. But the District-Charter Collaboration Task Force, which had severe issues with transparency and no final report. It was obvious to many in the audience that this oversight was not simply a mistake on PCG’s report. I know for a fact the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson worked with PCG on their initial report which came out a few days before the final report for the Enrollment Preferences Task Force came out.
Senator Sokola asked Williams why she didn’t introduce legislation based on the recommendations of the task force during the last legislative session. Williams explained that the legislation wouldn’t have come out until March of this year and everyone was very wrapped up in the WEIC redistricting plan. Sokola said he can see that. But Williams did say she will be introducing legislation based on those recommendations when the General Assembly comes back in January. Williams argued that if she didn’t look at the October report from PCG and she didn’t attend this meeting, the DOE wouldn’t have even thought to mention the work 27 members of the task force worked on for a year and a half into this strategic plan. There was no clear response from Blowman or Susan Haberstroh (also with the DOE).
Williams mentioned the glaring omission two times. Eventually, Haberstroh assured the committee and Rep. Williams the Enrollment Preference Task Force report would be a part of the strategic plan. This was supposed to be the last meeting of this committee but once the subject of enrollment barriers came up it was obvious the committee would need to meet again which all agreed to.
There is something about this committee that seems off. Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques talked about the Christina School District a few times when talking about surplus school seats. As well, the subject of empty buildings districts own came up. I always find it to be odd when Sokola and Jaques, who are in their seats primarily because of voters from the Christina School District, tear into them. I didn’t trust it when Sokola mentioned having information on choice applications he knew damn well shouldn’t be on there.
When Jeff Klein with the University of Delaware presented a report on choice applications by zip code, he did say there was a section in Maryland. Sokola mentioned it could be a teacher sending their child to a Delaware school. Which I assume to be Newark Charter School. The DOE responded by saying it would be illegal for Delaware to pay for a Maryland student in a Delaware school. Sokola had a puzzled look on his face…
Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network asked a question similar to one she asked at the meeting a few weeks ago. She questioned why, as an example, if Woodbridge and Delmar school districts wanted a culinary program but didn’t have enough students to have a program, why they couldn’t push for opening a charter school to serve that need. Heath Chasanov with Woodbridge explained they do have a program with Delmar that Del Tech coordinates. I don’t fault Kendall for asking the question, but it would be more financially feasible for the districts to work together to offer programs in coordination as opposed to opening a brand new charter school that may or not fail. This was echoed by David Blowman.
I did find out, 100%, that there are NO plans for Prestige Academy to merge into EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations. Massett did explain that all the Wilmington charters are working with Prestige for a smooth transition for the students when the charter closes at the end of the year.
To read the reports PCG came out with in October, please see below.
A week ago, I published an article about the Alleyne Consortium. They wanted to give Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky some suggestions for the Delaware Dept. of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act first draft of their state plan. A source was able to give me the emails Alleyne sent to Godowsky. The irony that Secretary Godowsky didn’t respond to Alleyne is not lost on me.
From: Atnre Alleyne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 11:23 AM
Subject: An Open Letter: Opportunities for Delaware under the Every Student Succeeds Act
Dear Secretary Godowsky,
I am writing to share an open letter (see attached) a collection of 20+ Delaware community and business organizations crafted to provide an initial set of recommendations regarding Delaware’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Delaware. Specifically, this first letter from our group focuses on school accountability and reporting under ESSA.
The diverse set of organizations that came together around this statement did so because we believe ESSA offers us an opportunity to turn the tide for Delaware students and renew our commitment and urgency toward ensuring equity for every student. As a group, we recognize that while there are examples of success in Delaware’s education system, our system has a long way to go before we can claim every Delaware student is receiving the high-quality education he or she deserves.
Where possible, many of our organizations have participated in the opportunities created by the Delaware Department of Education to provide input on the transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for the state. Some of us also have the opportunity to directly provide feedback on the state’s ESSA plan as members of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee.
We compiled this letter understanding that, in order for the state’s implementation of ESSA to be successful, advocates and community groups need to play a more active role in pushing the system toward excellence.
Thank you in advance for considering the recommendations above as the state develops its ESSA plan.
Hell no, he didn’t try to get Rodel and the gang to usurp Delaware’s ESSA plan, did he? He sure did. But nine days later, not only did he email Godowsky again but he made a broad claim that more organizations joined in.
Good Morning Secretary Godowsky,
I hope all is well with you. Last week I emailed to share an open letter a collection of 23 Delaware community and business organizations crafted to provide an initial set of recommendations regarding Delaware’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Delaware.
As we have not yet received a response from the Delaware Department of Education, we are sending the letter again. I have also copied the members of the ESSA Advisory Committee so that they can consider the perspective of the community groups represented via this letter as they review the DDOE’s ESSA plan.
The version of the letter attached to this email now includes 24 Delaware organizations. Thank you in advance for considering the recommendations in the attached letter as the state develops its ESSA plan.
Now this is the funny part. Because in Alleyne’s march towards educational excellence, he seems to have forgotten to count. He put, in bold, there are now 24 organizations. In looking at this letter, I only saw 23. I blame Common Core for this.
I didn’t miss something here, did I? I counted 23. Luckily, I wasn’t raised with the Common Core standards. I imagine everyone at the Delaware DOE is given the Clockwork Orange brainwashing with Common Core so I am able to understand how 23 becomes 24 in Alleyne’s world. Unless he forgot to put in one of the pretty pictures for a 24th organization. But, I must admit, Alleyne did inspire me. Oh, how he inspired me. He is absolutely right. We DO need more input on this state plan. Much more! And I plan to get that. Because there is no way in hell Alleyne, Rodel, Teach For America, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable and TeenSHARP are going to steal this plan. So be on the lookout for my “stealing the thunder” plan. It will be marvelous! Okay, bad terminology to use in this day and age, but you get my point!
Awesome. Simply awesome. A non-profit company incorporated in Delaware can get all their funding from tax-payer local school districts, have their 501c3 status as a non-profit revoked, not file tax returns, and the State of Delaware doesn’t care. Earlier this afternoon, I wrote about how this exact scenario happened with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA). Two hours later, I contacted the Delaware Division of Corporations. Delaware doesn’t seem to care if a corporation files tax returns or not. There is no oversight mechanism in the State of Delaware to enforce anything related to federal tax filings. The Division of Corporations advised me that someone would have to get an attorney and go through the courts. Excuse me?
So DSBA can gouge school districts out of tons of money, but they will go to bat for them on legislation and counsel school boards on how to make sure board members have the most up-to-date board training. But they fail to show any transparency for how much money they receive, how they spend it, and what their losses are. That is just wonderful. What exactly does this organization do for school districts? They are glorified lobbyists taking funds out of schools.
I attended my local school board meeting a couple of months ago. One of the items on their agenda was “legislative priorities”. One of those priorities concerned special education and due process hearings. DSBA wanted my district to advocate for something that had never applied to their district. Why does everything in Delaware have to have some type of “association” attached to it? Once we centralize every group in the state, who watches that centralizing group? I’m sure for the members of DSBA, and those who sit on DSBA’s board, it looks great on the resume. “Look at me, I’m not only on a school board but also on the board of DSBA.”
Please… spare me the righteous indignation. How ironic that in this National School Boards Association guidance to state associations they offer the following advice:
State school boards associations have been established to provide a state-level network for members of local school boards to achieve common goals, support shared improvement efforts, and explore such widespread issues as board member training, policies, statewide needs, state and federal initiatives, and state and federal funding. Improving student achievement also must be a goal since it is the top priority of the state association’s members.
I am pretty ticked off about this as you can tell. Is it any wonder our state is corrupt as hell? What does our state offer oversight on when it comes to financial matters and transparency? It’s not like DSBA’s Facebook page tells us a lot.
Apparently, it is a-ok for DSBA to instill certain codes of ethics on local school boards, but when it comes to that ethical thing like FILING TAX RETURNS FOR YOUR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION WITH THE IRS, those ethics aren’t important.
…the Code of Ethics is recommended by the Delaware School Boards Association as a guide to its members as they strive to render effective and efficient service to their respective communities.
But according to DSBA’s website, this is their role in Delaware:
DSBA offers their members:
- Developing statewide legislative and funding priorities for public education in conjunction with the Legislative Committee and member boards;
- Monitoring the impact and progress of legislation introduced in the General Assembly which may affect the programs, operation, funding or administration of school districts;
- Planning and presenting orientation and training programs designed to enhance the effectiveness of school board members;
- Providing local school boards with information concerning those issues and activities which affect school districts;
- Coordinating legal services or local board efforts in those instances where boards share common concerns and goals; and
- Serving as liaison between school boards and other educational organizations or State agencies.
Can I add one?
- Show no transparency for how we spend taxpayer funneled money but thanks for your contributions chumps!
From their “membership” list of Delaware school boards, not every district board is a member of DSBA. Only 13 out of 19 are currently members: Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Colonial, Lake Forest, Laurel, New Castle Co. Vo-Tech, Poly-tech, Red Clay, Seaford, Smyrna, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge. As well, the Delaware State Board of Education is also a member. So it looks like Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney, Christina, Delmar, Indian River, and Milford have very wise boards who decided not to join this non-transparent organization.
DSBA is led by Executive Director John Marinucci and an Administrative Assistant named Linda Murphy. That’s it. That is their entire staff. They have an office in Dover. But of course many Delaware school board members govern the whole thing and decide what legislative priorities are best for school boards, even if those legislative priorities don’t even affect a member school district. So who are these elected officials and Governor-appointed Delaware board members, running 13 out of 19 Delaware school districts, who serve in another capacity for an organization that doesn’t file IRS 990 Non-Profit tax returns? Thanks for asking!
Officers- President: Joseph Brumskill (Brandywine), 1st Vice-President: Jennifer Burton (Cape Henlopen), 2nd Vice-President: Matthew Lindell (Capital), Treasurer: Cynthia Brown (Poly-tech), Director of Special Affairs: John Skrobot (Brandywine)
Other members of the Board of Directors: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Bobby Benjamin (Colonial), Nina Lou Bunting (Delaware State Board of Education), John Schulties (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), John Lynch (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Martin Wilson (Red Clay), David Tull (Seaford), Chris Malec (Smyrna), George Torbert (Sussex Tech), and Walter Gilefski (Woodbridge)
Legislative Committee: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Dr. Roni Posner (Cape Henlopen), John Martin, Jr. (Capital), Leo Magee (Colonial), Barbara Rutt (Delaware State Board of Education), Ronda Swenson (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), Mark Stellini (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Nancy Cook (Poly-tech), Kenneth Woods (Red Clay), Jeffrey Benson, Jr. (Seaford), Ron Eby (Smyrna), John Oliver (Sussex Tech), and Walter Rudy (Woodbridge)
They also have corporate members! Those are Stecher Financial Group, Johnson Controls, and Adelphia Furniture Inc. Two of those companies aren’t even out of Delaware!
On their calendar they have ZERO events on it, so we don’t even know when this organization and their various officers and legislative committees even meet. This is like the evil twin of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. For all the bitching I do about them, at least DCSN files their IRS 990 501c3 tax returns. Oh yeah, that’s because they didn’t get their status revoked for failing to file NINE YEARS. 28 school board members throughout the state. Do they get paid for their service to DSBA? We don’t know cause the non-profit doesn’t file a tax return!
My bad, the Delaware Online Checkbook changed over to the new Delaware Open Data Portal thing Governor Markell officially launched yesterday. So I can see that Delaware School Boards Association received $210,177 in FY2016. Here is the breakdown by district:
Cape Henlopen: $32,600.00
Delaware Department of Education: $13,930.50
Lake Forest: $10,300.00
New Castle Co. Vo-Tech: $8,784.50
Red Clay: $26,322.00
Sussex Tech: $4,862.00
And the following two school districts, who aren’t even members, didn’t seem to mind paying DSBA in FY2016:
Appoquinimink: $5,400 (cost per student: $1.92)
Indian River (dropped DSBA in fall of 2016): $3,000.00
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Because not only does DSBA bill school boards for dues, but also food, instructional supplies, and computer supplies. And it doesn’t matter if it is paid out of the Delaware Special Fund or the Delaware General Fund. Keep in mind all the below amounts are out of the overall totals listed above, but some of these categories are outlandish given the scope of what DSBA does. Ones I colored in red are potential audit red flags (I know, stop laughing)!
Appoquinimink: Computer Supplies– $2,700.00
Cape Henlopen: Computer Supplies– $9,100.00
Colonial: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00
Colonial: Meals w/in State (Breakfast/Dinner)- $349.66
Lake Forest: Computer Supplies– $34.00
Lake Forest: Equipment Rental-$2,700.00
Lake Forest: Food- $173.00
Red Clay: Other Professional Service- $8,100.00
Seaford: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00
Woodbridge: Other Professional Service- $421.50
Delaware Department of Education: Training- $208.50
I’m sorry, but in what kind of world does DSBA, which amounts to a lobbyist organization, provide computer and instructional supplies? Did Lake Forest rent a crane or something from DSBA? I didn’t see a school supply or rental tab on their website. And why do districts code these expenses all over the map? The food amounts would have been higher if other districts didn’t code it as association dues. So we elect school board members who go to meetings at DSBA, which gets over $200,000 of taxpayer money with a staff of two, and those school board members charge their districts for food? Are you frigging kidding me? And why is Cape Henlopen, who has half the amount of students in their district as Appoquinimink or Cape Henlopen, paying DSBA the most out of all the districts? And Woodbridge only has 2,466 students but DSBA gets over $18,000 from them? There is something seriously funky going on with this. Some of these districts are paying obscene amounts to this non-profit (who doesn’t file tax returns as a non-profit).
And don’t think for one minute it didn’t dawn on me that the Delaware Dept. of Education, who pretty much decides who sits on task forces and committees, and always seems to find room for someone from DSBA on them, pays a lobbyist organization who helps LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS over $13,000.00. I see Mr. Marinucci at most of the meetings I attend these days when the DOE is involved, especially ones around the Every Student Succeeds Act. I know, that is what lobbyists do! But when I see school boards wasting time with legislative priorities that don’t even concern their school district, an obscene amount of taxpayer money going to a non-profit that doesn’t bother to file tax returns, school districts coding expenses for this non-profit under whatever category they want (probably to get funds from the state and not out of their local funds), and the same organization not filing tax returns as a non-profit for almost a decade, I have some pretty major beefs with this organization.
The Cape Gazette did an article on DSBA on July 31st, 2015, a month after Indian River voted not to rejoin. They spoke with the First Vice-President, Jennifer Burton:
Cape Henlopen school board member Jen Burton serves as first vice chairman for the DSBA. She said membership is worth the $9,000 a year Cape pays, even though the association is going through some changes.
But when that membership becomes 3 1/2 times more than that $9,000 a year, what is the worth then Ms. Burton? Apparently Indian River didn’t feel the same way:
Indian River School District Board of Education withdrew July 13 from the Delaware School Board Association, saying $13,000 the district would have paid in dues could be better spent elsewhere.
“The Board came to the conclusion that its DSBA membership was no longer productive and that continuing to pay thousands of dollars in dues to the organization was not a responsible use of taxpayers’ money,” Hudson said.
But I guess it is okay for Indian River to use this organization for FREE at the expense of other district’s taxpayer money, right? Which means part of my school taxes, along with every other Capital School District resident, are going to pay for Indian River to rejoin something they felt wasn’t a responsible use of money? I guess when it is free, that’s okay. I don’t think so! I don’t pay local school taxes for Indian River. I pay them for Capital. And if I were citizens in the other DSBA districts, I would be upset too. I don’t elect school board members so they can help bail out other districts who don’t know how to spend their own money. If they want a bail-out on their DSBA dues, go to the state. That’s why I pay state taxes, not local taxes. DSBA has a lot of nerve asking other districts to do this. And yes, if you are not an employee of DSBA but serve as an elected official for your school district but serve on one of their boards or committees, you are acting as DSBA. Don’t believe me? Listen to Colonial’s Board of Education discuss this during their October 11th board meeting. Go towards the bottom of the page on this link to hear it.
In a presentation on DSBA, it was announced that the board of DSBA voted to allow Indian River to rejoin DSBA with full voting rights for free because of their “financial distress”. Yeah, distress caused by themselves. Just wait until that audit comes out! But let’s give them DSBA services for free! Colonial board member Melodie Spotts, upon hearing that DSBA hasn’t filed their tax return for nine years, put forth a motion to remove their membership in DSBA. The motion was defeated 4-3. Spotts was concerned how it would look after their board just voted to go out for a referendum. There was a lot of talk about promoting transparency around their refernedum and the appearance of paying membership fees to an organization that doesn’t appear to have financial transparency.
So DSBA, care to cough up nine years worth of tax returns and show the citizens of the state who elect school board members if they truly are getting their money’s worth?
On September 2nd, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman met with Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel, Joanne Schlossberg, Chuck Taylor, Margie Lopez-Waite, Kendall Massett, and William Manning at Newark Charter School. The last name is important because William Manning is the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education. William Manning is a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which also happens to be the lead charter school attorney law firm.
Delaware charter schools, especially ones alleged to “cherry-pick” students, have long complained about not getting their rightful share of money while at the same time they constantly boast how they “do more with less”. In fact, Manning complained about this to the U.S. Congress back in 2000, as I wrote in an article last year:
I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.
Manning served as the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education when the original Delaware charter school law was written in 1995. But where this gets more interesting is Manning’s very direct tie with the Delaware Charter Schools Network. His wife, Martha Manning, created the Delaware Charter Schools Network. She is also on the boards of Innovative Schools and the Red Clay Education Foundation.
Martha Manning stepped down from the Delaware Charter Schools Network in 2006, but her husband is still heavily involved with Saul Ewing LLP. It was not a coincidence he was called in for the Sept. 2nd meeting at Newark Charter School, mentioned above. Chuck Taylor is the Head of School and Providence Creek Academy, the President of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education. Margie Lopez-Waite runs Las Americas ASPIRAS. And Kendall Massett… good old Kendall… who gave a presentation at the State Board of Education meeting last month on, of all possible things, charter and district collaboration. The irony is still astounding! Kendall gave a quote to the News Journal yesterday:
Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said in a prepared statement, “We applaud the state Department of Education for recognizing the out-of-proportion exclusion requests from Christina School District this year and for taking steps to bring them in line, in the interest of fairness for students and to make the process consistent among all districts. But that decision was reversed after the deadline mandated by state law.”
Whatever Kendall! Many decisions were made without full clarity. In fact, the whole process beginning with the NCS Trio getting a meeting with David Blowman wasn’t readily shared with all district financial officers. In fact, we can see how the Delaware DOE actually blew off Robert Silber when he asked the DOE why they wanted a list of district exclusions.
This was why State Rep. John Kowalko submitted a request to Secretary Godowsky in early September for a list of who was involved and specific dates. Godowsky did provide that timeline and specific names to Rep. Kowalko on September 20th. Rep. Kowalko asked me to share this with the public so that everyone knows what the specific timeline was and who was involved in each step. In addition, there are several emails from the Delaware DOE to charter and school leaders.
From: May Alison <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request
Please find answers embedded in red below as well as attached copies of email correspondence in response to your questions.
I need to know the details of the meeting in April which was attended by Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel and David Blowman, with a list of anyone else who attended that meeting, whether from DOE, State Board, or other (for instance the DE Charter Schools Network, etc.). I would like to know if any legislators attended that meeting. I am also asking if there were additional meetings with any smaller groups discussing this matter and who were attendees. I want to know if there were any unannounced meetings w/CFOs or Superintendents regarding this issue. I realize the DOE has monthly meetings, usually separate, with all the charter and district CFOs. Has anyone else attended these meetings?
Those four were the only ones at the meeting, which occurred at the request of the school.
Please send me a timeline of events, including:
When the CFOs were notified about submitting a list of excluded information (in May as I’ve been made aware by one district) and whether the notification went to all districts and when was that list due.
*Discussed at April 8 Business Managers meeting (see agenda from April 7 email attached)
*Follow-up email sent May 25 (see attached)
*Christina response received June 8 (see attached)
Which individuals took part in the decision-making process regarding which exclusions were allowable or not allowable by DOE
*David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley
When (specific date needed) the new allowable exclusion list was sent to CFOs/Superintendents
*August 8 (see attached)
When (specific date) charters were notified so they could send their bills to DOE to send to districts
*August 12 (see attached)
When (specific date) DOE sent those bills to the districts
*August 16 (see attached)
When Bob Silber (Christina CFO) was notified of the exclusion issue with Christina
*See above dates
Please send a list of all persons that attended the meeting at Newark Charter last week. Steve Godowsky, David Blowman, Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel, Margie Lopez-Waite, Bill Manning, Chuck Taylor, Kendall Massett
As you can surmise I expect a list of any and all attendees at any meeting discussing this issue. Please send an accurate report of this information to me as soon as possible.
This also was discussed with superintendents at their September 1 Chief School Officers Association (CSOA) meeting at POLYTECH.
And this is what the Delaware DOE sent to State Rep. Kowalko in terms of email discussions concerning this issue. Note the absence of any emails from the Newark Charter School trio to anyone at the DOE prior to April 8th when they would have requested the initial meeting with Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.
In the complaint against Christina and the DOE, it states the charters want a full accounting of what funds were excluded from the local payments to charters going back to 2008. Why 2008? At that time, the Superintendent of the Christina School District was Lillian Lowery. Shortly after Governor Markell’s first inauguration in 2009, Lillian Lowery was confirmed by the Delaware Senate to become the Delaware Secretary of Education. The looming question is what was signed off on back in 2008 and 2009 by the Delaware DOE. Obviously, NCS feels this is some type of crucial timeframe which pertains to the lawsuit. But the even bigger question is who was giving them information and why. I’ve heard some wild tales about that timeframe. But until I am able to confirm anything, I will remain mum.
The News Journal just reported that a group of Delaware charter schools are suing Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education over the charter school funding issue that I broke at the end of August. This is unbelievable! I can’t believe they have the unmitigated gall to go behind the districts’ backs all Spring, have the DOE issue “updated” funding formulas in August, and then sue Christina and the DOE after Secretary Godowsky reversed course on the plan.
And who does the News Journal have as a fresh picture, taken two days ago? None other than Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network. When Newark Charter School’s Head of School Greg Meece and Kendall Massett get together, we should expect nothing but trouble. For all of Massett’s talk about wanting district and charter collaboration, she sure has a funny way of showing it.
Fifteen charter schools have filed suit against the state Department of Education and Christina School District to get what they claim is their fair share of funding. Christina has been withholding millions of dollars in local tax revenue from charter schools for years and the Department of Education has been complicit, according to the lawsuit.
Their fair share of funding is what they already get. I actually can’t wait to see this go to court. I will say it here and now… the charter schools will lose! Who is paying for their attorney fees?
Under the adjusted formula, Christina School District would have had to pay about $3 million more this year than it had been planning. For Newark Charter School, one of the chief beneficiaries of those funds, that would have meant an additional $1 million in revenue.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again… this amounts to Greg Meece going for an unprecedented money grab for Christina after they won their referendum last Spring. And I also have a pretty good idea why he thinks the charters will win. But I will hold that close to the vest for now. But that one goes all the way to the top of Delaware, right Jack? So how far back does this lawsuit go? How about 2008!
The lawsuit aims at reinstating the adjustments made to the statewide formula and forcing Christina to pay back what it has withheld since 2008.
Newark Charter knows that if they win this would bankrupt Christina which I have no doubt is their overall plan. And what then? All of Christina goes back to the state and would most likely convert to charters. Is Meece going to lead his long dreamed of Newark Charter School Network and take all those kids he didn’t want for the past 15 years? I know what happened in 2008 when a former Christina Board member told Meece they would get additional funds from their referendum but the board member spoke out of turn. Ever since, Meece has been gunning for Christina because of bad information. I also have a pretty good idea of where Meece got certain information from that is making him think he has a case. That will be the true revelation when all is revealed!
I would have to assume these fifteen charters are the ones that get funding from Christina School District, which is most likely every one in New Castle County.
On September 15th, a presentation will be given at the State Board of Education meeting by Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network. The subject: charter and district collaboration. The irony! Kendall will be joined by charter leaders AND district leaders. I’d give pretty good odds Dusty Blakey will be there. The Colonial Superintendent joined the board of Las Americas Aspiras last spring. What other district leaders will be in attendance? I’d give even better odds that Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski will NOT be there.
Who do you think will show up?
I’m going to guess Ed Emmett with Positive Outcomes, Matt Burrows with Appoquinimink, maybe Merv Daugherty with Red Clay, and could it happen? Greg Meece with Newark Charter School? They should be good as long as they don’t bring up FUNDING.
Incompetence seems to rule the Delaware DOE these days.
The Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Charter Schools, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network have been holding meetings this year to look at changing two areas of their annual Performance Framework. The Financial and Organizational Frameworks are two sections that have been controversial for charter schools in the first state. Some of the proposed changes are minor but some are very big. One statement from the proposed draft for the organizational framework probably sums up what many of the charter schools feel when these things roll out each year:
In order to avoid penalizing charter schools for anything less than perfection, the authorizer will apply a reasonable interpretation of sufficiency that acknowledges attentiveness, prudent compliance, and generally sound stewardship.
Let’s get real here Delaware! Unless a charter school falls apart like Delaware Met, Moyer, and Pencader, you aren’t going to see the DOE or even Red Clay doing a lot in terms of compliance on some of these issues. Especially website maintenance. Far too many charters have been raked over the coals by bloggers such as myself for not adhering to the law on tons of the requirements. But when it comes time for the charter to renew or get a modification, or even get a formal review, those things are rarely mentioned in the conversation. The State Board of Education rarely talks about any of that stuff. But in my eye, they need to be perfect with those things. The districts do as well (see: Indian River).
One of the biggest flaws in this new system pertains to board membership. Delaware law clearly states:
At the time at which the school commences its instructional program and at all times thereafter, the board of directors must include a teacher from at least 1 of the charter schools operated by the board and at least 1 parent of a student enrolled in a charter school operated by the board;
With this new organizational framework, they are proposing to change Delaware code, without any regulation or legislation, by giving charters a 90 day window to fill the parent and teacher slot for their board membership. This label in the framework would give the charter a “partially meets standard”. You can’t partially follow the law. You either do it or you don’t. In this area, you are either “meets standard” or “does not meet standard”. As well, they want to do the same thing with not posting minutes and financial information on their website, but this would have a 60 day window. You can’t cherry-pick through state law. If the law needs to change, lobby legislators to change it. But you can’t do it through the Delaware DOE and the State Board of Education. This Department continues to defy Delaware legislators. It is the legislators duty to write the laws of this state, not the Charter School Office at the DOE.
The proposed financial framework would give charters some leeway when it comes to reporting requirements or how they submit financial information with the state. Let me be the first to say ALL Delaware schools need to get some serious training on this. The training exists, but everyone seems to do what they want with limited to no oversight. There have to be uniform procedures and policies across the board for every charter and district in the state with absolutely no excuses. Once again, it comes down to partially breaking the law. A misnomer if I’ve ever heard one. But even more important, there have to be very real consequences for those who violate financial laws in our state. This is something I hope and pray the 149th General Assembly tackles when they come back in January. Because right now, it’s a train wreck.
I will fully admit I sometimes feel bad for the charters. Especially when it comes to the DOE’s constant nitpicking about things. An organization filled with more non-educators in leadership roles that doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a right and left hand most of the time.
But the most egregious thing out of all this: the window for public comment begins on September 1st. But try finding them anywhere. Good luck with that! I happened to find the below documents in the DOE search engine. How can you say this is an open, transparent, and collaborative method when the public can’t even comment on what you are proposing? Even worse, the State Board of Education won’t let you comment on any action item on their agenda. This won’t come up for final action at a State Board of Education meeting until their October 20th meeting, but if these documents are never released to the public it will be highly illegal for the State Board to take action.
The Delaware DOE Charter School Office needs to release these drafts to the public and let them comment on it. These documents have not been posted on the DOE website. Care to take a wild guess who is running the show on this? If you said David Blowman, that would be correct on the surface. Until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney, who left the DOE on July 1st, Blowman is the guy in charge. But in a very odd find, well, you’ll get the picture…
How can Jennifer Nagourney be the author of the below documents when she is no longer an employee at the Delaware DOE? Doesn’t she work in the Charter School Office at the New York City DOE now? What in God’s name is David Blowman doing? This is the same guy who has run the non-transparent local cost per pupil scam that has caused a “firestorm” in Delaware. The same guy who went ahead and sent out changes to school districts and charter schools without the old Secretary of Education Seal of Approval? And he is in charge of this hot mess? Where charters seem to think it will be okay to partially follow the law? With a guy like Blowman running the show no wonder they think they can do as they please! And, it goes without saying, I’m sure the Sisters of Sin, Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network have their hands involved in this. But Nagourney? Unless you are getting paid for this work when you are no longer employed by the State of Delaware, why are you even involved at this point? It’s not like I haven’t written about the old PDF right-click trick. And you guys keep forgetting that essential thing!
At this point in time, our General Assembly needs to meet for emergency hearings and subpoena the hell out of the entire Delaware Department of Education. Every single document in their system. Every nook and cranny, from top to bottom. The more than obvious fraud and lies coming out of this Department is readily available for anyone to see. I’ve proved it over and over again. But no one does anything about it. It’s time. You know it and I know it. So stop making postures and just do it!
Below are the two proposed frameworks. These are not approved, just in draft form.
Proposed Financial Framework
Proposed Organizational Framework
Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is about to set off an education war unlike any Delaware has ever seen. If you thought the school district vs. charter school war was loud before, you haven’t seen anything yet.
In Title 14, the Delaware Secretary of Education has the authority to change the local cost per pupil. When a student choices out of their feeder pattern, or their local school district, a portion of that school district’s local funds follows the student to the charter school. To keep things in perspective, no Delaware Secretary of Education has touched this formula in the past 15-20 years. There are slight increases each year based on inflation, but they are nominal in comparison to what Godowsky is about to do.
For big districts like Red Clay and Christina, this will hurt them… bad. Any local school district that sends funds to charter schools will be affected by this decision. Every school in Delaware already created their FY2017 budget months ago. Each school district and charter set their budget on the expected number of students they anticipate having. This was based on the same formula that has been in use for years and years. When a district has a referendum, the funds generated from that referendum are earmarked for certain things. Godowsky found a way to circumvent those funds to directly benefit charter schools in Delaware.
On August 8th, Secretary Godowsky sent all the Chief Financial Officers of each district a letter. He asked them to list all of their restricted and unrestricted funds in their local budgets. Restricted funds are not used in the calculation for money going to charter schools or other choice schools out of district. These cover many things, like building maintenance, consultants, and food services as a few examples. These are district expenses that only affect the district. These aren’t services the student would bring to the new school. The school the student choices to should already have those services. Godowsky is moving budget allocations that were previously in restricted over to unrestricted. By changing the way this is done, charter schools will get more money while districts will have less. How much more? It will differ between district and how much local money they have. Even though Christina choices out more students, Red Clay has more money in their local share based on their tax base. But the districts will bleed. A lot of money. From what I’m hearing it could be anywhere from 10-15% more money going to the charters, depending on the district. Millions and millions of dollars. This won’t just be a Red Clay and Christina thing. Think Colonial, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smyrna, Capital, Caesar Rodney, Indian River… these districts will feel the pain as well. Any district that sends dollars to charters will send more.
So when your kid comes home from school this year in school districts, don’t be shocked to see something cut that you thought they would have already had. For charter school parents, they will be happy when their kid gets some new things they might not have had before. In other words, charter schools will be getting more while districts will be getting less. This will be in the double-digit millions. I don’t have exact amounts yet. But if your district pays a decent amount of money to charter schools, they will be paying a lot more.
Secretary Godowsky didn’t just wake up one day and say “I’m going to change the local cost per pupil formula this year!” This wasn’t even his idea. For this, we can thank the folks at Newark Charter School. When Christina won their third attempt at a referendum last March, the school immediately pounced on Christina for more money. Everyone wants more money, but Newark Charter School is relentless with their greed. Immediately after the referendum, their board discussed a meeting that was about to take place:
This trio from the bastion of discrimination and cherry-picking in Delaware, good old Newark Charter School, is Head of School Greg Meece, Board President Steven Dressel, and their Chief Financial Officer, Joanne Schlossberg. The Superintendent of the Christina School District, in an Acting Superintendent role, is Robert Andrzejewski. The Associate Secretary of Education is David Blowman. This was in April of this year, a month after Christina passed their referendum. Ironically, Newark Charter School’s May board minutes seem to have disappeared. I did read these board minutes when they came out, but I don’t recall specifics (I should have saved them). I know there was a lot of discussion about the school refinancing their bonds. In looking at Christina Board minutes and listening to their audio recordings, I did not see or hear any mention of “Bob A”, as their Superintendent is frequently referred to, and this strange group of people meeting. I would like to publicly, right here, right now, ask Bob A what happened at this meeting and be prepared to discuss at their next Board of Education meeting on September 20th. You don’t get a skate out of Christina free card Bob A.
Bob A did have a meeting with Newark Charter School earlier this year. He asked Meece to support Christina’s upcoming referendum. Meece flat-out refused. Even though their charter school directly benefits from Christina School District with their five mile radius requirement for students. Even Governor Markell and Senator David Sokola supported the referendum. Which was a bit unusual. But even that mystery will be cleared soon.
Meece, backed by the Delaware Charter Schools Network I’m sure, successfully lobbied the Secretary of Education to change the local cost per pupil formula. By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education has up until September 1st of each year to do this. But if this wasn’t the final straw, get ready, cause it gets worse. Several sources are telling me this won’t just go into affect for this school year. Godowsky wants districts to pay for last year based on the new formula.
Districts are at a loss. They are in a frenzy and searching other possible remedies to address this education funding catastrophe. When was this decision made? I don’t have the answer to that one…yet…but I’m working on it. It has been in play since April according to the Newark Charter School May Board minutes. David Blowman, as the former Deputy Secretary of Education until earlier this year, oversaw the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE. Since their Executive Director left in June, Blowman has been taking on the responsibilities as the authority figure in that area of the DOE until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney.
I have to imagine that Meece had other help with this as well. Something this high up and controversial would have to fly by Governor Markell. I have no doubt in my mind Meece’s legislative buddy Dave Sokola had a hand in this as well. Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. I imagine the Delaware DOE will have to announce this by September 1st since this is the deadline for the Secretary to make these decisions.
This will create a war between school districts, charter schools, the DOE, the State Board of Education, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network unlike anything seen before. If this change in the way districts pay charters goes through, expect a lot of hardship on districts. Expect boons for charters. You will have to pick a side. You can’t sit there and stay neutral. Every Delaware candidate for public office is going to face this question. This isn’t going to be a situation where both sides can come to the table and stay neutral. This move by Godowsky is the knife in the back that will cause outrage.
All because one little man hates the Christina School District so much, and he continually runs his “great” school. The same school that continually benefits from the laws Delaware Senator David Sokola creates every single year. And from what I’m hearing, Sokola isn’t the only candidate running for office that is getting support from Newark Charter School. But the actions of this one little man will affect an entire state. If you thought the funding issues for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan were rough before, get ready for this whole thing to take on a whole new level.
I wrote earlier today about this with cryptic words. But make no mistake, Governor Jack Markell is leaving this in the lap of John Carney to deal with. Markell doesn’t give a crap about Delaware education. He has proven this time and time again. This is just one more of his final revenge tactics before he leaves office (he will have more if Jack lives up to his true self). Markell hates Christina. Watching him in the video supporting the district for their referendum… he looked like he would rather have a root canal. But it was very important their referendum passed. Which was why Sokola also supported it. If their referendum failed, Meece wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunity for his huge money grab.
This will affect every public school district student in the state. For years, education reformers true goals have been to privatize education. They found a very successful way to do it with charter schools. They suck money out of local districts until they are gone in some cities. But this time, I believe Meece overreached. The reputation of charter schools as greedy, money-sucking vampires of local school districts is now set in stone. All because of Meece. Remember this moment. Remember who started all of this.
District parents… I invite you all to attend the September State Board of Education meeting on September 15th. The meeting begins at 1pm at the Townsend Building in Dover. Bring picket signs protesting Godowsky’s actions. Give public comment and demand the State Board of Education take action on this abuse of power. Make your voice heard. Go to your local school district board meetings and tell them to not send this money to the charter schools. Go to the charter school board meetings and tell them they can’t get more while their children get less. I have no doubt the charter side will make a lot of noise. But only 10-12% of Delaware students go to charters. We have the numbers. We have the louder voice. And we have more voting power. Find out which legislators support the district side and which support the charter side. If they tell you they support both, they are useless. This war will demand strength in leadership.
When the dust settles on this, there will be casualties. The question that remains is how much more students have to suffer because of stupid little men like Greg Meece. We can’t tolerate this as a state any longer. We can’t have a third of our state budget benefitting charter schools and allowing our kids in school districts to suffer because of them. This has to change. The war began a long time ago, but take a side. And get ready to rumble!
I will be updating this story with new articles as they come out. This is going to be a long Autumn. With this action, Secretary Godowsky will replace Secretary Mark Murphy as the most reviled Delaware Secretary of Education in our entire history as a state.
For Immediate Release:
August 19th, 2016
Henry Clampitt, a Hockessin resident in the suburbs of Wilmington, DE, joined the Board of Directors at Gateway Lab School. Clampitt previously served as a board member for the top-rated but controversial Charter School of Wilmington. He is also a very vocal public speaker at Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education meetings. In a sense, Clampitt has gone from one of the highest-rated (as measured by standardized test scores) schools in the state to one of the lowest. While this hasn’t been officially announced by the charter school known for serving high populations of special needs students, he does appear on the list of their Board of Directors as shown in the below graphic. It is unknown when he officially joined the board since their board meeting minutes have not been updated even though they have had two official board meetings since then.
As a boisterous supporter of Delaware charter schools, Clampitt served on the Enrollment Preference Task Force in Delaware and supported charter schools abilities to pre-test students prior to enrollment. He also serves as a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee for the Delaware Charter Schools Network, a lobbyist organization that advocates and protects charter schools in Delaware. He received a certification from the Delaware Department of Education for Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and Board Member Finance Training. In addition, as per his LinkedIn account, Clampitt received his real estate certification from the Delaware Department of Professional Regulation. In addition to his job at Strategy Services, Inc., Clampitt keeps himself very busy with his support of charter schools.
A source, who wished to remain anonymous but did allow me to use their alias “CherryPicker2016”, said the following about Clampitt’s new role:
I think Clampitt will be a wonderful addition to Gateway Lab School. He has the charter school expertise and wherewithal to serve on a charter school board. He knows his way around charter schools given his time at Charter School of Wilmington. I believe any board member is a good thing, whether they are publicly elected or not. Why wouldn’t Gateway want a fervent charter supporter like Clampitt?
Another source, who also wished to remain anonymous but also allowed me to use their alias of “Erece Desiul Blup” had this to say:
This guy talks and talks. I hope Gateway invested in some good audio recording devices for their board meetings and have a lot of memory on their servers. They are going to need it. Perhaps this means he won’t be going to as many Red Clay board meetings. That would be super!”
I did advise Mr. Blup that this blog will be very interested to hear what Mr. Clampitt has to say at future Gateway board meetings.
Rumors swirled months ago that Clampitt may be attempting to run against Red Clay Board Vice-President Kenneth Rivera next year, but nothing came of that. Additional rumors, based on a fake Twitter account, suggested that Clampitt was using an alias to post on a local blog in support of charter schools, but that has never been 100% substantiated. That particular anonymous commenter gave a farewell post on the local blog a while back indicating they would no longer be posting there, it was time to move on, and something to the effect of “the lawn sign is down”. The commenter has not been back since.
Ironically enough, Clampitt served on the board at CSW during a tough time in the public spotlight. In December of 2014, CSW was named in a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union against the Red Clay Consolidated School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education. The complaint alleged that CSW, along with other charter schools in the state, were furthering discrimination in the state by allowing charter schools to use selective enrollment preferences in their admissions processes. The Red Clay Consolidated School District is Charter School of Wilmington’s authorizer. At that time, Charter School of Wilmington had a .2% population of students with disabilities, 6% African-American students, 2.3% low-income students, and .1% English Language learners. Since Clampitt left their board, CSW was able to raise those student populations. As of the 2015-2016 school year, they jumped to .5% students with disabilities, 6.8% African-American students, 3.7% low-income students and .2% English Language learners. At the same time as the ACLU complaint, Clampitt served on the board during an era of “non-transparency” as “Cherrypicker2016” put it, and the board was criticized by their authorizer for not putting board minutes and financial information on their board site as required by Delaware state code.
During this time, Gateway Lab School was in the midst of their own turmoil. They were up for charter renewal with the Dept. of Education. The initial recommendations coming out of the committee were to close the school over low standardized test scores, but a public outcry from parents of the school, other charter school supporters, legislators, and concerned citizens and organizations prompted the Delaware State Board of Education to put the charter school on probation. This reporter did comb through the hundreds of pages of public comment during this process and was unable to find any letters of support for the school from Clampitt or Charter School of Wilmington.
In an October, 2015 Delaware Charter Schools Network newsletter, Clampitt was chosen as the “Parent Spotlight” recipient. When discussing education politics, Clampitt did not recommend this for everyone.
Education politics is a challenging topic. I would say that parents should only get involved in educational politics if they can keep focused on the issues rather than on the people behind them. The political process is not for the faint of heart.
When asked in the same newsletter what he would do if he had a million dollars, Clampitt responded with:
Well, let’s be clear that this would be “the million dollar windfall” I have been waiting for. When it arrives, I would like to use it to help endow a fund for the expansion of CSW so that more students could be enrolled and enjoy this excellent high school experience.
Clampitt did not elaborate if this imaginary CSW expansion would entail changing their enrollment preferences. But after Clampitt left the board at CSW, their board did begin to talk about these topics in a new light. When asked about this very topic during one of the Enrollment Preference Task Force meetings, their board minutes from October, 2014 reflect a response from Clampitt as:
Some students, possibly due to a bad day or other life experiences, do not make it to the specific interest through the rubric.
At the next meeting of the task force, Clampitt said:
Assessments are an important tool to gather necessary information on an applicant, using interest as an example.
In February of 2013, Clampitt volunteered his services to the now closed charter school, Pencader Business School. He attempted to train their newly constructed board prior to their charter revocation by the State Board of Education.
This blog would like to congratulate Mr. Clampitt for furthering his voluntary efforts on charter school boards. While this blog may not always agree with charter schools, this blog does feel it is important for certain charter school board members to serve on charter school boards. Charter schools are autonomous of many rules and regulations traditional school districts are subjected to, so this blog feels it is necessary to point out the difference between non-elected charter school board members and publicly elected district board members. Mr. Clampitt has a very fine and distinguished career serving on charter school boards.
Newark Charter School found a way to overtly break Delaware charter school laws and they are using parents and students to do it.
Yesterday, an anonymous source informed Mike Matthews that Newark Charter School’s student body activity funds are legit. Be that as it may, they aren’t reporting the revenue generated from these activities. Instead, they are putting at as an expense on their monthly budget. They aren’t reporting this revenue anywhere. But they are showing the expense on their monthly budget. How much are they getting overall? That is unknown, but I was able to find out they are using student body activity revenue to pay for items they should not be according to Delaware law.
Newark Charter School does not post a 990 IRS tax form on their website. They are exempt from even filing this return. Why? Because way back during the Bill Clinton years, they had elected officials on their founding board. Granted, none of those elected officials are there anymore. No one has ever questioned NCS at a state level about this before and they just assume it is alright. Even though the IRS issued very specific guidance to charter schools about this type of exemption. But of course Newark Charter School takes advantage of this ambiguity. Until the IRS determines they are not exempt, they will continue to not file tax returns. Even though they should and the reasons for them not doing so are the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. On IRS 990 tax forms, non-profit corporations are required to show any revenue they receive. They don’t have to pay taxes at all, but they are required to show their numbers.
There are a multitude of reasons why Newark Charter School would not want to file an IRS tax return. They are the only Delaware charter school specifically exempt from this. Academy of Dover had their corporation status rescinded by the IRS some years ago, but the Delaware Dept. of Education turned a blind eye to this glaring fact during the school’s formal review last year which was in part over financial viability. Eventually, Academy of Dover was able to restore this status and are now filing their 990 forms on their website. But Newark Charter School took advantage of the bogus loopholes in this IRS regulation and have had a field day with it ever since.
This was my biggest issue with any changes to House Bill 186, the original charter school audit bill. My sense was that anything even associated with charter school audit legislation would only be tainted by Senator David Sokola. This would somehow benefit Newark Charter School and keep their finances in the dark. Anyone can make a budget and show numbers on it, but a true audit and an IRS return would show a lot of information. They would have to report the revenue they receive from students or their parents for field trips and student body activities. But they aren’t. No one can see this information. If they get such a huge amount of money from these activities, they should be fully transparent and post their revenue stream on their website. But they don’t.
On their monthly budget sheets they are required by state law to post on their website each month, they list student body activities as part of their operating budget. Operating funds are part of state and local funded expenses. If they have students pay for field trips and they write a big fat check to, say, the Bermuda Institute, and put that as an expense in their budget, that means they are getting these funds from the state and local funds. Granted, their budgeted amount for student body activities in FY2016 was $300,000 as shown in the below pictures. But their budget forms the picture of how much money they will need to operate as a school. This is the spine of any charter school or district’s operations.
Newark Charter School 7/2015 Monthly Budget: Revenue
In the above picture, we see the school’s projected revenue for FY2016 as of July, 2015.
Newark Charter School 7/2015 Budget: Expenses
Above, we see their projected expenses. Note the Student Body Activities amount of $300,000.
Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Revenue
By June of 2016, their revenues looked completely different.
Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Expenses
Their expenses, especially Student Body Activities went up as well, mushrooming to over $445,000. This was $145,000 over what they budgeted for this category. As if it was almost planned…
This brings us back to the current situation at the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. As I wrote earlier this week, there is some shady business going on there. Kathleen Davies had my tip about NCS and Academy of Dover’s lack of IRS 990 forms and I believe it was an active investigation. I know this because I received a call from John Fluharty about it in March, two months before Davies was put on “leave”. He wouldn’t call to get information if it was not active. If that office was leaning towards NCS needing to put up their 990 tax forms, invariably the inspection would lean towards “Why aren’t they putting up this information?” which could further lead towards a full investigation of their finances.
Senator David Sokola has been the Senator for the 8th District since 1995. This district surrounds most of Newark Charter School’s five mile radius. Sokola helped in the creation of Newark Charter School. He even joined their board for a stint in the mid 00’s while also an elected Senator, which is perfectly legal in Delaware. But in his stint as a Delaware Senator, he has essentially served as a buffer between the school and true accountability. Sokola is a senior-ranking Delaware Senator. Not only is he the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, but he is also the Senate Chair on the Bond Committee. If you look at a lot of the legislation about education he writes, every single bill has benefitted Newark Charter School in some way. I’m sure if you look at some of his non-education legislation, including ones about land usage, those would benefit the school as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought out loud about Senator Sokola.
In my fictional novel I am working on about Kathleen Davies and whodunit, I would put Senator Sokola as the lead suspect in this mystery. He has the means, the motivation, and the pull to get something like this done. He is well-connected with the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Rodel. Since he is also in tandem with many House and Senate Republicans over charter schools, it would stand to reason he would lend his ear to them and get a fire going. As well, he has a very cozy relationship with the State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky. As the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, this is to be expected, but he always seems to be able to get support for his bills that do more damage to public education. His connections with the Delaware Charter School Network go back many years. He has frequently been involved with the Rodel Foundation sponsored Vision Coalition. He is a firm believer in standardized testing and teachers being judged by those scores. He put in very damaging amendments to House Bill 199 a couple months ago based in large part on feedback he received from his beloved Newark Charter School. He is no friend to traditional school districts. As the Newark Charter School legislative cheerleader, he can count on votes from his constituents who have students attending that school. With a student population of over 2,000 students, that is a lot of votes. In exchange, he allows them to operate with no transparency, accountability, or oversight through his legislative input.
Now some will say Tom Wagner is a staunch Republican and Sokola is a Progressive Democrat! How could Sokola convince Wagner to do anything? He didn’t have to. Somehow, someway, the “whistleblowers” in the Davies complaint to the Office of Management and Budget were told exactly how to get Davies. This idea had to come from someone with advanced knowledge of the rules and regulations of the Delaware accounting procedures and policies. We know Newark Charter School knew about what was going on with Davies and her “administrative leave” from the Auditor of Accounts office based on what they put in their June Board meeting notes:
In Delaware politics and education, there is no such thing as a coincidence. The fact Schlossberg would bring this up a month after Davies was put on leave is very telling in my opinion. We know the Delaware DOE already knew about all this because one of their employees told me about in late May. So if that person would tell an education blogger, it would stand to reason many in the state knew as well. NCS, in their board meeting minutes over the past year, has been very diligent about discussing legislation that could impact charter schools (especially the charter school audit bills). But to write about how Davies was specifically put on leave, something I wasn’t even aware of until last Saturday when the News Journal came out with their article, would suggest having very intimate knowledge of the case against Davies. So much so that they wanted to adopt this into their board policies. The News Journal article never even specified if their information was coming from their “sources” or the Office of Management and Budget.
NCS connection with Sokola would give them instant knowledge of anything going on at a statewide level. But this has always been my big question about the charter school audit bills: why were they fighting them so hard? Especially Newark Charter School? Some answers can actually be found in the oddest of places. Newark Charter School’s selected auditor for their annual required audits is Barbacane Thornton and Company. As seen below, they do this work for many Delaware charter schools.
In looking at this list, I see quite a few charter schools who have landed in hot water at the State Auditor of Accounts office: Academy of Dover, Delaware Military Academy, and Providence Creek Academy. One of their lead accountants, Pam Baker, testified in opposition to Kim William’s third attempt at a charter school audit bill, House Bill 186, in June of 2015:
She said this bill takes away responsibility from the board to select (an) independent auditor and takes away the opportunity for charter schools to do that effectively.
Now why would someone who is hired by many of these schools to do their audits put her neck out there for schools she knew were under investigation? As well, her statement basically said “they may not be able to hire the firm I work for” which would show a clear conflict of interest in her sworn testimony. A lobbyist for the Delaware Charter Schools Network even spoke on behalf of the business office of Newark Charter School at this meeting:
Nitin Rao, DCSN, spoke on behalf of the business manager of Newark Charter School in opposition to the bill.
For a school that seems to have a great deal of extra revenue after their year-end expenditures each year, this was a head-scratcher. Like many who felt the same way, I questioned whether the charters opposition stemmed from the cost involved with the legislation or more what these new audits through this legislation would find.
But what Kathleen Davies said at this meeting was the essential problem with the charter school audits in Delaware:
Kathleen Davies, Chief Audit Administrator at AOA, said AOA does not have any firms under contract that conducted any charter school audits. She rebutted that the IRS filing mentioned by Pam Baker is a non-audit service and those fees are not part of the audit work. She said there have been a lot of terms thrown around and the only requirement for charter schools, with regard to oversight, is GAP compliant financial statements. She said there are currently seven investigations on charter schools underway because of mismanagement of funds. She said fraud and abuse were never brought to anyone’s attention for these seven schools. She said AOA has subpoena power and a firm, under AOA contract, can be used to address the issues found. She said those seven charter schools got a “clean bill of health” with no findings and no body to identify issues. She said this bill would change that.
Notice Davies brought up IRS filings. As we all know, Newark Charter School doesn’t even have to file with the IRS because of their “special” exemptions. IRS filings require all sources of revenue. Which brings us back to Student Body Activities.
If student body activity expenses are an item in the school operating budget, they are counting on this money from the state and local funds. But the issue comes in when these student body activities are pre-planned field trips and events that students or parents pay for prior to the actual event. I can certainly buy the notion that teachers or the school would have to pay for many of these events ahead of time. And as Head of School Greg Meece is the only person in the school who has a state procurement card, teachers or the school would have to pay out of pocket ahead of time for these activities. But to spend $445,000 in student body activities for a school population of over 2,100 students, there would be a bucket load of revenue coming in from field trip money. This is the revenue we are not able to see. At all. Anywhere. Trust me, I looked. All over the place. There is nothing on Delaware Online Checkbook showing any such revenue. If this revenue was put back into the school, we would see it as negative amounts in their expenses. But they don’t exist through the state accounting system. Therefore, they are only showing the expenses of student body activities and not the income that comes back as revenue to offset those costs.
Without knowing exactly where they put that revenue, I can safely guess where they put the entire $449,575.29 they reported as “student body activity” on Delaware Online Checkbook. They used that revenue to pay for the remaining amounts on two capital building projects they contracted with one company to perform.
In the fall of 2014, Newark Charter School started talking about building a Performing Arts Center and a STEM Laboratory Suite. Since these are capital projects, not minor capital improvements, they would not be able to get funding from the state as dictated by the Delaware charter school law.
So even though Newark Charter School received $273,447 from the General Assembly for FY2016 for minor capital improvements, they could not use it for projects of this magnitude and scope. Since the Performing Arts Center would be an entirely new addition to the school and the STEM labs would require structural change to the building, these two projects did not qualify for minor capital funding. So how much capital funding would they need to obtain for this project? Quite a bit according to their application for the Delaware Charter School Performance fund in the Spring of 2015.
As part of Delaware charter school law, NCS had to submit a minor modification request for these projects. They did so, and it was approved by then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy according to their December 2014 board minutes:
But in their application for the minor modification, Meece either greatly underestimated the costs for the project or later added more bells and whistles to the whole thing. Because the original projected amount was $853,088. At no point in time did NCS resubmit a new minor modification based on the financial difference between the original amount and the projected amount, a difference of $636,061. But the section of the application where it asked about financial impact on the school was very enlightening:
Greg Meece and Joanne Schlossberg, their Business Manager, knew they would have to get a lot of money for this project and began working the foundation circuit. They were able to obtain funding from the Longwood Foundation ($500,000), the Welfare Foundation ($125,000), and the Calder Foundation ($79,000). They applied for $400,000 in the Charter School Performance Fund (even though the maximum amount any Delaware charter school could win was $250,000 that year). They received the maximum amount of $250,000. Even though they were able to generate a lot of funding in a very short time, they were still short from the budgeted amount. By $535,149.00. Since construction was already underway by this point, the school had to raise the remaining funds for the projects or use funds from their reserves.
In June of FY2015, the board’s treasurer stated the school was $668,000 favorable for revenue “due to the annual fund and pledges from the capital campaign”. The school received the Longwood Foundation grant in June of 2015. In July of FY2016, the treasurer stated the school was not $1,283,000 favorable in state revenue due to the grant funds received from the Longwood Foundation and the Welfare Foundation in FY2015. As well as the other grants they received in June of 2015, they received the $79,000 grant from the Calder Foundation and $250,000 from the charter school performance fund in July of 2015. At their September 2015 board meeting, it was announced the funds received from the Longwood and Welfare Foundations were received in FY2015 so they could not put this as revenue in FY2016 even though they budgeted these funds for FY2016. This caused their revenue to be unfavorable in the amount of $961,000. But they were going to amend their budget to make this happen. While a lot of these revenue figures are all over the map, it is important to look at the $668,000 talked about in June of 2015. If the school already had pledged amounts coming from the Longwood and Welfare Foundations totaling $625,000.00, it would stand to reason their remaining “favorable revenue” came from their annual fund. Which leaves $43,000 they had remaining from their FY2015 annual fund which they committed towards this project. This reduced their shortage for the two projects to $449,149.00.
Earlier this week, I posted an article about Student Body Activity funds and questioned why Newark Charter School is showing such a high amount for this. Based on this article, I showed how a FOIA received by a Delaware citizen showed NCS as spending $445,000 in student body activities as of 7/2/16. As of 8/2/16, that amount increased to $449,557.29. Now if you notice the projected amount for the STEM Laboratory Suite in the above picture, that amount is for $449,588. Almost the exact same amount as the expenditures for their student body activity. If this fund is meant for just student body activities, they should not be going towards capital costs, such as the creation of a STEM Laboratory and a Fine & Performing Arts Center. Delaware law is very specific about this and the business manager and Greg Meece are well aware of these laws.
How much did these two projects actually cost Newark Charter School? $1,512,599.08. They contracted with Daystar Sills, a construction company in Delaware. The difference between the projected amount in their charter school performance fund application and the actual amount was $23,540.08.
If you add up the following figures:
$43,000 from their FY2015 Annual Fund
$500,000 from Longwood Foundation
$125,000 from Welfare Foundation
$79,000 from Calder Foundation
$250,000 from Charter School Performance Fund
The total amount is $997,000. Which leaves them very short of the eventual $1,512,599.08 those projects were going to cost. We know, as of their November 2014 board minutes, the school received $64,000 from an auction they had. This was their 11th annual auction.
They had their next auction in November of 2015, but at their November 2015 board meeting, Greg Meece did not give an amount of how much they generated.
By not publicly mentioning how much they received in their FY2016 auction, they could leave this open for future use as they saw fit. Since there was never a capital fund amount given, we would have to assume it was close to the amountselaw they received in prior years.
Since they are so short on this capital project, and we don’t know where the money is coming from to pay for the rest, watch what happens when we add this to the $997,000:
$449,575.29 from FY2016 Student Body Activity expenses
We now get a grand total of $1,446,575.29. They are still short $66,023.79. We can safely guess where those funds came from based on their FY2015 Audit with Barbacane Thornton & Company:
Note how NCS received $77,226 in pledged monetary support in FY2014 and $67,812 in FY2015. It would stand to reason they used their FY2016 pledge amount to supplement the rest of this bill from Daystar Sills. The school could never use extra local reserve funds because those funds could only be used for operating expenses or minor capital improvements based on Delaware charter school law. They could not be used for capital building projects. Meece knew this, and Mark Murphy should have. The fact that Meece applied for a minor modification for this huge project and didn’t know the true estimate of the costs, didn’t have the capital funding when he applied for it, and operated on the assumption that Mark Murphy would just take it at face value that the school could always fall back on local appropriation reserves speaks volumes about the arrogance behind Newark Charter School. Meece and Schlossberg, in my opinion, knew exactly what they were doing with all of this. They knew the project would be short and planned ahead of time.
In June of 2015, they budgeted $300,000 for student body activity. This would have been a very good guess on the amount they would need to pay towards the final bill for this project. Because at that time, they somehow thought they could get $400,000 from the charter school performance fund. This turned out to be a huge error on their part because they had to somehow find a way to get another roughly $150,000 when they only got $250,000 from the performance fund. This is how their Student Body Activity expense amount went from a budgeted $300,000 to a little bit shy of $450,000. They actually planned for this amount, in my humble opinion, based on how the project was turning out. Once they realized their error with the performance fund, they got to work.
To use a shell student body activity account to pay for Capital projects is an obvious violation of Delaware state law. To never report the revenue they received from parents and students should be a violation of state law. To use parents and students money to disguise illegal activity is fraud, pure and simple. Because I am not a judge or a jury, I cannot say with 100% certainty this is exactly what Newark Charter School did. If I were writing a fictional novel, either as part of the Kathleen Davies whodunit or a new one on Newark Charter School, because no criminal charges or official allegations of wrongdoing have been laid out by any type of legal authority in the State of Delaware, I would say there is most likely a strong connection to this activity going on at Newark Charter School and Kathleen Davies eventually being put on leave. I believe NCS knew there was an investigation going on with their IRS 990 forms. I believe they knew their exemption was a glass house that would eventually have many stones thrown at it. While I don’t think it was a case of Senator David Sokola going to Tom Wagner and saying “You have to stop this audit inspection cause my buddies at Newark Charter School could get in trouble”, I do believe the goal was to slam the character of Kathleen Davies. By doing so, it would undermine the audit inspections she already completed (the September 30th Enrollment Count inspection and the Millville Fire Department audits which were either pulled or redone). As well, it would cast a doubt on audits already underway. I believe the right amount of pressure was put on Tom Wagner by the Office of Management and Budget to get Davies put on leave. Aside from the false accusations of Davies abusing the travel reimbursement accounts by not using the state procurement card, there had to be a confrontation to push Wagner towards that decision. The accusations by itself wouldn’t be enough. There had to be that one final straw.
The Delaware Department of Education wanted the September 30th Enrollment Count done. When the report came out, they disagreed with Davies recommendations in the report. They complained to Wagner. This I do know. What happened next, I can only surmise. Wagner wanted Davies to change the report. Davies said no. Boom.
Once Davies was gone, Wagner could kill the petty cash audit which would have shown charter schools abusing the petty cash policies in the state. He did that and instead sent letters to all the charter schools that violated the petty cash policy with no ability for the public to see those letters. He pulled the September 30th audit. He took out Davies letter at the end of the Millville Fire Department inspection report. We don’t know what is happening with the Newark Charter School IRS 990 Form Audit Inspection. I have to assume we will never see it. Unless someone gives a very good reason why the school would strongly benefit from not filing such a tax return. Someone would have to show how they hide things financially so they can get what they want. Then Tom Wagner’s office would have to act fast and get into that school and investigate ALL of their finances, from top to bottom. He would want to subpoena all of their bank deposits. He would have to turn the information over to the Delaware Attorney General’s office and in an ideal world, that office would act on that information. If any federal funds were found to be abused in the findings of this investigation, the FBI would have to get involved. Since this school has been around fifteen years with no IRS tax filings, I would assume the FBI would be very interested in how much revenue this Delaware corporation has received and would want to account for every single penny going in or out of the school. If the FBI didn’t have anything to go on, I would have to imagine the State of Delaware would based on the information they would get out of their investigation. Not to mention the very shady and scummy enrollment practices this school has had over the years in their attempts to have perfect high-stakes test-takers. In their isolated and non-transparent world with a five-mile radius around the flagpole at their high school, some of which goes into a neighboring state, but determines what students can or can’t go to their elite wannabe private school. Where parents can afford to pay for extravagant field trips because they don’t have to use those funds for a private school because this school is so perfect. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have this. But this isn’t an ideal world. This is Delaware.
I have no doubt Newark Charter School is not alone in Delaware with these kinds of financial games. I think it has happened quite a bit, and not just in charter schools. I think it has happened in our districts as well. Maybe not the same chess move NCS pulled on this one, but other moves designed to give an advantage of some sort. We’ve seen it before and we will see it again. Until someone turns the board over and makes new rules for the game. That is what needs to happen in Delaware. This is my mission and others have this vision as well. We keep waiting for someone in power to step up and do the right thing. All we hear is silence.
To see the full FY2015 audit for Newark Charter School, please see the below report:
Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner has a lot of explaining to do. And possibly Governor Markell as well!
Things are getting a bit clearer now. On the Kavips blog, Delaware State Representative Kim Williams wrote a comment on Kavips take on the Kathleen Davies situation playing out at the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. She wrote about how she contacted the auditor’s office last September regarding some concerns she had with a Delaware charter school’s petty cash activity on Delaware Online Checkbook. The report was near completion prior to Kathleen Davie’s abrupt “leave of absence”. Williams even had a comment she approved that would have appeared in the petty cash audit inspection.
Williams emailed Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner to find out the status of it following Davies’ leave. Wagner told her he stopped the audit and issued letters to all the charter schools instead. Really Wagner? I know which school Williams found on the petty cash situation. When the Charter School of Wilmington wrote in their board minutes that the auditors were there to review their petty cash accounts, I knew something was up. So I checked all the charter schools petty cash activity. Some of them were quite egregious compared to what they are allowed to have in those accounts. But I figured I would wait to see the report before I wrote about it. In other board minutes, CSW board members asked where the audit was and they were going to contact the auditor to find out. I find it very interesting they chose to write about this one particular audit, not once, but twice.
So now we have an elected official voluntarily choosing to cover up information. This makes the very bizarre action against Davies’ look even more suspicious. Who knows what other activity is being “stopped” by Tom Wagner. Lord only knows how much else she found. We also have the woman who was in charge of the Office of Management and Budget involved in this scandal as well. Ann Visalli reported to one man, and one man only… Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell. We have an obvious set-up against Davies with a lot of BIG Delaware power figures involved. I hope her attorney eats them up!
Hey… Tom Wagner… where is the audit on Delaware Met? Where is the audit from the tip I submitted about Academy of Dover and Newark Charter School? What other audits are you cancelling? Why do you keep ignoring emails from constituents like Jack Wells and myself? What do you do all day? Who got you to stop audits showing abuse of taxpayer money? Is there an Indian River audit taking place given the firing of their CFO? Mr. Wagner, do you know what else I’m finding?
Hey, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn… when are you going to announce charges for the charter school employees that were caught? And that Indian River guy? Are you waiting for Markell to leave his post? Or for the statute of limitations to run out on these thieves? I know the FBI are aware of this because I let them know just in case Delaware didn’t. That was in April.
If I were writing a mystery novel about this, hypothetically of course, I would have to name suspects in a crime. Keep in mind this would be a fictional story because no one has been charged with anything (including former charter school employees who were nabbed by the auditor’s office, but I digress). I would have to look at who opposed Kim Williams’ original charter school audit bills. That would be Kendall Massett (Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network), a lot of House Republicans, Senator David Sokola, Donna Johnson (Executive Director of the State Board of Education), Nitin Rao (the business manager of Newark Charter School), and Democrat State Representative (and Chair of the House Education Committee) Earl Jaques. Oh yeah, Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no on that one too! Chuck Taylor with Providence Creek Academy (also the President of the board over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE) had parents from his school send emails to the House prior to the vote opposing the legislation. And we can’t forget Ann Visalli! And some guy named Henry Clampitt who was doing work with Kendall’s group also opposed it at the Senate Education Committee meeting on it last January. I would have to imagine many other charter school leaders were not happy about the bill either. This is a big list of whodunit suspects! Did they act in concert in this imaginary thriller? Or did someone fly solo? I can’t wait to write the ending to this mystery! I imagine all these suspects could feel the noose tightening around them right about now. In this fictional story of course!
I sure hope someone was able to get their hands on all those letters sent from Tom Wagner concerning the petty cash audits that went out to various charter schools…
On a Facebook page called The Unofficial PCA, about Providence Creek Academy, the host put up a post on Monday about a large exodus of teachers from the Kent County charter school. The post disappeared, but a more watered down version of the question showed up Wednesday night on the page. As well, students in Kindergarten to 2nd grade took a standardized test that actually caused some parents to pull their children out of the school. Questions are beginning to mount concerning the “interim” Head of School, Chuck Taylor, who has filled this interim position for a year and nine months.
In terms of the teacher exodus, it was confirmed at PCA’s board meeting on Tuesday that twelve teachers left this year. The average is three to five. But the school insisted this is “in the norm” according to the new Facebook post on The Unofficial PCA.
Are Teachers Leaving PCA?
Notes from 7/26 board meeting.
I hadn’t planned to attend last night’s board meeting. But the day before, I ran into another parent at the store asking if I had heard about the rumors. People had been saying that a large portion of the teachers were leaving PCA out of frustration with Head of School Chuck Taylor and Principal Audrey Erschen. My friend didn’t have much details so I canceled my plans and went to the meeting. I was expecting a huge turnout from parents but there was only one other parent attending (other than the parent board member) and she hadn’t heard the rumors.
I relayed as much of the rumors as I could, without revealing names. This year, there are about 60 on staff and about a dozen teachers left PCA; some to other positions, some for family, and a couple that were dissatisfied. In an average year, 3-5 teachers leave PCA but this year is not too far out of the norm and certainly not as severe as the year in which 21 teachers left. All but two of the teaching positions have been filled. Ms Erschen assured us that they are in no rush to fill the position and are being very selective. She is confident that the two positions will be filled well before school starts.
As far as any issues teachers may have had with Mr Taylor or Ms Erschen, they never were clearly defined. Mr Taylor has been the interim Head of School longer than intended as that the last candidate selected was not able to take the position. Another candidate is being considered and Mr Taylor is planning to go back to retirement in January. On the couple of occasions that I have heard someone complaining about Mr Taylor, it usually stemmed from a misunderstanding. I do not envy Ms Erschen for the balancing act she does every day. She deals with a whole lot of problems and somebody being dissatisfied is inevitable but she always maintains professional composure. Every morning, no matter the weather, they are out in front of the school to greet students and talk with parents. I’ve always found them to be very approachable and the kids (including my daughter) think well of them.
Greater transparency and addressing issues before they become rumors would help to put parents at ease. Board meetings include an “Opportunity to Address the Board” and it is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions and raise concerns. PCA is considering putting the ‘Head of School’ and ‘Principal’ reports in the webpage ‘news’ in addition to already being in the ‘Board Minutes’. They are also considering providing staff bios so that parents know more about the staff.
I intend to follow up with any more details that I come across and certainly welcome any input. Rather than passing along rumors, it’d be helpful to discuss these things in an open format (you can message me if you’d like to remain anonymous). I requested a list of the teachers that left (elsewise, we could always figure it out through the process of elimination). Arguing the validity of an individual complaint may not be as useful as keeping an open eye for trends. PCA isn’t perfect (no school is) and we should all strive to make things better and that depends on parents being involved.
-Director of Curriculum Danielle Moore wants to go back to the classroom and work with kids. She has been replaced by John Epstein who had been working for the Delaware Board of Education.
-‘Special’ classes will no longer be on a six day rotation because the classes were too far apart. So this year, students will have two special classes each trimester with the same amount of time give to each class.
I would not say 12 teachers leaving out of a staff of 60 is “in the norm“. That is 20% of their staff. Charter schools do tend to have higher turnover than traditional public schools. But that is an alarming number, in my opinion. While it isn’t the exodus of 21 teachers that happened at one time, it should be a matter of concern for other teachers and parents. My biggest questions would be how seasoned the departing teachers are. Will their replacements be more experienced or less? That could have a big impact!
In their latest posted board minutes, for their June 21st board meeting, I found several items that were somewhat odd which have my comments under each one.
Mrs. Erschen reviewed the placement of appropriate employees to be included in the Consolidated Grant FY 2016-2017.
What does “appropriate employees mean?
PCA will be the only charter school involved in a new DPAS study.
Which DPAS study is this? The only public DPAS study I have seen is the pilot program which will come out of House Bill 399, which changes Component V for teacher evaluations. Senator David Sokola was really promoting his “pilot program” amendment. Sokola and Chuck Taylor worked together on the charter school audit bill. But what makes this very interesting is House Bill 399 didn’t pass until July 1st. Eleven days after this board meeting on June 21st. So how could PCA have been picked for this program if this is the DPAS program they are talking about? And Markell hasn’t even signed the bill yet. Unless there is some other DPAS program that hasn’t been revealed.
There were some issues with the implementation of the new grading policy for grades K-2. This new policy created some confusion with parents. With help from Mrs. Erschen and Mr. Taylor the concerns were addressed and professional development will be provided to the teachers at the beginning of the school year to ensure that there is consistency among teachers.
What is this new grading policy? How did it create confusion for parents? If professional development is needed so teachers can understand a grading system in the next school year, there is something not right about this. More on this later.
Approval of Employee Bonuses: Lisa Moore made the motion, Chris Craig seconded. All in favor? Motion passed.
PCA consistently gives out “academic excellence” payouts every single month. But are all teachers getting them? The average monthly employee bonus is $466.
And from their May 24th Board minutes:
Head of School Search Committee: One candidate was interviewed. Board of Directors are still narrowing candidate pool for more candidate interviews.
Can someone please tell me why the Interim Head of School, who has been in this “interim” status for 21 months, is on the search committee for this new head of school? How many candidates have interviewed? It looks to me like Chuck Taylor is using his position on this committee to secure continued employment for himself. Because this is how I see it. He left PCA under very vague circumstances in the Spring of 2013. He wound up at Campus Community School where he became their interim Head of School after Trish Hermance resigned in the Summer of 2013. In September of 2013, their board voted unanimously to keep him on as the permanent Head of School. By December, they hired a new Head of School. Chuck joined their board and six months later, he resigned from their board. In October of 2014, Chuck came back to PCA during the Audrey Erschen odd relative/employee shenanigans going on at the school. As the interim Head of School. A few months later, the Tatnall leader who was supposed to become the new Head of School was poisoned in the Caribbean. That was over a year and a half ago. What qualifications does a leader need to become their Head of School? This looks like a lot of stall tactics by Chuck Taylor. I don’t buy him wanting to retire.
For a guy who wants to fade into obscurity, he sure does place himself in very important charter school positions. As well as his “interim” duties at PCA, he also has a slot on the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) at the Delaware DOE and is the President of the board for the Delaware Charter Schools Network. He was present at the Senate Education Committee for legislation surrounding charter school audits. While this may not seem to be a big deal, it is important to know that PCA used the same auditor for their annual audit as Family Foundations Academy for many years. Both PCA and FFA had major investigations from the State Auditor of Accounts that led to findings of severe financial abuse and theft. During FFA’s charter renewal, Taylor served on CSAC. When questions arose among the committee about FFA having a bizarre number of fraternity brothers on their board, Taylor actually defended the FFA board even though it was painfully obvious there was a major conflict of interest at play. During this time, FFA’s leader, Sean Moore, was the Treasurer for the Delaware Charter Schools Network. Moore embezzled over $100,000 from FFA according to the inspection report that came out last December. The State Board of Education placed FFA on probation when it became public about the financial fraud. Moore was terminated by the re-structured board which eventually removed the fraternity brothers.
All K-2 end of year assessments were created and given to the teachers who are working on administering them to the students. After all tests are complete teachers will submit them to so that data can be gathered on the assessments and determine if any changes need to be made for next school year.
PCA created assessments for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd year students? Yes, they did. Who created these assessments? And if a child failed these tests, the parents were told the student had to go to summer school for a fee of $350.00. It didn’t seem to matter what their classroom grades were. Six different parents of first graders received a letter the second week of June indicating their child had failed the reading assessment part of this assessment. PCA highly recommended sending these kids to summer school. This is actually a step up for the school, because the original intention was to keep the kids in the same grade if they did poorly on this self-created assessment. At least two parents pulled their children out as a result. Was this the intention? Let’s see: students do bad on an assessment, school tells parents they want the kids to go to summer school for a rather steep fee (told to parents days before this summer school was supposed to start), and parents pull kids out. I see it as a way to get rid of low-scoring assessment takers without regard to their actual capabilities.
For the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, PCA did rather well on their scores compared to the state average. They went from 66% proficiency in English/Language Arts to 74%. In Math, they went from 43% to 55%. Those are huge gains which will cause the Delaware DOE to award the charter school the token “reward school” status next fall. I have to wonder how much of these gains and “growth” are engineered by the school in advance. For the surrounding districts where PCA draws its student base from, the Smyrna School District went from 59% to 66% proficiency in ELA and 45 to 46% in Math. Capital went from 48% to 50% in ELA and 32% to 36% in Math. Campus Community School went from 62% to 60% in ELA and 37% to 40% in Math.
A few years ago, one parent pulled her child out of PCA. Her child, according to the mom, was brilliant. This student had some minor attention deficits, but was able to get straight As at the school. PCA insisted on placing the child into a lower-tiered classroom as a 4th grader. At that time, there were three levels in classrooms: lower, middle, and high. I would have to assume this was due to Response to Intervention (RtI) strategies for lower grade students when they attended those grades. But placement in RtI groups usually isn’t based on actual classroom grades. It is based on how they do on standardized tests. For this child, being placed in a lower-tier was not a good thing. The child did not feel challenged. Many children who are very smart put in this position will tend to act out. As a result, the school started putting the “bad behavior” label on the student. Teachers agreed with the mom that the student should not have been at that level. By the time the school finally put him into the higher level, it was so late in the school year (and after the 2nd wave of DCAS testing) the mother had already decided her child would not attend the school the next year. The mother stated that the new school had none of these issues and her child has thrived ever since.
Last weekend, I posted an article about Newark Charter School and what I see as “social engineering” to drive up their test scores. Many of the most fervent charter school supporters are parents of children who do well on these types of tests. In my opinion, far too many Delaware charters drive their enrollment based on this flawed idea. When you compare PCA’s demographics to surrounding districts and their closest competition with an area charter school, we see startling changes.
PROVIDENCE CREEK ACADEMY
SMYRNA SCHOOL DISTRICT
CAPITAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
CAMPUS COMMUNITY SCHOOL
The students who score the lowest on the state assessment are special education students. This has always been the case. By driving out students with special needs, the overall scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment will automatically go up. If you have a low population of these students to begin with, which is the case with PCA, it is a guarantee. Many Delaware charter schools that begin with Kindergarten have screenings with potential applicants. These screenings, which are meant to show a school where a student is at, can also serve as a way for schools to look for characteristics which could ultimately lead to perceived lower state assessment scores. I have no doubt this practice takes place at some Delaware charter schools, and I believe PCA does this. To further muddy the waters of this social engineering practice, PCA came up with some type of assessment for students in K-2 (who do not take the state assessment) to see how they may do on Smarter Balanced, and came up with a way to tick parents off enough they would pull their child out of the school. Whether by design or unintentional, this is a discriminatory recipe for disaster. Any school is only as good as the populations it serves. We know this. We know the Smarter Balanced Assessment changes constantly and the cut scores change from year to year. The test is not designed to have a great majority of students showing proficiency.
In a charter school that bases everything on state assessment scores, it can become a pressure cooker for students, parents, and teachers. This drive to perform on a once-a-year test is everything that is wrong about Delaware education. And it is becoming clear that this is the environment at PCA. I have no doubt they have many very positive attributes. I am sure they do a lot of good things for their students and have a very welcoming community. But that is the surface. Underneath is a testing regimen that overshadows everything else. If you are a smart kid, you will do great. If you struggle, in any way, there will be issues. When you look at the school’s Facebook reviews on their page, you see many 5 star designations. Many of these reviews are from teachers and even the Principal, Audrey Erschen. Even board members review this school. When any rating system is purposely stacked toward a certain goal, the perception is deceptive.
While the school appears to be doing better financially, nothing happened with the terminated employee who embezzled large amounts from the school. The Delaware Attorney General’s office has yet to file charges against this perpetrator. But that might change. Earlier in the Spring, state agents were in the school issuing subpoenas for financial records. Will they find anything more than what already came out from the State Auditor of Account’s inspection released earlier this year? Time will tell. Providence Creek Academy is the 7th largest charter school in Delaware out of 27 charter schools. But for their expenditures divided by the number of students, they come in at 26th place. We know they don’t pay their teachers huge amounts as well compared to surrounding districts. So where is all their money going?
These are my biggest concerns with this school, and for perspective parents looking at this Delaware charter school, they should be seen as potential red flags. For those who want to claim I hate charter schools, I don’t. I think some of our charters do a great job. I recognize no school is perfect. But far too many use tactics like this which lead to a type of discrimination, particularly against students with disabilities. That is intolerable. But because our state DOE and Governor base everything on test scores on high-stakes tests driven by corporate education reformers, they look the other way.
To view past articles on Providence Creek Academy on this blog, please go here. To view their board minutes, please go here. The picture of the Providence Creek Academy campus came from a website belonging to Nickle Electrical Properties who renovated the school six years ago.
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 “Thinking Out Loud”
At the House Education Committee meeting in Delaware today, members looked confused as State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson tried to explain to them why they don’t allow public comment before any action items. Citing regulatory laws and charter applications, which are in the synopsis of the bill, Johnson said regulations have a set period of public comment. For charter applications, she said State Board members are required to vote on the charter file which is set up with a public comment period. State Rep. Kim Williams brought House Bill 232 forward because of events she witnessed at State Board of Education meetings.
For a while there, the volley went back and forth between Williams and Johnson. Williams stated she wanted to give public comment on Gateway Lab School’s formal review the day the State Board made their decision but she couldn’t because of this rule. She also cited a recent Regulation, #616, that she wanted to give public comment on but couldn’t. Johnson explained that Regulation 616 was a Secretary only regulation so she could have given public comment. How anyone could ever keep track of all this stuff is beyond me. If you are just a curious member of the public going to these meetings, you would have no clue!
Johnson went on to say the State Board could face a risk of a lawsuit if they voted on something based on a public comment after they have reviewed the entire record. When asked if there has ever been any lawsuit in any situation like this for any state agency, the answer was no. As State Rep after State Rep tried to figure out why the State Board wouldn’t allow public comment, it culminated in State Rep. Sean Lynn stating he felt the opposition to the bill (which only came from Johnson and Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network) was disingenuous and was filled with self-interests. No one on the committee had any reason to oppose the bill and it was released from committee.
For a split second, I almost felt bad for Donna Johnson. Not because I felt she was right, but because she has no idea how she sounds to decision-makers. She doesn’t see how going to bat for her friends in the charter community actually hurts her in the long run. When a fervent charter school supporter like State Rep. Mike Ramone is saying this is an excellent bill and doesn’t understand why this isn’t already allowed, you know there is something wrong with the policy. He questioned Johnson about the ability for a three minute public comment to completely sway a vote. He felt that an official on any board should have enough knowledge of the events to be able to make a sound decision on matters.
Massett gave public comment. She recalled a charter application in Southern Delaware where someone gave a statement that was completely false but there was no ability for the person they were talking about to rebut the comment. This was the only “evidence” she could give to oppose House Bill 232. I believe it was State Rep. Kevin Hensley who stated someone could still file a defamation of character suit in an incident like that.
Both State Reps Kim Williams and Kevin Hensley talked about their time on school boards and they couldn’t fathom not letting the public speak about an action item. Hensley explained there were times when parents or a member of the community approached him about an issue right before a board meeting. He said he would tell them to make sure to give public comment so the whole Board could hear it. Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said he may not always like what he hears in public comment, but he appreciates the public comment process. As Lynn said today, “this bill is a no-brainer.”
I gave public comment before the vote. I explained the public comment ban also happens for other charter issues, such as modifications or formal reviews. I cited Family Foundations Academy and the Delaware Met as examples where things happened after the charter record closed and the State Board voted on something without giving the ability to the public to add new events. I said there was an inherent danger with this.
One of the funnier moments came when Ramone kept going on and on about how the meeting room for State Board meetings was too small. He recalled how it is standing room only and many people are forced to stand in the hall. He suggested maybe they meet in the House chambers! While it would be difficult to have seven state board members, an executive director and the Secretary of Education cram into the front of the House chamber, I’ve always suggested utilizing the VERY large conference room at the DOE’s other building over at the Collette Center in Dover. While it isn’t as “official” looking as the Cabinet Room at the Townsend Building, it is certainly big enough to fit the State Board, DOE Chiefs, and at least a hundred members of the public, if not more.
It became very apparent to everyone in the audience today exactly why the Delaware State Board of Education was put on review by the Joint Sunset Committee yesterday. In my opinion, I think this antiquated rule is something that comes from a country where dictators rule and the people are put on mute. Transparency isn’t just being open with your records and dealings, it is also letting the public be transparent about how they feel.
One quick note: House Bill 161, which deals with Parent Empowerment Savings Accounts for students with disabilities, or as most call them, school vouchers, was taken off the agenda for today’s House Education Committee.