Odyssey Audit Report Out! Lots Of “Can’t Explain” Financial Issues Going On!

The Delaware Auditor of Accounts office released the Odyssey Charter School Agreed-Upon Procedures report today.  The work was done independently by the Santora CPA Group.  The full report can be seen below.

The report shows a good deal of financial expenses that could not be explained by Odyssey Charter School.  The AHEPA gala, meant to raise funds for Odyssey, netted over $72,000 in cash donations.  The charter school only saw over $52,000 and AHEPA kept the rest.  Almost $10,000 in earmarked expenses had no justification or reason for what they were.  The Delaware Department of Education asked Odyssey to explain this as part of their formal review.  An AHEPA conference in July of 2018 had over $3,800 in unexplained expenses.

The report confirmed the Board President, Dmitri Dandalos, who was also the President of the local AHEPA , unilaterally decided on Chatham Bay continuing construction of the Ithaka Learning Center.  This was after a feasibility study determined it was not worth it to open up the early learning center.  This cost an additional $154,217.  The Board voted to pay this in executive session but it was noted in the report that the resolution to pass it in open session had no explanation of what they were paying.  But since Delaware charter schools do not get capital expenses and, therefore, no money from the Bond Bill, it doesn’t really matter in terms of the legality of it all.  Except it should.  Perhaps our legislators can fix that.  Even though it isn’t technically state money, it should still be accounted for.

Some of the expenses listed in the attachment section of the report can be easily explained.  One of the vendors of the school, The Schoolhouse 302, does professional development for the school.  My biggest question about that is why administrators from other school districts are doing a side company.  Those administrators are Joseph Jones, the Superintendent of New Castle County Vo-Tech, and T.J. Vari, a district administrator in Appoquinimink.  And if they are doing this professional development during school hours, why are they getting paid for that and their duties as administrators for their respective districts at the same time?  But I digress…

This report is riddled with expenses spent by Odyssey but did not agree with the amounts reported.  That is a very serious issue.  Last night I was viciously attacked by someone on Facebook for daring to write something bad about Odyssey.  No, I don’t think the school should be shut down.  I don’t have an issue with the education they provide their students.  From what I have heard, it is top-notch.  My issue is with the organizational end of the school.  How the board operates and how they spend taxpayer money is a big issue.  And it isn’t just Odyssey.  It is many charter schools AND districts in Delaware.  Odyssey just happens to be in the hot seat for this right now.  So is Christina School District on some levels.  My biggest problem is how there is no oversight over these things coming from the state.  Why does it take putting a school on formal review before the truth comes out?  Is there no one watching things at the granular level before it blows up?  Like I said, it’s not just charter schools.  It is districts too.  Both need to be watched very closely.  The charters get caught for it more but districts are doing shady crap too.  We all know it.  They know it.  It’s just a matter of time.

I am glad this report got out before the State Board of Education decided on the school’s charter renewal tomorrow night.  If I were the State Board, I would vote to keep Odyssey on probation until their actual renewal at the end of the school year! (special thanks to the friend who explained this could be a viable option!)

Homeowners Set To Get Screwed With Governor Carney’s “Shared Sacrifice”

Yesterday, the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee (DEFAC) projected Delaware’s budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 to be $395 million dollars.  This is up ten million from the last time the committee met.  Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will discuss the impact on taxpayers.  Governor Carney is suggesting school boards raise what is known as the match tax (the portion the state matches certain funding) by having the district school boards levy the tax without a referendum.

Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, created an impact budget for how this increase would hit taxpayers.  In the below example, a home that just sold for $224,000 would see their property taxes raised $46.50 with the match tax scenario.  Keep in mind, this is based on the property assessment value of $63,700, which is almost a quarter of the home’s actual value based on the sale price.

This is not the only sting homeowners, as well as all Delaware citizens, will feel starting July 1st.  State taxes, collected from paychecks, will go up for most.  State employees will see higher insurance rates.  Salary raises for state employees will most likely disappear.  Services will be cut.  It is all rather bleak.  Our General Assembly has utilized every single benefit to state funding, such as the proceeds from the tobacco lawsuit, without realizing those perks were eventually going to disappear.  State revenue does not match state expenses.  Companies, such as DuPont and soon Barclays, left Delaware for the most part, causing a severe lack of revenue and jobs.  Delaware has, and will continue to, spend more than it makes.

With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, there was a request to raise property assessment values.  While Delaware’s assessment values are still far lower than most states, it also created an influx of senior citizens moving to The First State because of that.  But the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, already through the special education tuition tax and soon the match tax, could have a negative impact on the desire of the elderly to move to Delaware or even stay here.

Meanwhile, there has been no action on the Governor’s part to institute the basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced two bills in the last two General Assemblies to take care of this but neither bill has moved forward due to the state funding issues.  Oblivious to all the future costs by not having this essential funding in place, our state continues to bumble through special education with this very real omission to the foundation of special education students who are just beginning to manifest their disabilities.  The projected amount to fund what should have always been there is a little bit less than $13 million a year.  By not providing that funding, the state relies on the school districts or charter schools to pay for these services.  Either way, it has a negative effect.  If the school does provide those services, it results in more of a drain on local funding.  If the school doesn’t, they are not only breaking special education law if the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program, but they are also looking at higher costs for that student in the future by not providing that foundation.  So that $13 million a year mushrooms to much higher costs for these students down the road.

Just this morning, State Rep. Earl Jaques announced a new bill on Facebook creating a fund in the Delaware Dept. of Education budget for an Educational Support Professional of the Year award.  Delaware has 16 school districts, 3 vocational districts, and over 20 charter schools.  This bill would allow each district (20, which includes one award for all the charters) to give their winner an extra $1000.00.  The overall winner would get $1,500.00.  While $21,500 in the DOE budget doesn’t amount to much, it is symptomatic of the mindset of far too many of our legislators.  Instead of finding solutions, too many of them find ways to spend even more money.  If our state was swimming in money, I would be okay with this bill.  But not now.

Delaware’s legislature is going to have their hands full when they return from Spring Break next Tuesday.  This budget deficit is not the result of a national recession like what we faced in 2009.  This is Delaware created.  We spent our way out of the recession and now we are paying the piper.  Governor Carney looks like a deer running towards headlights with his reactions to this ever-increasing budget deficit.  I predict he will have a very tough time getting re-elected in 2020 if this trend continues.