Delaware DOE Screws Over Districts By Allowing Match Tax Funds To Go To Charters

This is exactly why I don’t trust the Delaware Department of Education.  Taking a nod from the Christina School District settlement with 15 charter schools last year, the Department has decided to let charters get match tax funds in a phased-out plan for district exclusions.  Continue reading “Delaware DOE Screws Over Districts By Allowing Match Tax Funds To Go To Charters”

Delaware Charter Schools Network Removed From District Consolidation Task Force Membership

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.

District Consolidation Task Force Bill Kicked Back To Delaware House, Bonini Amendment Takes Charters Back Out Again

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.

House Bill 269 Would Significantly Change School Choice In Delaware

House Bill 269, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, was introduced today and assigned to the House Education Committee.  The legislation deals with school choice and offers some substantial changes to how Delaware deals with school choice.  This bill is not expected to get a vote tonight and will most likely be looked at in January of 2018.  While I have not fully read the bill, I did take a cursory glance and I like a lot of aspects to it.

Task Force Looking At Special Education Costs In Delaware Is Very Dangerous Ground

House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced today by State Rep. Kevin Hensley and Senator Nicole Poore would look at the costs of special education in Delaware.  Another task force, with the usual representation.  A bunch of people sitting around a table, half of which won’t have a clue what they have jumped into.  The Delaware Way.  But here is the catch with this one: most of the spending going on with special education is based on federal mandate based on IDEA.

I have a hunch what some of the impetus for this is.  For years, districts have been complaining about McAndrews Law Firm.  Most of these cases wind up in settlements and the districts are crying foul on this.  But, if the districts and charters were doing the right thing to begin with, none of these cases would get to that point.  McAndrews won’t even take a case unless it has merit.  They won’t take a case based on a notice of meeting not going out once or twice.

Good luck with this task force trying to figure out WHY special education placements are increasing.  It doesn’t really matter why.  What matters is that they are and our General Assembly better find out how to wrap their arms around it instead of ducking the issues.  I can say most of the kids who lived in my neighborhood that were home one summer day in 2006 were subjected to nasty fumes coming from an accident at the old Reichhold Chemical Plant in Cheswold.  They all have disabilities of one sort or another.  My son is one of them.  We live in a polluted state.  I highly doubt this task force would look at things like that.

Are all special education placements valid?  I don’t know.  I know Response to Intervention is horrible.  Standardized testing should never be a measurement of whether a kid needs special education.  Autism rates have been soaring for over a decade now.  I just hope the Delaware DOE doesn’t put a gag order on district teachers and administrators like they did with the IEP Task Force.  They told districts and charters NOT to have anyone give public comment at those meetings.

Still, not one peep about giving Basic Special Education costs for kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  We don’t need another task force to figure out that no-brainer.  If they really want to care, how about they allow our Auditor of Accounts office to FULLY audit every single penny in special education along with ALL of education.  We know the money isn’t always going where it needs to.  But Delaware loves their task forces to give some crappy illusion of people wanting to do the right thing.  How about just following the law to begin with?

Here Comes The School District Consolidation Task Force!

House Concurrent Resolution #39 would create a School District Consolidation Task Force.  Yes, another task force in Delaware.  Because we must always have a group of people sitting around a table before we can do anything.  This task force would study if it is worth consolidating school districts in Delaware.  This is something I actually favor.  Nineteen school districts in little old Delaware?  There are school districts in other states with more students than the entire student population of Delaware.  I believe it will happen, but the question is how many?  I don’t think there should be more than five.  Expect a lot of battles on this one.  I am fairly sure nineteen superintendents won’t want to give up their titles.  Some would have to if this went through.  This will be one of the hottest topics in the second leg of the 149th General Assembly beginning in January, 2018.  I’m calling it now!

Where it goes from here is the House Education Committee.  It is on the agenda for the meeting tomorrow (must be nice to be the Sponsor of the bill AND the Chair of the Committee).  But tomorrow is the last day of committee meetings before the General Assembly closes up shop this year so this is my guestimation on what will happen: clears House Education Committee, gets a House vote in the affirmative, gets sent to Senate Education Committee, a suspension of rules allows it to bypass the committee, Senate votes yes, and the task force gets going late summer/early fall.

 

Delaware DOE Releases 2017 District & Charter Special Education Ratings

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the special education ratings for all Delaware school districts and charter schools.  The information the schools and districts were rated on were based on indicators by the federal Department of Education.  This is information the Delaware DOE collects from on-site monitoring of schools as well as performance data, including participation rates from the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The ratings are based on information from the 2014-2015 school year.  I don’t necessarily agree with these ratings, especially as it relates to parents opting their children out of the state assessment.  I’ve always found that many schools who have higher populations of students with disabilities tend to get the rougher ratings.  It is a sure sign we need more funding, staff, resources, and training for special education.

 

Meets Requirements:

Academia Antonia Alonso

Academy of Dover

Charter School of Wilmington

Early College High School

First State Montessori Academy

MOT Charter School

Newark Charter School

Odyssey Charter School

Polytech School District

Sussex Tech School District

 

Needs Assistance:

Caesar Rodney School District

Campus Community School

Cape Henlopen School District

Delaware Design-Lab High School

Delaware Military Academy

Delmar School District

East Side Charter School

Freire Charter School

Indian River School District

Las Americas Aspira Academy

Laurel School District

Milford School District

Positive Outcomes Charter School

Providence Creek Academy

Woodbridge School District

 

Needs Intervention:

Appoquinimink School District

Brandywine School District

Capital School District

Charter School of New Castle (formerly Family Foundations Academy)

Christina School District

Colonial School District

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security

Gateway Lab School

Great Oaks Charter School

Kuumba Charter School

Lake Forest School District

New Castle County Vo-Tech

Prestige Academy (closing this year)

Red Clay Consolidated School District

Seaford School District

Smyrna School District

Thomas Edison Charter School

Federal Education Dollars Going To Private Schools Increase, Delaware DOE Gets Bigger Role In This

Updated, 7:02am, 5/26/17: This is NOT some new school voucher scheme.  This has always existed.  It is actually a federal rule.  If public schools want federal funds, they must ensure private schools within their districts have equitable services.  One of the requirements is the districts MUST reach out to the private schools, compare notes, and offer to share federal funds with them.  The system is changing, thus these new Delaware DOE documents.  The DOE has a larger role in making sure this happens which requires more follow-up with private schools to ensure this is happening.  As well, there is a larger amount of funds required to be shared with private schools.  But, the feds aren’t supplying more federal dollars to districts so that means the districts have to give up more of their share of federal dollars.  Can someone please tell me, with all the headaches and angst we get from federal funds, along with the testing mandates, why we still WANT federal education dollars?

It looks like the Delaware Department of Education is in the planning stages to set up a school voucher system in Delaware based on changes to the Every Student Succeeds Act.  I know some Delaware private schools do get funding from Delaware school districts for certain services.  As an example, a parent could file a due process complaint over special education issues and if they win, the district may have to pay for private school for the special education child.  I know Christina School District pays for transportation costs to some private schools for students with disabilities.  But this?  Can someone please explain this one to me?

The below document was created in PDF format on Monday, May 22nd but the document is dated February 8th, before the United States Department of Education even submitted their FY2018 budget proposal (which is chock full of funding for vouchers and charter schools).  The document below that was created on the same date by the New Castle Title I Consortium and the author of the PDF was Al “Superman” Minuti (I can’t make this stuff up folks).  Sorry, I don’t believe any Federal, State, or Local dollars should be going to a private school unless it is a case of wrongdoing by a school district under the terms of a lawsuit or settlement.  If there is some sane and logical explanation for all this, I will gladly update this article (which I did, see above).

Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?

Last Friday, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques responded to a post I put up on Facebook concerning the Delaware State Auditor’s office.  One of his replies was news to me as well as everyone else I asked about this reveal. Continue reading “Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?”

John Young Takes On Donald Trump!!!! Resolution On Safe Zones For Christina Schools Pending!

Christina School District Board of Education member John Young is going head to toe with President Donald Trump in what could be a first for Delaware!  In response to what many are viewing as President Trump’s very heavy-handed immigration tactics initiated shortly after his inauguration, Young crafted a brilliant resolution declaring the district a safe zone for any student within its property.

The resolution would make it so any United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement official would have to get permission from the district Superintendent and coördinate any activities before entering any of the buildings of the district.  When asked what prompted the decision for the resolution, Young stated the following:

This resolution is in response to current political environment which was spurred on by a presidential immigration ban but it was not designed to be a reaction to it but an act to protect our students and our schools as the learning environments that they were and are designed to beBasically students should not fear coming to school for any reason and no student should be subjected to being a witness to a federal immigration and customs enforcement action.
There should be no reason any logical board member would not say yes to this resolution.  All students deserve to have schools be a safe haven!  If approved, this would be the first Delaware school district to institute this type of resolution.  The Christina Board of Education will vote on the resolution at their board meeting this evening.  The meeting will take place at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School and will begin at 7pm.
*Updated, 9:45pm: The resolution failed to pass with a vote of 3 yes and 4 no.

What Happened To Publius e decere?

For years, the commenter going by the name of Publius e decere haunted the comment section of Kilroy’s Delaware.  Last summer, he vanished without a trace claiming the “sign was in the yard” and it was a “Capitol” move.  For those of us who know who he is, it is very easy to put the pieces together.  Why he left and why he doesn’t want to stick his neck out there anymore.  But make no mistake, the spirit of Publius is alive and well in Delaware.  Those who support school choice to the exclusion of minorities, the impoverished, and the disabled.  Those who want to get their people in at district levels or on a school board.  These are the same shakers and movers that allowed Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter School to have the demographics they have.  They have their hooks in with legislators and state leaders.  They are non-profits, for-profits, charter school board members, and even some are so embedded into the state education system it would take a work of God to get them to leave.

They are the wolves in sheeps clothing at times.  But if you look close enough, you can see the Publius clones out there.  They are hob-knobbing with those wolves in sheeps clothing.  They attempt to placate those whose vote can make a difference with statements that are not so genuine but think they have the ability to dupe those who know better.  They try to speak the corporate education reform Kool-Aid drinking lingo but come across sounding like a mini-me of Jack Markell.  They talk about gaps like there should be a different word behind every potential gap out there.  When the only thing they truly know about the Gap is the stores in every mall in America.

In this season of change, we need to be very mindful about who is attempting to get on our school boards.  We need to know who wants to advance their own cause or truly make change in every school district.  And no, I will not be one of those vying for a school board seat.  I will say to watch out for what happens in Wilmington districts.  Very carefully.

2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report.  This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools.  As I predicted, special education students rose again this year.  To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide.  The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year.  Overall state enrollment went up by .9%.  Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year.  No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case.  Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters.  Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading “2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment”

Christina Legislative Briefing Q&A Transcription: Part 1

Yes, there will be two parts to this.  Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue.  If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning.  It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.

Welcome back to those who left.  Without further ado, here it is:

Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill?  Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?

Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.

State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?

Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”

Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.

Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?

Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.

Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?

Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.

Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?

Silber: For this year?

Doolittle: For their initial intent.

Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.

Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.

Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”

(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)

Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?

Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.

Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?

Silber: It’s not that simple. No.

Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…

Silber: Yes.

Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.

State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?

Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters.   And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.

Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…

Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.

Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning!  Stay tuned!

 

In FY2015, $63.5 Million Went From Local Districts To Charter Schools In Delaware

I found something I’ve never seen before last week.  Ironically enough, I discovered these documents when I was doing my charter school inspection.  I was working on this article when I received a call about the the topic we have all been talking about for the past week: charter school payments from school districts.  Every year, around March, the Delaware Department of Education produces a report called the “Educational Statistics Report”.  This report shows district and charter revenue and expense totals for each calendar year.  It also shows information I’ve been looking for but haven’t seen until now: how much each charters get from local school districts for students who attend from those feeder patterns.  In FY2015, local school districts sent an astonishing $63.5 million dollars to charter schools.  This accounts for 38% of Delaware charter schools revenue.

According to this report, the charter school that gets the most local revenue is the charter school with the largest student population.  Newark Charter School, with the largest student population, received $7 million from local school districts in FY2015.  The State of Delaware provided over twice the amount to Newark Charter ($14.7 million) compared to the next largest charter school, MOT ($7.1 million).

But where things get really interesting is when you compare revenue and expenses with traditional school districts.

Charter Revenue FY2015

CharterRevenueFY2015

District Revenue FY2015

DistrictRevenueFY2015

Charter Expenses FY2015

CharterExpensesFY2015

District Expenses FY2015

DistrictExpensesFY2015

In FY2015, charter school students represented 9.3% of Delaware’s public schools.  With a total of 12,521 students, this represented less than 10% of students in the state who chose this option.  The total revenue they received was a little over $164 million dollars.  By contrast, districts received over $2.16 billion dollars in revenue.  This is a total of $2.32 billion dollars in revenue between district and charter schools.  In the interest of fairness and  all things being equal, charters should have received $215.8 million dollars at 9.3% student population.  Instead, they received $50 million less.  If we stopped looking at figures right now, the Delaware Charter Schools Network would be correct when they tell people charters get $3000 less per student than traditional school districts.  I’m not sure what  year they are basing those figures on, but it actually works out to about $4,137 less per student.  More meat for their argument.

But there are many other factors that go into this.  By their very nature, school districts are much larger than charter schools.  They have more buildings to take care of.  Their central administration has to be bigger to keep track of it all.  While some (and rightfully so in certain situations) complain about the sheer number of district administrators, I think we can all agree that districts need more administrators than charter schools because of the sheer volume involved.  Out of the total amount of expenses, charter schools spend 11.57% of their funds on administration.  Traditional school districts in Delaware spend 7.09% on administration.  Charter schools spend 14.36% on “plant operations maintenance”, which I assume includes rent, custodial duties, and expenses for the actual physical building(s).  Districts spend $9.66% in this category.  Percentage wise, districts do spend more on student transportation at 4.62% opposed to charter schools’ 2.88%.  But there is one factor that may not be included in these totals for the charters: does this include the surplus transportation funds they get to keep after what they spent?

The key figures in the above charter are the pie slices that show the percentage of funds districts and charters get from federal funding.  While some of these funds come from federal grant funds, the bulk of them are for Title I and IDEA-B funding.  Title I is funds for low-income schools while IDEA-B is for students with disabilities.  Note that districts have more than double the percentage of federal funds than charters.  This is because districts have more students in those two categories.  For some charters in Delaware, they have very high percentages of those populations.  But the ones that are on the opposite end bring that percentage way down.  Especially schools like Newark Charter School and Charter School of Wilmington.

I wasn’t going to publish this article after the whole district-charter funding war commenced a week ago.  But with everything that happened since, I feel it is important to get these numbers out there.  I do have further analysis based on this and how I intend to prove, that if Delaware were to go to a true weighted funding formula, charters schools would actually receive less local and state dollars as a collective whole than what they are receiving now.

 

Official: No Change In District/Charter Funding This Year In Delaware

After six days of will they or won’t they, the Delaware Department of Education is not moving forward on any changes in the school district per pupil cost sent to charter schools out of their local unrestricted funding allocations.  Perhaps now we can all take a deep breath and spend the next year changing the date on this so schools aren’t stressing out over budgets the first week of school.

Christina School District Board of Education President Elizabeth Paige informed me the district Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, was officially notified of this decision by the Delaware DOE earlier this afternoon.

Paige said:

I am pleased that the charter funding allocation will not change for this year; however, I know that we can’t expect this not to come up again and come up often. We must continue to fight for equity and not equality when it comes to funding public education in the state.
Well said President Paige!  Even though there is a calm in the storm for now, this is definitely an issue I plan on doing extensive research on so when it does come up again it won’t be a shock to everyone, including myself.  I still have many unanswered questions surrounding the transparency on the charter schools and the Delaware DOE with this issue.  I will get those answers.

The More Money For Delaware Charters Appears To Be Dead Thanks To Delaware Legislators

Mike Matthews, a teacher in the Red Clay Consolidated School District just updated his Facebook page with the following information:

UPDATE: I’ve heard from a very good source that since our swarm this morning, legislators have made this a priority and that they were livid this was even being considered. The Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky, was communicated to multiple times today and told this was unacceptable — the reshuffling of District funds to go to charters. I am told that this plan is now dead and that Dr. Godowsky is backing down.

I’d love to see the mainstream media cover this from beginning to end. And even though this seems to be dead at this point, I think people deserve to see how our Department of Education continues to act under Gov. Jack Markell and his parade to privatize our schools.

Thank you first and foremost to Kevin Ohlandt for writing the article that got it all started. And thanks to all of you for sharing it hundreds of times on your walls and commenting up a firestorm. Legislators listened today and we got the action and outcome we desired.

Now, we have to CONTINUE to fight for a better school funding system that provides MORE for our neediest learners and gives them the opportunities they need to succeed!

No thanks are necessary.  I do something like this quite a bit.  But this was a really big deal that would have affect a lot of people.  This was the kind of article I hate to write.  Because it means it will seriously affect students.  I’m not saying Delaware education is perfect.  Far from it.  All our schools need help.  But this… this wasn’t fair and it wasn’t honest.  I’m glad our legislators did the right thing here and fought for the kids of Delaware.  This fight would have gotten really ugly.  But I will reserve victory until it is official.  I hate to blast on Godowsky so much, but he went back on his word about the opt out penalty last year.  One week he said he didn’t foresee a scenario where it would move forward and a week later, after he was confirmed by the Senate, he did a complete turnaround.  And we all know Jack Markell won’t take this sitting down.  But for now, this is great news.

Katonah-Lewisboro School District’s Very Awesome Resolution On John King’s ESSA Draft Regulations

…provisions in the US Department of Education (DOE) draft regulations would perpetuate federal overreach in areas that ESSA specifically delegates to the states and to local school districts.

Last night, I remembered where I came from.  In 1988, I graduated from John Jay High School in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District in Cross River, New York.

While looking at public comments on the Every Student Succeeds Act draft regulations put forth by the United States Department of Education, I actually found a comment submitted by the Board of Education at my old school district.  They basically told John King to shove it and to keep his nose out of state and local education matters.  I agree wholeheartedly.  I truly wish any of the districts in Delaware, where I now live, took similar actions with these horrible regulations.  They say you can’t go home again, but you can certainly look back with pride!

What I was also shocked to see was an item on their Board Docs, which they have at every single board meeting.  Something I would urge all Delaware Boards of Education, Boards of Directors, the State Board of Education, task forces, committees, or any public body that meets and allows public comment to have, this:

KatohnahLewisboro

Public comment is a must. But seeing a board taking the time to discuss the concerns or matters brought up during public comment is something we just don’t see in Delaware. All too often, we bring something up during public comment and it isn’t referred to again. Although, being fair, Capital School District (where I live) does discuss many items brought up in public comment. Frequently, I am the only one giving public comment at board meetings and I am very open about items on their agenda and how they pertain to special education. But could you imagine how different our State Board of Education would be if they adopted this amazing philosophy? If there was actually some type of conversation between the public and themselves? Or going a leap further, what if our Senate or House Education Committees took these steps? They could understand things so much more.  Bottom line is this: Delaware, as a whole, needs to speak up with a very loud voice and have more engagement with ALL stakeholders!

So much of who I am comes from the spirit of the school district I grew up in. I’ve taken this for granted over the years, but this makes me really happy to see. But one thing I do want to know: when did my high school get an Ice Hockey team? That is really awesome!  I wish they had that when I grew up!

Important Updates To Exceptional Delaware

I have been very remiss about updating certain parts of this blog.  In an effort to improve the ability for readers to find information, I put pages below the title.  I am in the process of updating those pages.  I added a new one called “Delaware School Districts” which will have links to articles I’ve written about the different school districts in the state.  This will take quite a bit of time.  As well, I updated all of the charter school articles in the “Delaware Charters” section.  Education Meetings and Education Legislation are next on my to-do list.  Followed by the FOIA file, Governor Markell, and Rodel & Friends.

Are there are any pages you would like to see up there to make it easier to find certain things on here?  Let me know!

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

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

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

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

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

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

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

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

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

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

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

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

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

costperstudentchartersFY2016

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

FY2016Combined

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

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

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

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

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

$22 Million In Back Property Taxes For New Castle County

What would you do with an extra $22 million dollars?  I would ask the public school children of New Castle County because right now they are short $22 million bucks.  The below picture shows the massive delinquency status of Delaware property taxes for New Castle County.  Aside from a bill that passed that says you won’t get your tax refund if you owe back taxes, what is being done to collect on this debt?  If you own a home, you have to pay taxes.  Like it or not, it comes with owning a home.  Or a business.  I’m talking to you golf course in Appoquinimink!  One question I have (cause I don’t have the time to look it up) is who gets the interest an penalties?  Do the school districts get them or just the county?

NCCountyDelqTaxes