Three Days To Change Secretary Bunting’s Mind On Match Tax, Email Her NOW!

It is time the people spoke up and emailed Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting!

The match tax saga continues! On August 4th, a bunch of Delaware legislators sent Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting a letter regarding the proposed plan for the match tax.  Bunting’s response shows no sign of bending from the original plan.  While Bunting believes this is a win-win for districts based on other exclusions to the local funding formula, only one district seems to make a windfall from them.  And believe it or not, that district is Christina.

Below are the letter sent to legislators from Bunting, the new “procedure” for charter and choice payments, and a breakdown of the changes and how they financially impact the districts.

For Red Clay, they are taking a $124,000 loss based on this plan.  I would love to know what the ten “newly approved categories” are for exclusions on the charter bill.  It looks like the districts that are getting the biggest hits are Capital, Red Clay, and Smyrna.  While some may laugh at those figures, remember, that could be an extra teacher.  Or a paraprofessional.  In your child’s class.  Notice how Bunting did not provide a summary of how MUCH the charters are going to get from this.  Add in their should be illegal charter school transportation slush fund, and it adds up to a lot of money!  Cause that first number of $828,465.11?  That will more than double in two years.  So all those schools that currently show a surplus of funds will see that evaporate.  Meanwhile, the charters will just get more and more money.

This is how the Delaware DOE works.  They try to make crap look like gold.  They compare things that aren’t always related and say “Look, it isn’t as bad as you thought!”  They do the same thing with standardized test scores.  I fail to see Bunting’s justification for doing this with the match tax.  If you agree, please email her at susan.bunting@doe.k12.de.us and let her know you do not support this match tax scheme.  As pretty as that picture may look, it will be uglier next year and the year after when those first numbers go deeper in the red.  The plan is to reduce the match tax exclusion to nothing by the 2019-2020 school year.  Bunting has until September 1st to make a final decision on this.  Let’s make some noise!

Some issues I see with the timetable on this stem around the budgetary process that goes down each year.  School districts and charters are subject to the final passage of the budget bill.  This doesn’t typically happen until June 30th/July 1st each year.  At that point, all the business managers have to figure out what it all means.  That is not an easy task, whether it is a district or charter.  So for the DOE to say they want any meetings scheduled with them by June 15th is ludicrous in my opinion.  They should wait until all the business managers have time to see what the final budget does to their own budget first.

 

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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”

The Christina Settlement Memes You May Not Have Seen

Last night, I posted a series of memes on Facebook.  I also put them on Twitter.  I do recognize that some folks don’t participate in social media, so for those 21st Century hold-outs, here they are.

restrictedfunds

tuition-tax

attorneyfees

whatchatalkinbout

fieldtrips

shakedown

fundsmold

cafetorium

santachristina

swimminginextramoney

settlementduedate

rescindthevote

forthekids

mutual

murphy-resign

brandywine

donaldbetsy

blogvote

 

Greg Meece Letter To Newark Charter School Parents About Settlement Is Going To Stir Up Trouble

Greg Meece didn’t wait long.  We still don’t have verification that all the charter schools signed the settlement between the Christina School District and the 15 charter schools.  But Meece took his opportunity to brag and he did so with arrogance and a pompous attitude.  Yes, NCS parents, this is your not so humble leader.  I have no doubt this was Greg Meece’s favorite moment of the year.  But the big question surrounds the truth.  It was under the assumption the charter schools and their attorneys over at Saul Ewing offered the settlement.  Other sources have all parties working together over the Thanksgiving weekend to hammer it out.  But what Greg Meece states is something completely new.  And there is another downright dirty thing in this letter which was not written in the settlement the way Meece wrote it.  To me, that kind of negates the spirit of the settlement.  The settlement explicitly stated this was not a case of wrongdoing on Christina’s part, but Meece’s one sentence inclusion in here suggests otherwise.  That line is bolded for emphasis below.

As I was working on my article this weekend about Greg Meece and Newark Charter School, I went over a lot of articles pertaining to the lawsuit.  Why on earth would Christina offer to settle based on their own Legislative Briefing?  Furthermore, I don’t recall their board ever voting on action pertaining to the lawsuit.  I would imagine only the Christina board could direct their attorneys to negotiate a settlement.  The only vote they held about the lawsuit was the one regarding the actual settlement.  So someone is lying.  Is it Christina or Greg Meece?

Dear NCS Parents and Staff:

This regards the lawsuit that Newark Charter School, in conjunction with 14 other charter schools and four parents, filed against the Christina School District (CSD) and Delaware’s Department of Education (DDOE). The general idea of Delaware’s school finance law is that the property taxes paid by residents, which are initially held by the local school districts, should follow the child when families choose to enroll their children to a public charter or choice school in Delaware. In the case of CSD that was not being done. Charter and choice school students were not getting their fair share. The DDOE performed a detailed analysis of this past year’s funding between districts and charter schools. It concluded that CSD had excluded from charter schools more funds than it was allowed to exclude. Delaware law requires that the Secretary of Education make the final determination regarding the allowable exclusions from districts. In August, the Secretary of Education made his decision. This decision would have provided charter and choice students who live in the CSD approximately $450 more per student. In early September, over the charter schools’ objections, the Secretary reversed his own decision, due to outside pressures being made on him. This is when the 15 charter schools decided to sue both CSD and DDOE.

Both CSD and DDOE offered to settle the lawsuit before it went before the courts and the charter schools agreed to the terms of the settlement. Among the details of the settlement:

* The CSD now agrees that $5.5 million in revenue that had been excluded from the pool of funds shared among all students in the district, including those who attend our school, will now be shared with all charter and choice schools serving Christina students.

* The DDOE agrees to bring greater transparency to the process through which it determines each district’s Local Cost Per Student. DDOE is obliged to share information and seek input from charter schools as part of this process.

* We will be working with the CSD to examine whether opportunities exist to share resources to serve special needs students.

* Both CSD and DDOE agreed to cover the cost of the charter schools’ legal costs.

* In return, the charter schools agreed to relinquish claims on funds that may have been inappropriately withheld in past years.

As a result, the tax dollars that should follow your children to Newark Charter School will arrive for this school year and in future years. These funds will be put to good use here, where they belong and where they are needed.

I would like to thank you for your support as we worked through this legal process, and I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have. If you would like to see a full copy of the settlement, we will be glad to send you an electronic copy.

Sincerely,

Gregory Meece, School Director and the NCS Board of Directors

Excuse the hell out of me Greg Meece, but did you just write a letter to parents indicating that Christina broke the law even though the settlement you just signed clearly indicates otherwise?  I have to ask, what the hell is wrong with you?  You just violated your own settlement with this public letter.

Meanwhile, the Christina School District put out a press release on their own website today which doesn’t have a few of the things Meece mentioned in his letter:

Christina School District Signs Principled Settlement Agreement

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue.

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue. The charter schools filed the Civil Action asserting that the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), the Secretary of Education, the Christina School District, and the Christina School District’s Chief Financial Officer had breached Delaware law as a result of actions taken by the Department of Education in August and September. The agreement requires the approval of all 20 other parties to the suit, which states that settlement is made by December 2. The Christina Board of Education was required as part of the agreement to approve the agreement on or before December 1. The Christina Board voted to approve the agreement on November 30.
With the settlement, the Christina School District resolves the dispute over revenue generated by a 2003 Referendum passed by Christina taxpayers in a manner which honors the promise made to voters in 2003. In that Referendum, 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value was restricted for expenditures on: 1) Phase-in of full day kindergarten for academically at risk students; 2) Expansion of services for Gifted and Talented Program; 3) Expansion of services for Alternative Programs; 4) Technology replacement schedule. All parties in the civil suit have agreed that the 2003 Referendum revenue will be considered restricted, and may only be used to support these four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot. In addition, all parties further agreed that:
  • In the annual certification of Christina School District’s Local Cost Per Student pursuant to Section 509 (e), both the 2003 Referendum Revenue and CSD’s expenditures posted against those revenues will be ignored. In other words, such expenditures will be neither included in, nor excluded from, CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures. This is important because under the statutory formula for sharing local property tax revenue with charter schools, if such expenditures are included in CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures, the 2003 Referendum Revenue shared with the charter schools would not be subject to the restrictions imposed by the voters in 2003.
  • Beginning with Fiscal Year 17, the revenue generated by the 10 cent levy shall be divided by the total number of students residing in CSD and attending public schools in order to determine the per student share of the 2003 Referendum Revenue.
  • The parties agree that the dismissal shall include all claims that were brought or could have been brought, in the Lawsuit regarding FY’17 or any earlier fiscal year.
  • DOE will recommend a process to be used by the DOE in the future for determining Local Cost Per Student. In this process:
    • Districts will have the opportunity to request DOE approval for Exclusions from Total Local Operating Expenditures, with Districts providing justification for their request.
    • DOE will make a tentative determination responding to each requested Exclusion, together with DOE’s reasoning
    • Districts will have the opportunity to discuss with DOE its tentative determination before such determination is final and included within the annual certification
    • Prior to the annual certification, DOE will provide all charter schools with its tentative determinations, along with District justifications, and will afford the charter schools an opportunity to discuss such determination
    • DOE shall establish a schedule by which it proposes to meet each of the steps noted above.

 

The total amount of restricted funds generated by the 2003 Referendum is approximately $5.5 million. The agreement provides a mechanism for the appropriate portion of these funds to be applied to charter schools that educate Christina students, based on number of Christina students they serve. The portion of restricted funds for all Christina students attending charter schools is estimated to be $1.5 million. The Department of Education is required to establish a unique appropriation for these restricted funds, and is responsible for assuring that they are utilized only for the four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot.
For background information on this topic, please use this link to see the presentation made by the District at a Legislative Briefing for elected officials and the public held on September 7, 2016.
# # #

Should Christina School District Settle With The 15 Charter Schools? Take The Poll!

Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will hold a meeting to go into Executive Session to discuss a potential settlement in the lawsuit of Fall 2016.  At issue: 15 charters are suing Christina and the Delaware Dept. of Education over what they claim are illegal exclusions from the local funding formula for money sent to charters from the district.  Christina claims they submitted the exclusions to the Delaware DOE and the DOE accepted those exclusions.  Should Christina settle?  I would take this poll now before they come out of executive session sometime between 7pm and let’s say 2am tomorrow morning.

So, About Those Attorney Fees For The Charter Lawsuit…

Who is the benefactor to the 15 charter schools suing the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education?  You know, the one where the almighty (or are they?) charter schools want more money?  Led and initiated by Newark Charter School who got fourteen other charters to follow suit.  Literally.  As in a lawsuit.  But they had a little problem they had to take care of first.  The damn attorney fees.

I imagine taking a case like this would involve a lot of prep work and discovery.  Saul Ewing, LLP is the law firm representing the fifteen charter schools in their lawsuit against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education.  As the named parties are represented by their own counsel, the charters would have to be able to definitively prove their case.  Or at least a perception of their case.  That’s what attorneys do.  Make a jury or judge believe their side of the story, whether it is right or wrong.  It is always about the belief.  But who is paying Saul Ewing for this lawsuit? Continue reading “So, About Those Attorney Fees For The Charter Lawsuit…”

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!

 

Christina Legislative Briefing Clearly Shows Delaware DOE’s Incompetence With District-Charter Funding Fight

The Christina School District held a Legislative Briefing for Delaware legislators this morning.  The subject: the ongoing district-charter local cost per pupil.  Answers were given in a very effective way by Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber.  Legislators in attendance were State Reps. John Kowalko, Earl Jaques, Ed Osienski, Mike Ramone, Kim Williams and Senator Bryan Townsend.  Most of the Christina Board of Education also attended as well as Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski.  Some charter advocates, such as Henry Clampitt who now serves on the Gateway Lab School Board of Directors also attended.

Silber gave specifics on what he believes the Delaware Department of Education is attempting to take out of Christina’s exclusion list from their local funding.  He also gave enlightening information on how the DOE specifically asked district Superintendents not to inform their local boards of the changes until a certain time.  As well, the meeting held at the DOE last week with district Superintendents was for them only.  No business managers were allowed to attend this meeting about education funding.  Which is ironic given that the business managers would have the most insight into these issues.  To me, it shows an unwillingness on the DOE’s part to make this a transparent and collaborative process.

Silber also presented a timeline of events from Christina’s perspective which almost mirrors my own that I posted last week.  Silber did mention that their legal counsel sent a letter to the Delaware DOE on August 26th.  The current status is that charter bills were pulled by Secretary Godowsky.  Silber did say some districts in Southern Delaware paid their charter bills but Christina will not until the funding amounts are correct.

I walked away from this meeting more convinced than ever that this began with Newark Charter School and once the DOE got involved, they took over and went crazy with it with absolutely no justification or ability to succinctly present anything associated with this mess that is in any way legal.  I will have more to say on this later when I transcribe the question and answer question with members of the audience, but in the meantime, feast on the presentation given by Silber.  He hit a grand slam on this and evaporated the DOE’s position on this, in my opinion.

What is always fascinating with meetings like this is who is watching who when certain things are said or questions are asked.

Christina School District Letter To Parents About Charter Funding Issues

The Christina School District just issued a letter to parents and citizens in the district to address the recent funding issues surrounding charter school payments and exclusions in their budget:

A Letter to Christina School District Parents and Residents
about Charter School Funding:

There have been recent reports in local media and on social media about possible changes to the funding formula used to determine the Local Cost per Student that determines payments to charter and choice students who attend schools other than traditional Christina public schools.

At a meeting on September 1 with the Superintendents of public school districts throughout the state, Delaware Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky stated that there would be no changes to the Local Cost per Student formula for the 2016-2017 school year. The district has not yet received a formal statement in writing from the Department of Education to this effect.

Unfortunately, statements have been made by a number of individuals that the Christina School District is excluding funds that should be included in the calculations of the Local Cost per Student.

We feel these are very serious statements that need to be addressed. We also feel that the Christina community deserves to know what these restricted funds are and how they support families who choose to send their children to traditional public schools in Christina.

FACT:
The Christina School District does not decide what appropriations are included or excluded from the Local Cost of Funds. That determination rests with the Secretary of Education, as stated by Delaware Code.

FACT:
The Department of Education informed District Business Managers, in August, that certain expenditures which have historically been deemed by the Secretary of Education to be inappropriate for inclusion in the Local Cost per Student Calculation may now be included. No explanations or justifications were provided other than citing that the decision is at the discretion of the Secretary of Education. This decision is contrary to the decisions made by previous Secretaries ranging as recently as last year and as far back as 17 years.

FACT:
In 2003, Christina voters approved a referendum by a vote of 5,334 to 2,431 to restrict 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value to support four specific programs for Christina School District students. These programs were 1) phase-in of Full-Day Kindergarten, 2) expansion of services for Gifted and Talented program, 3) expansion of services for Alternative Programs, and 4) technology replacement schedule. These funds, authorized by taxpayers, are restricted, and are considered District Specific Exclusions.

FACT:
Beginning in 2014, the Department of Education agreed that these funds were restricted and approved their exclusion from the calculation of Local Cost per Student.

FACT:
Another example of funds considered a District Specific Exclusion are those funds generated through the Match Tax. State Legislators often create unique programs designed to help students, such as Reading Resource Teachers, Math Resource Teachers, Extra Time Funding, and Education Technology. These are taxes that impact all traditional school districts. For example, the State recognized the need to assist elementary students in reading. The State provided funding for Reading Resource Teacher positions in Traditional Public Schools and in Charter Schools. State legislation empowered the School Boards of the Traditional Public School Districts to raise taxes to “Match” state funds on a 70/30 state/local basis. School Boards were authorized to match the amount provided to the District only. These Match programs have been excluded from the Local Cost per Student calculation for the past 14-17 years.

The Christina School district welcomes open and public conversation around appropriate public funding for all public school students. As a district that serves a high proportion of low-income, English Language Learners, and special needs students, the Christina School District is invested in ensuring equity, and meeting the educational needs of our diverse population.

The District will hold a Legislative Briefing on Wednesday, September 7 at 7:30 a.m. at the Eden Support Services Center.

Sincerely,
Robert Andrzejewski, Ed.D., Acting Superintendent
Christina School District

Robert Silber, Chief Financial Officer
Christina School District