Answers On Delaware Met Reveal More Questions

Today, on Town Square Delaware, members of The Delaware Met Board of Directors broke the public veil of silence and spoke out on the issues surrounding the school.  Based on this information and other information that has been sent my way, I have put a picture together of the events that happened last week at the embattled charter school

On Monday, a squirrel got into a transformer causing the power to go out at the school.  As a result, there was no school on 9/21.  On Tuesday, the students returned to school.  Where it gets a bit hazy is what happened next.  But what is certain there was no school from 9/23 to 9/25 due to emergency professional development for the teachers:

With the blessing of the Department of Education, we chose to give our teachers professional development time last week to assess these needs and make adjustment.

I believe the school, based on discussion from their Monday night board meeting, did attempt to reach out to parents to let them know about these unforeseen days off which were not on their website calendar.  On Wednesday 9/23, based on their agenda for their 9/28 meeting, the Board met in a Special Board meeting.  There was no agenda on their website, so it is difficult to surmise what was discussed at this board meeting.  On Friday, shortly before noon, I received two emails indicating the school was closing the next week due to violence, gang activity, fighting and Innovative Schools, the school’s management organization, severing ties.  I emailed the DOE and the school immediately for any type of confirmation.  To date, no one responded to any of my emails.  The school has this information, and chose to ignore me completely.

At the same time, we began to be made aware of whispers in our community and beyond that the school had already chosen to close. To answer these rumors, it was important for the Board to hold a special meeting.

This would have been the second special board meeting, so what was the reason for the first?  I knew of Delaware Met, but up until Friday I had never heard a peep about this school aside from an occasional article here and there.  The only time I wrote about them on here was for their performance award application and their award of $175,000.00.  The school had and still has every opportunity to contact me, and they know how to.  Back to Friday, a few other sources confirmed the earlier email I received.  To be honest, I thought the email was a joke, or someone trying to give me false information, which happens more than you think as a blogger.  I’m sure mainstream reporters can attest to this as well.  Other sources confirmed this information, except for one part: the part about Innovative Schools cutting ties with the school.  For someone to send that to me, it would have to be someone with inside information.  Since other sources were already vetting all the other information, I knew this story had legs so I published it.  While the DOE and I are battling on several issues, I sincerely reached out to them and the school.

Over the weekend, I did an extensive amount of research on the school, their student population, their application with the DOE, their finances, how they acquired the property at 920 N. French St, and other material on the property kept popping up as I was looking.  As I collected the information, it provided a wealth of articles.  In the meantime, the school put up their notice of the second special board meeting at some point over the weekend which I saw Sunday night.  As well, they put an announcement up on their Facebook page about an important announcement the next day and they hoped everyone would be there.  I’m not sure what their announcement was, but I responded to their post and addressed what I heard point blank.  To date, no one responded to my public plea for information.

On Monday, I focused on the history of the property.  Meanwhile, the school was giving information to the News Journal and alleging that the “rumors” were causing more harm than help.  Rumors which they knew came from this blog, they had my email address, they could have responded on Facebook, or even commented on the many articles that went up over four days.  Meanwhile, thousands of Delawareans were reading what I wrote with complete silence from the school aside from cryptic Facebook messages and even more cryptic board agenda announcements where they announced they were going to vote if they should keep their charter.  Without a charter, there is no school. No school would ever put up a notice like that over “rumors”.

On Monday evening, the board voted to keep the school open.  There was a great deal of discussion concerning enrollment, best practices for the teachers, financial viability, and school culture.  Many members of the community attended this board meeting that would not have normally if the “rumors” had not surfaced.  Serious questions arose out of this board meeting and deep concerns about the school’s ability to service and educate a very high population of special needs students.  Many of the teachers are not seasoned, and the school had (at that point) two special education teachers with a population of 60 IEPs, and more projected.  Legislators, reporters, and citizens attended this board meeting, and the bulk of them left feeling very perplexed at the administration of this school.

I’m not sure if Delaware charter schools have received a “don’t respond to the blogger” email.  But more often than not, no one from the charters respond after an inquiry before I publish or after I publish based on information that is already in the public domain.  I am open to communication.  If you disagree with something or find my information is not factual, please reach out to me.  I have fixed information based on a different perception or not being able to find information many times.  Most reporters have.  I don’t consider myself a “journalist” per se, but I do devote quite a bit of free time looking for answers and I write based on what I found.  I also offer my opinion which sets me apart from the typical newspaper or television reporter.

Yes, I had a bad response with a charter once upon a time.  Yes, I don’t like the idea of unelected boards.  No, I don’t hate charters.  I hate what many of the adults do at charters.  I get charter parents going ballistic on me cause I dare to write about “their” school.  If they want to give me facts, I am up for that.  But one commenter seemed offended that I dared to question what she wrote.  It’s a free world.  And while I respect anonymity, understand that I have no idea who you are.  I don’t know if you are the school, the DOE, or a parent.  I was taught by a college professor that they key to life is not in the answers, but in the questions.  I will always ask the questions based on the facts that are presented to me or that I find.

With that being said, these are my biggest questions concerning The Delaware Met AND the property:

  1. When did the school know they had a large population of special needs students coming and what did they do to prepare for it?
  2. Who is their special education coordinator?
  3. Why do they have no financial information on their website?
  4. What does Innovative Schools do for $380,000 in two plus years?
  5. Why did Innovative Schools pay $1 million to the Charter School Development Corporation who in turn bought 920 N. French St from the State of Delaware for an undisclosed and not in the public domain amount?
  6. Why does The Delaware Met need Innovative Schools?
  7. Why does one of their board members allow the school to pay the company he is a chair of?
  8. Why does another board member work for the same company that handles the school’s finances?
  9. Did the school reach out to other charters or districts for help with their student population?
  10. Did a student bring a gun to the school on the very first day?
  11. What was the purpose of the board’s special board meeting on 9/23?
  12. What was the big announcement revealed to students on Monday 9/28?
  13. How is a student with an IEP accommodated while at an internship?
  14. Does any member of the board benefit in any way from an internship by a student?
  15. Has the school considered hiring a School Resource Officer?
  16. Where is their student handbook?
  17. What is their enrollment as of 11:59pm this evening, including basic, moderate, complex and intensive subgroups for their large special education population?
  18. Are their teachers adequately trained to determine what is behavior and what may be a manifestation of a student’s disability?
  19. Do they have the staff to complete IEP meetings since so many of the IEPs may need to be relooked at based on their curriculum?
  20. How much did the State of Delaware sell 920 N. French St. to Charter School Development Corporation and why is this not on any public website?
  21. Where did the State of Delaware put this revenue?
  22. Is there any immediate danger to staff or students at the school due to its Brownfield Site designation?
  23. What was the nature of the work Duffield Associates did for the school last year?
  24. What is the DOE’s duty to ensure new charter schools are ready from day one to run a school?
  25. What are the DOE’s next steps in terms of this school?

While I understand the school can’t answer all these questions, I welcome Innovative Schools or the State of Delaware to answer them as well if it applies to them.  You may not feel like you have to answer them, but I’m like a dog without a bone sometimes…

Is There Toxic Ground At The Delaware Met Or Just A Huge Conflict Of Interest?

The address of 920 N. French St. in Wilmington, DE is listed as a “Brownfield Site”.  This is also the home of the Delaware Met.  What is a Brownfield Site? The Environmental Protection Agency defines a Brownfield Site as:

With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term “brownfield site” means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

On September 11th, 2002, 920 N. French St. was designated a Brownfield Site by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC).  In the below report, a plan was put forth and finalized in order to clean up the site to allow for commercial development of the property.  Duffield Associates was the company that formulated the plan to clean up the site and remove any contaminants from the soil.

Not long after, MBNA bought the property.  When MBNA was bought by Bank Of America, the company soon sold their former employee training center to the State of Delaware for $6.5 million dollars.  The State of Delaware bought the property on October 12, 2007.  However, the appropriation allowing for the purchase of this building was not approved until the 144th General Assembly on July 1st, 2008, as part of House Bill 525.

Section 31. State Employee Workforce, Education and Training Center. The Section 1 Addendum

14 to this Act contains an appropriation of $6,500,000 for the State Employee Workforce, Education and

15 Training Center, currently owned by the Bank of America. These certain tracts of land are located in the

16 vicinity of 920 N. French Street in the City of Wilmington, New Castle County, and the State of Delaware,

17 being known as New Castle County Tax Parcel numbers 2603520172, 2603520255, 2603520185,

18 2603520190 and 2603520195. For the acquisition of this property, the real property procurement

19 procedures in 29 Del. C. §9505 shall not apply.

For the entire time the State of Delaware owned the building, the property was vacant.  Why would a State purchase a property and never use it?  In March of 2014, the State of Delaware issued a public notice to any interested buyers of the property.  Both The Delaware Met and Freire Charter School were actively seeking the property, and eventually the property was sold to Charter School Development Corporation, under the official company name of CDSCPC 920 French LLC.  The address for this company is 6731 COLUMBIA GATEWAY DRIVE, SUITE 220, COLUMBIA, MD 21046.  But Charter School Development Corporation is a non-profit company based out of Arizona.  The sale occurred on November 14th, 2014, which set into motion a great deal of controversy for Freire Charter School of Wilmington and the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhood Association when Freire was forced to find a new location for their school.  There is no public record of how much the State of Delaware sold the building to Charter School Development Corporation.  In Fiscal Year 2012, Innovative Schools donated $1 million dollars to Charter School Development Corporation.  In FY2014, the company bought 920 N. French St. and leased it to Innovative Schools who is subleasing the property to The Delaware Met.

In Fiscal Year 2015, the Delaware Met paid a considerable sum of money to Duffield & Associates to do work at the property, the very same company that was contracted in 2002 to clean up the soil at the site.  From the Delaware Online Checkbook:

DelmetDuff

All told, Delaware Met paid Duffield Associates $37,654.83 in a seven month period.  On The Delaware Met’s original application, Jeff Bross is listed as the Chairman of Duffield Associates and was also listed as a board member of Delaware Met.  Interestingly enough, while searching for information about Delaware Met and Duffield, this link came up: http://dedoe.schoolwires.net/Errors/AccessDenied.aspx with a message stating the page was inactive or protected and to contact Alison May at the Delaware DOE if you don’t have an account or have any questions.  Jeff Bross is still listed as a Board Member at Delaware Met and is still the Chairman of Duffield Associates.  2014 was a busy year for Duffield and Bross as they were also contracted to help with the I-495 Bridge Debacle.  So is there a clear conflict of interest with having the Chair of Duffield on the Board at the school while also hiring his company to do an extensive amount of work?  Duffield’s expertise seems to be in fixing structural issues at sites where there could be large problems.  What was the problem with 920 N. French St.?  In the school’s only board minutes posted on their website from October 8th, 2014 there is no mention of pending work with Duffield Associates or a vote to retain their services.  Bross attended the meeting.  As well, another board member named Richelle Talbert sits on the board at Delaware Met and is also an employee of the school’s charter management organization, Innovative Schools.  Surely that is a conflict of interest as well.

These are questions that need to be asked by our legislators and the Delaware Department of Education in determining what in the world happened with this charter school.