The Peculiarities Of The Charter School Lawsuit

wheelsonthebus

It struck me, as I awoke today at 5:30am, that some things involved with the charter school lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE, that the charters were well aware of a simple fact.

Christina did not pass two referenda in 2015.  As a result, their funding from Christina was going to be less per student than what it had been last year.  With referendum, it doesn’t really kick in until the next school year.  You still have to get the taxes from the people.  So they were all warned.  They knew their payments would be less.  This is why Greg Meece became desperate, searching for needles in a haystack.  Anything to get mo money.  It’s kind of like a scientific experiment.  You want to turn air into gold.  You know it won’t work, but you keep trying.  So Meece began his journey last winter, looking for anything to justify his school getting more money.

He had help.  Of that I am nearly certain.  Someone had to give him something to look for.  Whether he searched out that person or they came to him is a matter of debate.  Meece also knew he had big financial issues coming up if he didn’t get that money.  This school year was the year his long-held dream came to fruition: a K-12 school.  His students would finally become seniors.  But if he was getting less per student, who would pay for these rising costs to run NCS?

Out of all the 15 charter schools who filed suit, NCS has the most to gain.  But do you want to know who will most likely get the most money, if they should prevail?  Saul Ewing LLP.  The attorneys always make out like bandits!

Another thing struck me.  I’ve been very hard on David Blowman through all this.  But if the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education is the one that sends the charter bills to the districts, and Blowman was attempting to make some type of course correction from previous years, then who was the one sending the prior charter bills?  Last winter, David Blowman and Karen Field-Rogers switched places at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Blowman used to be the Deputy Secretary of Education.  Field-Rogers was the Assistant Deputy.  Which means she was the one sending the charter bills to the districts all those years.  Or at the very least, signing off on them.  I’m sure I could go back years and years on this, all the way back to 2008 which seems to be this critical flashpoint for the charters.  I’m sure there were others.  Under that theory, if Christina submitted exclusions to the DOE and the DOE signed off on them, the case against Christina is gone.  This is all on the DOE, not Christina.  Legally, it doesn’t matter if the DOE should or shouldn’t have approved those exclusions, the simple fact remains that they did.

Here is another one.  Godowsky didn’t know about this until after the charter bills went out.  So why is Godowsky named in the lawsuit?  He inherited another DOE employee’s mess.  But Godowsky’s job, as per Delaware law, is to either change the formula or have it remain the same, by September 1st of each year.  The local funding formula did not change.  Because e=mc² no matter what the variables are in each part.  So Godowsky didn’t change the formula after September 1st, he changed the amount based on the already existing formula which he didn’t even know about until after it was done to begin with.  There is a huge difference.  I know, I’m defending the Delaware Secretary of Education here, but I do believe in fairness.

But here is the kicker.  If the charters win, they stand to get a bucketload of money, right?  Which would cause Christina to most likely seek another referendum.  Which would give the charters even more money based on the court-approved decision with the exclusions.  But if Christina lost that referendum, the charters would get less money the next year (like what happened to them this year based on the 2015 failed referenda).  Or, if they put Christina into such a financial pickle the State of Delaware had to bail them out, they would then be relying on getting funding from the same entity they sued.  But if the Christina School District went bankrupt, and the state took them over or converted the whole district to charter schools, and the state only gives so much to each district or charter, what would happen to the 15 charters share of local funding if the local district isn’t there anymore?  They would wind up with less money.  Or even better yet, if WEIC goes through and the Christina Wilmington schools convert over to Red Clay before this goes to court, would they then have to include Red Clay in the suit even though Red Clay’s local funding to charters is different?  I don’t think they thought this through long-term.  I can’t believe the “charter school Don” as Kilroy puts it even took this case.

If their “smoking gun” is what I think it is…good luck with that one 15 charters!  Meanwhile, the wheels on the bus go round and round…

What Delaware Can Learn From The Newark Charter School Students And The “Slappening” Sit-In

Last Friday, Newark Charter School students performed a “sit-in” to protest an incident which has been referred to as “The Slappening” among the student body of Newark Charter School.  200 high school students participated in the sit-in until administrators broke up the party in the cafeteria.  This is about 1/4th of their student body at their high school.  While we don’t know if the teacher was reinstated, we do know that when the majority of the people stand up for something they believe in, people take notice.  This was what I attempted to push for the opt out movement in Delaware.  If everyone opted out, then Smarter Balanced would have disappeared.  We can still do this, but not just with “Smarter” as the DOE puts it (which is ironic because it is dumber), but all standardized tests.  Whether they are once a year or embedded as “stealth test” in personalized learning technology coming soon to a school near you.  And when it comes to all that ed tech, you can opt out of that as well.  If enough parents do it, we can make ed tech irrelevant and be assured our child’s every keystroke isn’t tracked and catalogued by Education Inc. and their data is safe.  As well, this will protect the teaching profession so they don’t become glorified TFA or Relay moderators.  It’s a win-win.  No battle is ever won by sitting at the table and compromising to the point of surrender.

Wait one minute, let’s get back to “The Slappening”.  I saw many tweets which indicated the teacher was terminated after the student sit-in at Newark Charter School last Friday.  While I won’t put minors tweets on this blog, I can say one tweet was pretty definitive!  I have a very good idea of what actually happened between the teacher and the student last week and what led to “The Slappening”.  I can’t see, in that situation, where a teacher should have been terminated.  That teacher has rights.  She also has the right to due process.  Had I known about this sit-in beforehand, I would have sat in with the students as well (Yeah right, like Greg Meece would let that happen)!  But I do respect what the students did.

This has been a very bizarre year for the higher-ups at Newark Charter School.  From their insane awards based on Smarter Balanced results to the “social engineering” of their lottery last winter  to my strange discovery they are the only charter school in the state that doesn’t file IRS 990 tax returns to the district-charter funding war which has now become the charter-Christina-DOE lawsuit to “The Slappening”.  I have to wonder if a change needs to happen.  Not my place, but just putting it out there.  Many students were terrified of the sit-in and what could happen to them.  But they did it anyway.  They stood up (or sat down) to the school leaders and said stop with the madness.  Granted, what they were hoping for didn’t happen, but it did draw attention to the school through major Delaware media like the News Journal.  Even the students seemed shocked they made delawareonline.

It is 2016.  Newark Charter School is having a VERY bizarre year.  With absolutely no disrespect intended for the students or the parents, but your administrators and board have made some really strange decisions.  It’s refreshing in a weird way that NCS has lost its aura of being such a well-behaved mild-mannered gee we’re awesome school.  It brings the school back down to earth.  I hope more students and parents speak out about issues going on there.  I’m not saying NCS should become a priority school tomorrow, but the era of invincibility is over.  NCS had the veil lowered and we are all getting a chance to peek in.  Greg Meece has allowed his temper to get the best of him this year and he has been there a loooooooooooooooooong time.  He can do one of two things: keep the Harry Potter cloak back on the NCS schools or just let things flow.  I’m hoping for the latter.  But that will require him also lightening up on a few other things.

I believe the original intent of NCS was for parents to get their kids out of the Christina School District.  Did they have cause?  Sure they did.  But there are really good things happening in Christina right now.  There are also bad.  As there are in every single school in America.  Even NCS.  I get the need to protect your child.  But if it gets to a point where what one student has means many others do without, how is that teaching any child right and wrong?  I’m not saying this to start a fight.  Truly.  But if we always have this divide in this state, nothing anyone does will ever fix anything.  This lawsuit NCS triggered… it’s not good for Delaware.  It’s not good for NCS or Christina.  Lawsuits cost a ton of money.  But more than that, they take away from students.  They create long-lasting hostilities that play out for decades.  NCS sees this one way and Christina sees it another.  Eventually, unless it goes into some type of settlement, a judge will decide.  Chances are it isn’t going to play out the way the fifteen charters think it will.  I have no doubt Meece thinks he has some smoking gun he thinks will make the case.  It might, but not against Christina.  The Delaware DOE?  Probably.  But never underestimate what happens when you poke a bear.  If NCS truly thinks Christina will take this like a champ, they are wrong.  All 15 charters are wrong.

At a time when Delaware as a whole is trying to figure out pretty much every single aspect of education, from funding to academics to post-secondary outcomes to early childhood to special education to testing, we have a group of charters merrily led by their cheerleader over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, some legal eagles, and probably a few other “stakeholders” trying to upset the apple cart and make sure they get what they think is their bounty.  But have they given one thought to what this means to Delaware students as a whole?  Nope.

That teacher the NCS students staged a sit-in for… why don’t they do that for ALL Delaware students.  They loved their teacher and fought for what they believed was just and fair.  Something was taken away from these students and they didn’t like it.  They did what Americans have been doing since the Boston Tea Party.  Now imagine all those students in Christina who will have less so the charters can have more.  Is that fair to them?  NCS has their engaged parents and their cafetorium and all that.  Not every school in Christina does.  Some schools don’t even have a librarian.  Stage a sit-in for that.  If the teacher you lost is as great as you say she is, she will find a new job.  This issue, due to your efforts, has been very public.  But the students in Christina… they might not get those second chances because of this ridiculous lawsuit.

Education is never going to be fixed no matter what all the corporate dreamers think will happen.  As long as there is one individual in a school, there will always be issues.  But the key is trying to find a way to make it work.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t the way.  This is why the charters, despite what they think happened and are behaving worse than any petulant child, are a classic example of what not to do in education.  This is making them reviled and hated more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

 

 

Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning: How The Lawsuit Against Christina And The Delaware DOE Happened

On September 2nd, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman met with Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel, Joanne Schlossberg, Chuck Taylor, Margie Lopez-Waite, Kendall Massett, and William Manning at Newark Charter School.  The last name is important because William Manning is the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education.  William Manning is a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which also happens to be the lead charter school attorney law firm.

Delaware charter schools, especially ones alleged to “cherry-pick” students, have long complained about not getting their rightful share of money while at the same time they constantly boast how they “do more with less”.  In fact, Manning complained about this to the U.S. Congress back in 2000, as I wrote in an article last year:

I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.

Manning served as the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education when the original Delaware charter school law was written in 1995.  But where this gets more interesting is Manning’s very direct tie with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  His wife, Martha Manning, created the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  She is also on the boards of Innovative Schools and the Red Clay Education Foundation.

Martha Manning stepped down from the Delaware Charter Schools Network in 2006, but her husband is still heavily involved with Saul Ewing LLP.  It was not a coincidence he was called in for the Sept. 2nd meeting at Newark Charter School, mentioned above.  Chuck Taylor is the Head of School and Providence Creek Academy, the President of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Margie Lopez-Waite runs Las Americas ASPIRAS.  And Kendall Massett… good old Kendall… who gave a presentation at the State Board of Education meeting last month on, of all possible things, charter and district collaboration.  The irony is still astounding!  Kendall gave a quote to the News Journal yesterday:

Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said in a prepared statement, “We applaud the state Department of Education for recognizing the out-of-proportion exclusion requests from Christina School District this year and for taking steps to bring them in line, in the interest of fairness for students and to make the process consistent among all districts. But that decision was reversed after the deadline mandated by state law.”

Whatever Kendall!  Many decisions were made without full clarity.  In fact, the whole process beginning with the NCS Trio getting a meeting with David Blowman wasn’t readily shared with all district financial officers.  In fact, we can see how the Delaware DOE actually blew off Robert Silber when he asked the DOE why they wanted a list of district exclusions.

This was why State Rep. John Kowalko submitted a request to Secretary Godowsky in early September for a list of who was involved and specific dates.  Godowsky did provide that timeline and specific names to Rep. Kowalko on September 20th.  Rep. Kowalko asked me to share this with the public so that everyone knows what the specific timeline was and who was involved in each step.  In addition, there are several emails from the Delaware DOE to charter and school leaders.


From: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request

Rep. Kowalko,

Please find answers embedded in red below as well as attached copies of email correspondence in response to your questions.

I need to know the details of the meeting in April which was attended by Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel and David Blowman, with a list of anyone else who attended that meeting, whether from DOE, State Board, or other (for instance the DE Charter Schools Network, etc.). I would like to know if any legislators attended that meeting. I am also asking if there were additional meetings with any smaller groups discussing this matter and who were attendees. I want to know if there were any unannounced meetings w/CFOs or Superintendents regarding this issue. I realize the DOE has monthly meetings, usually separate, with all the charter and district CFOs. Has anyone else attended these meetings?

Those four were the only ones at the meeting, which occurred at the request of the school.

Please send me a timeline of events, including:

When the CFOs were notified about submitting a list of excluded information (in May as I’ve been made aware by one district) and whether the notification went to all districts and when was that list due.

                *Discussed at April 8 Business Managers meeting (see agenda from April 7 email attached)

                *Follow-up email sent May 25 (see attached)

                *Christina response received June 8 (see attached)

Which individuals took part in the decision-making process regarding which exclusions were allowable or not allowable by DOE

                *David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley

When (specific date needed) the new allowable exclusion list was sent to CFOs/Superintendents

                *August 8 (see attached)

When (specific date) charters were notified so they could send their bills to DOE to send to districts

                *August 12 (see attached)

When (specific date) DOE sent those bills to the districts

                *August 16 (see attached)

When Bob Silber (Christina CFO) was notified of the exclusion issue with Christina

                *See above dates

Please send a list of all persons that attended the meeting at Newark Charter last week.  Steve Godowsky, David Blowman, Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel, Margie Lopez-Waite, Bill Manning, Chuck Taylor, Kendall Massett

As you can surmise I expect a list of any and all attendees at any meeting discussing this issue. Please send an accurate report of this information to me as soon as possible.

This also was discussed with superintendents at their September 1 Chief School Officers Association (CSOA) meeting at POLYTECH.

And this is what the Delaware DOE sent to State Rep. Kowalko in terms of email discussions concerning this issue.  Note the absence of any emails from the Newark Charter School trio to anyone at the DOE prior to April 8th when they would have requested the initial meeting with Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.

In the complaint against Christina and the DOE, it states the charters want a full accounting of what funds were excluded from the local payments to charters going back to 2008.  Why 2008?  At that time, the Superintendent of the Christina School District was Lillian Lowery.  Shortly after Governor Markell’s first inauguration in 2009, Lillian Lowery was confirmed by the Delaware Senate to become the Delaware Secretary of Education.  The looming question is what was signed off on back in 2008 and 2009 by the Delaware DOE.  Obviously, NCS feels this is some type of crucial timeframe which pertains to the lawsuit.  But the even bigger question is who was giving them information and why.  I’ve heard some wild tales about that timeframe.  But until I am able to confirm anything, I will remain mum.

Incident At Newark Charter School Leads To Student Sit-In And Many Questions…

I had an email forwarded to me this evening concerning an incident at Newark Charter School earlier this week.  While checking to see if something happened, I found the News Journal already covered this.  But what the News Journal didn’t publish was the email Newark Charter School’s Greg Meece sent to the parents about the altercation between a teacher and a student.  You can see that below.  But I have several dozen questions about this incident which didn’t even come up in the article.  While I respect the fact that Meece can’t talk about the incident because it involves an employee, the comments on the News Journal article spin many different tales…

He said the incident was in a classroom earlier this week and involved a female high school student and teacher in a physical altercation over a cell phone.  He added the cell phone did not belong to the student.  Meece said neither was at school Friday, but no formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time.

Excuse me?  A teacher has a physical altercation with a student and NO arrest was made?  Seriously?  Since when can a teacher have ANY type of physical altercation with a student?  Has the student and teacher been out of school all week?  Where is the due process for the student and the teacher if NO formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time?  Was “informal” disciplinary action taken?

This is the definition of a physical altercation, with certain words bolded for emphasis:

A physical altercation is defined as being an argument, dispute or altercation that involves force or physical aggression. Physical altercations differ from verbal altercations because physical contact is involved. These types of disputes are sometimes referred to as fights and may legally qualify as battery.

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A peaceful gathering?  Maybe for the students, but according to this commenter on Facebook, the school wasn’t too happy about it…

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That is a very different yarn than the one spun by Greg Meece in his email to the parents and the News Journal:

“The principal of our building spoke to the students and thanked them for their voices and being heard,” Meece said.

What happens at Newark Charter Schools stays at Newark Charter School… until a student and a teacher have a physical altercation that is.  I don’t know why Newark Charter School treats itself like it is an isolated school cut off from the rest of the state.  How much goes on there that the public has no clue about?  If someone didn’t tip off the News Journal or myself on this, who would have known?  But we see teachers getting arrested in Delaware.  For more egregious things than this, but it happens.  Perhaps the teacher was defending herself.  But according to the above commenter, it was all a lie.  If there was any physical force involved, were the police notified?  The Senate Bill which minimizes when the police are called, Senate Bill 207, passed in the Delaware General Assembly this year, but it was very specific in its language to specify “between students”.  It did not mention staff members.  Which means Newark Charter School, if they did not notify the police, may have broken the law.  Whether it was a student or a teacher, if the matter became physical, they are legally obligated to do so.  Why didn’t the News Journal question that aspect of the story?

ncsincidentcomments3

Scandals?  Sweeping things under the rug?  I thought NCS was this model of good behavior and nothing happened there…

It is hard to believe this particular commenter in one aspect.  If this happened Monday, there is no possible way the parents could have sued the teacher in four days.  They may have talked to an attorney, but nothing moves that fast.  But they are absolutely right that students should have a voice.  The threats coming out of the administration when students were having a peaceful sit-in could have been treated with more respect if the above commenter’s comments are true.

What does Newark Charter School’s code of conduct say about this kind of incident?  It doesn’t reference this specific type of situation, but it does say this:

Referral to Police Agency is required for students who intentionally and offensively touch a staff member who is attempting to break up a fight or who is attempting to keep a student from injuring him/herself or others.  Recommendation for expulsion may be considered.

But they do reference House Bill 322, which the Delaware General Assembly passed in 1997:

In addition to any action taken by school officials, the school will comply with the notification requirements of H.B. 322 which includes notification of police.

This was in a section that talked about fighting.  I hate to keep beating on the same drum, but if this was an incident that was so minor, why would Meece refer to it as a “physical altercation” which has a very definitive legal meaning?

Are parents allowed to discuss this incident?  On the closed to members only NCS Parents Facebook page, it was a huge topic of discussion this week until the moderator deleted all the comments about it to protect the identity of the student and the teacher.  Even though all the parents already knew about it.  This was reported to me by a few parents of students who belong to that page.

Newark Charter School needs to be more open and honest with parents about situations, instead of putting on an “everything’s fine” face with the News Journal.  There was a lot Meece could have talked about with this article, but I’ve always been told Meece is a very smart man and chooses his words very carefully.  But no public school receiving taxpayer dollars should think they can isolate themselves from transparency.  They aren’t North Korea.

I’ve heard of many teachers at NCS getting fired with no form of due process whatsoever.  Delaware charter schools do not have teacher unions which, in this case, would have given the teacher protection if they were fired over this.  But we will most likely never know because of the isolationist mindset coming from this school…

Breaking News: Secretary Godowsky Letter To General Assembly States No Changes In Charter Funding This Year, Including Exclusions

The District-Charter Funding War of 2016 has officially been declared over.

While this topic will assuredly come up again, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky sent a letter to the Delaware House of Representatives and the Delaware Senate stating no changes will be made to choice and charter school funding this year.  This includes any changes in exclusions.  The Delaware Dept. of Education is putting a “hold” on what the exclusions had previously been until this blew up a couple of weeks ago in the public eye.

Please note how Godowsky frames the origin of this as “district to district” concerns.  That is an absolute lie.  We all know exactly where this originated from- Newark Charter School.  We also know the Delaware DOE was willing to stab school districts in the back in order to please the charters by circumventing state code any way they possibly could.  What they didn’t count on was the public openly revolting against them.  As I’ve been telling people, if you make enough noise, things will change.  We need to take this momentum and do more with it.  Markell, for all intents and purposes, is a lame-duck.  Godowsky will be gone in the next six months.  The DOE, at least their leadership, looks more like incompetent buffoons by the day.  This was a big mistake on their part.  Very big.  It would have been one thing if they made this a public matter.  Another if they clued the districts into it instead of all this cloak and dagger drama.

While this “resolution” doesn’t completely finish the job, the non-transparency role of this saga will end.  Any meetings going forward on this will be in the presence of the House and Senate Education Committees.  There is still one guy at the DOE who I believe has a lot to answer for.  I’m talking to you Mr. David Blowman.

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!

 

The Week That Was And The Week To Come With New Information About The Old

As Christina and Newark Charter School head into a showdown of sorts, new information about Chartergate 2016 is coming to light.  But first, a week in review with all the news from the first week of school in Delaware.  And what a week it was!

It has been one hell of a week.  Make that ten days!  Hogging up the headlines was the (still) ongoing district-charter funding issue.  Things got ugly with Newark Charter School parents and the News Journal articles.  Sometimes you have to look to the past to figure out why this happened to begin with.  Christina made an official announcement that became not so official hours later.  I believe I figured it out in the end but new information will be revealed below.

But to me, the most important post I put up was the one about the Smarter Balanced Assessment and some schools not letting kids take AP classes over SBAC scores or if their parents opted their child out of the test.  I should have added honors classes because that came up a bit too.

The Indian River financial mess (meltdown?) is going to get bigger.  I felt it was important to let folks know there are some serious problems going on there.  This won’t be good for the state for several reasons.

Doing the education interviews with three out of the four Governor candidates was awesome.  I liked hearing their different views on education.  I endorsed Scott Gesty for Congress.  I’m still bummed Carney didn’t want to play.  Milford School District is having tuition tax woes.  Senator Sokola plagiarized wrote a letter to the editor in the News Journal.

Governor Jack Markell had a busy week when he wasn’t riding around with Batman.  He had an interesting weekly message (this was not an audition for U.S. Secretary of Education…that was the joke) and he got an honor.  Jack signed an Executive Order for ESSA collaboration with stakeholders.  An afterschool task force had a meeting in the morning.  The Delaware DOE was called out for ignoring allegations of fraud at the College Board over the revamped SAT.

On Wednesday, at 7:30am, there will be a Legislative Briefing at the Eden Hill Center.  This is open to the public, but not for public comment.  In attendance will be Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski, CFO Bob Silber, State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach and Earl Jaques that I know of so far.  Christina will present their side of the story to the legislators.  This is NOT a done deal.  Despite what you may have heard, that the local cost per pupil won’t change this year, that statement in and of itself is the misnomer not too many people have caught.

The Delaware DOE saying that means they were going to change the formula.  This isn’t just about the exceptions that charter kids don’t get choice money for from the districts.  The DOE was actually going to change the formula, without any input from anyone.  The charters already sent out their bills to the districts.  When Secretary Godowsky said he wasn’t going through with that, I assume that means those payments are on hold or they will revert back to what it always was.  But from what I’m hearing, they aren’t budging with Christina and their exceptions.  As I wrote on Friday, those exceptions were approved by the Delaware DOE.  They can’t go back now and say they weren’t.  That will be Christina’s case in all this, and I have to say I agree with them.

I also wrote that I wanted to know how Greg Meece all of a sudden came up with this brilliant idea of going after Christina for this.  I have a few suspects with this.  I will reserve names until I know for sure who did it.  But rest assured, I will find out.  They can ‘fess up to me now if they like, or I can write when I know for sure.  Your choice (see, I do support choice).

One thing that did bother me over the weekend was a State Representative’s Facebook page.  This rep wanted to call me out for saying I will have to apologize to Newark Charter School if it turns out they were in the right.  It’s called sarcasm, but the state rep obviously didn’t get that.  This rep went a step further to admonish blogs and not to believe everything you read.  Sorry, what did I get wrong so far?  I clearly stated in the original article I didn’t have specifics or that I knew what the exact items were that will be taken away from the district’s restricted funding part of their local funds.  Perhaps that part didn’t dawn on the State Rep.  But I gave enough information for that rep and several others to make frantic calls and emails to Secretary Godowsky.  And it changed the course of their original intention, which was to change the formula.  So while this state rep wants to call me out as a blogger, I feel it is necessary to remind this state rep they had no clue about any of this until I wrote about it.  By telling people on one hand the DOE isn’t going to take any action only to find out a few days later they will take some sort of action against Christina, who isn’t really sure about their information?

What concerned me even more was a post about the legislative briefing on Wednesday.  This same state rep told people it was a legislative briefing and wouldn’t be open to the public.  Even though the Christina School District wrote a letter publicly announcing this meeting.  The President of the Christina Board, Elizabeth Paige, pointed out that the district was making it open to the public.  I commented that closed-door meetings were what started this mess to begin with.  The state rep never responded to this.  I find it ironic that this state rep would want this meeting to be a closed-door meeting.  In other posts the rep put up they mention working with the DOE and getting it all sorted out.  If I have learned one thing in Delaware, the DOE does what the DOE wants.  There isn’t any compromise unless those are things the DOE throw out as bait to get what they want all along.  We all know who runs the DOE, and it is NOT Secretary Godowsky.  Remember, he serves at the pleasure of the Governor.

There was one final thing the state rep did that ticked me off.  The rep wrote about my articles a few times over the week.  The rep kept referring to me as “the blogger” as if we had never met before.  I’ve talked to this state rep several times.  We are on a first-name basis when we see each other.  But somewhere along the way I must have become “toxic” to this state rep if he can’t address me in a public post by my name.  I suppose the state rep is upset with me about a few things lately.  The rep is more than welcome to engage in an actual conversation with me without resorting to passive-aggressive potshots at me on social media.  But I can promise the rep one thing: I will blog as I please and you can either deal with it or not.  I truly don’t care.  I’m sure I could write the “correct way” about a few things pertaining to this state rep, but I’m taking the high road here.

Speaking of closed-door meetings, what many of you may not know is that district Superintendents attended a meeting at the DOE last week.  And there was a swap-out so to speak of different exclusions.  It worked out so that it would basically be a draw for the districts.  Well, almost all of them.  Not so for Christina.  By the DOE doing this, they have effectively targeted Christina with all this and pitted the other fifteen districts against them.  And the charters?  I hear there was a meeting with Secretary Godowsky as well at Newark Charter School (such an impartial place to have this kind of meeting).  The charter leaders were told the formula change wasn’t going to happen this year.

So this boils down to Newark Charter School (and other charters Christina gives local funding to) versus Christina School District in the immediate future.  They are going after Christina money in what I suspect will wind up being an illegal move.  I also predict Christina will take legal action if they push this.  This is not an area for compromise.  It is petty.  What remains to be seen is what the original plan looked like.  Remember, Godowsky found out about this after the charter bills went out to the districts.  So how can the DOE do anything like this without the Secretary’s approval?  That is the burning question every one should be asking.  Whoever our new Governor is, he or she is going to have one royal mess on their hands!

Jaques And Sokola Emails Actually Reveal Levels Of Collusion & Deception At High Levels…But From Who?

An email from Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola sheds new light on the district-charter funding debacle that has taken over Delaware education talk in the past week.  Meanwhile, the News Journal came out with another article on the issue that is sure to confuse everyone.

In the below email sent from Jaques to the House Education Committee, he gives a timeline of the events from the point in time he got involved in the issue and clarifies when Secretary of Education Dr. Stephen Godowsky found out about this.  He also put in a reply Sokola sent to a constituent regarding the issue which has some very accusatory statements toward Christina School District.

From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:41 PM To: Bentz, David (LegHall); Bolden, StephanieT (LegHall); Dukes, Timothy (LegHall); Heffernan, Debra (LegHall); Hensley, Kevin S (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kenton, Harvey (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Miro,   Joseph (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Ramone, Michael (LegHall) Cc: Schwartzkopf, Peter (LegHall); Sokola, David (LegHall)

Subject: School Funding Formula  

House Education Committee Members,   Late last week I received notice about  a formula change between Charter Schools and our traditional Public Schools. I immediately called and talked with Secretary Godowsky to see if what I heard was correct and if so why was this change being made.  I was told by him that yes a change was proposed and he wasn’t aware of this change until just the day before.  On a side note, I wasn’t very happy to hear about this – since I and Dr. Godowsky just had breakfast only a couple of days before this news broke and no mention of this was discussed by him to me!  I was told by Dr. Godowsky that he has put a hold on any possible changes to the funding formula until there are complete discussionswith all stakeholders.  I then called Governor Markell to voice both my concern and outrage   at how this proposed change was brought forward with no regards to public input, transparency or discussion with either myself or Senator Sokola. I then called Superintendent Burrows, this year’s head of the chiefs, and was assured by him that no discussions between the “chiefs” and DOE regarding this change had occurred.  Their only acknowledgement came when they starting receiving bills from the charter schools and subsequently called DOE to find out what was going on.  On the very next day I was at a public event with Governor Markell.  He reinstated to me that no actions regarding the funding formula will occur this year and any discussions on this subject will be transparent and inclusive. Again, I followed up with Secretary Godowsky, requesting  that any changes to the   formula would require an open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders and plenty of public input. Today, there was a story in the News Journal that you might want to read to gain more insight.   

In addition, I have attached below part of an email that Senator Sokola sent to one of his constituents which gives very good details and background on the formula mechanism.  Although, his email talks about the Christina School District, I want to remind   you that this formula applies to all public schools across our state.

“It turns out that the funding formula has not changed, and the Secretary does not have the authority to change the formula that is in the code. There have been times over the years when there have been disputes about how the formula works, and apparently   we have one now. The dispute relates to the part of the code that allows for certain exemptions from the money that “follows the child” to a Choice or Charter alternative. The code allows for 4 specific areas and then has some general language that allows   a district to petition the Secretary of Education to allow for additional exemptions of local operating funds, and to sign off on those itemized expenses. The Christina District increased that line from under $700 thousand to about $9.2 million since 2011,   and has not asked the Secretary for approval of the increased exemptions. No other district in NCC has had anything but nominal changes in that time frame. The money in question also has nothing to do with the Autism Program or the Program for the Hearing   Impaired that are managed by Christina. It is my understanding that any action from the Secretary at this time is on hold, however Christina still has a legal obligation to specify those expenses beyond the 4 that are in the code that should be exempt, and   to have a formal sign off by the Secretary. I have supported for quite some time a weighted student funding policy, and would hope that we could make more progress on such a funding system. The money needs to specifically follow a student to a school, which   is not done well in Delaware including in Christina. Dispute resolution should be done by some mutually agreed upon mechanism, or one established in the code. If there still is not agreement, we have constitutionally protected separation of powers, and the legal system would be the mechanism of last resort. That is generally not a win-win result for the parties who are in disagreement.

The specific funding issues you mentioned can certainly be submitted to the Secretary and the district needs to be open, transparent and detailed with the financial records to make their case. The Secretary will be willing to consider the specific lines   of exemption that CSD has the legal obligation to propose. He would be negligent if he did not follow his statutory authority to review any specific exemptions proposed by CSD, and CSD would be negligent by not specifically submitting line items of proposed   exemptions to the formula that is in the code. If CSD does not make specific proposals, the district is at risk of legal action that the legislature and the Secretary are constitutionally barred from intervening in. My hope and advice to the Secretary has   been to give broad discretion to the specifics identified by Christina, and that we could have that open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders to clarify the financial obligations of a sending district to the various choice options   made by students and families.”  

As I receive additional information regarding this subject I will keep you informed…  

Earl Jaques

Chair, House Education Committee

So how is that Sokola tells a constituent that Christina performed this horrible deed but the News Journal doesn’t mention it once?  Sokola is saying Christina purposely withheld submitting their exclusions from the Delaware DOE.  Jaques states Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows didn’t know about this situation unfolding since last April until recently.  So how is it that the DOE asked the districts for this information in April as suggested by Saranac Spencer, the author of the News Journal article?  Actually, it was in May based on the below timeline.

In order to try to unify the system, the department began considering adjustments to the formula in April, when it asked districts across the state for an inventory of the exclusions they claim.

The actual timeline of events is as follows:

March 11th: Newark Charter School Head of School Greg Meece meets with Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzjewski to discuss the upcoming Christina referendum and payments from Christina to NCS. (source: Newark Charter School March 2016 Board Minutes)

Early April 2016: NCS representatives Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel meet with Associate Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman to discuss exclusions in the funds Christina sends to NCS.  The DOE indicates all exclusions will require approval from the Secretary of Education. (Source NCS April and May Board minutes)

April 8th: DOE holds District Business Manager’s meeting where the subject of district exclusions is brought up with District Chief Financial Officers.

May 2016: DOE sends out notices to District CFOs to send lists of their exclusion items in their local school budgets.

Mid-May: Kathleen Davies put on leave as Auditor of Accounts at Delaware State Auditor’s office.

August 8th: DOE sends out letters to District CFOs stating what exclusions are allowable and which aren’t.

Week of August 16th: Districts start receiving bills from charter schools for projected students choicing to charters from their districts.

August 19th: Secretary Godowsky finds out about situation going on with charter school payments from districts.

Week of Augusts 23rd: Word on situation slowly trickles out to school administration and some boards.

August 27th: Exceptional Delaware breaks news of a coming change in the way districts pay charters based on an approval from Secretary Godowsky, blogger was given information from various sources about changes regarding restricted funds being moved to non-restricted funds, no information given to blogger about specific exclusions.

August 28th: Legislators pound Godowsky who informs them there will be no change in the funding structure this year.

August 31st: News Journal covers story and states districts may have to adhere to the exemption list from the August 8th letter.

September 1st: NCS Board President Stephen Dressel writes letter to NCS parents alleging wrongdoing from Christina and a “few other districts”, states this isn’t a change in the formula for local cost per student but a correction, commenter on Facebook alleges parents from Las Americas ASPIRA also received a similar letter.

September 1st: Another News Journal article quotes DOE Spokeswoman Alison May as stating they may not be able to change this because bills already went out from charters to districts.

September 1st: Email from Earl Jaques to House Education Committee references a change in the formula, not a correction, email also has Sokola accusing Christina of not sending approval for exclusions to Secretary since 2011 for what was a $700,000 amount then which is now $9.2 million.

Here is the question no one seems to be addressing though.  What is the amount in that discretionary budget was approved once and didn’t have to be again?  When a district goes out for a referendum, it asks taxpayers to help the district pay for certain things.  What if Christina had a referendum at one point in time, designated a specific amount for what would become an exclusion in their local budget, and the DOE approved it.  Say that was 10 cents for every $100 of assessed property value.  As Sokola alleges, Christina kept shoving money into this fund causing it to rise over $8 million dollars.  But that 10 cents from a referendum, which becomes a part of the district’s local funds would certainly grow over time.  In 2010, Christina narrowly won a referendum.  But it stands to reason some of those designated funds could go into this “discretionary” bucket in their budget.  Which would certainly build up over time.  If the DOE approved this in July 2010, which would have been Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, then that exclusion would not have to be approved every year.  That portion of the tax payments sent in from residents would just keep building in that bucket.  So Sokola’s allegation that Christina was willfully withholding payments from the charters by shoving money in this hidden bucket is blatantly false.

Now the big question is what started this runaway train.  Yes, charters have lobbied for more money from districts for years.  No one is arguing that.  But they were not going after these discretionary amounts approved by the Secretary of Education.  They wanted a share of the food services revenue the districts received, which is explicitly exempt from being a part of the payments made to charter schools since they have their own food programs which they get funds from at a federal, state, and local level.  So how would Greg Meece know to look for this one specific thing and start a chain of events that led up to now?  I’m working on that answer as we speak and I expect I will know the answer to that one in the next couple of weeks.

What leads me to believe Christina wasn’t “stuffing” money away into this secret account is also the reaction of one man to all of this.  If the DOE sent out these notices about the exclusion items last May, Christina CFO Bob Silber would have been freaking out back then about it.  If he knew the direction this was heading, he would have planned for it in their FY2017 budget, which he clearly did not.  From many people I’ve talked to in the district, Silber didn’t start freaking out until the district received the DOE letter stating what the new exclusions were and when the charter bills started rolling in.  Which leads me to think he wouldn’t have had to keep getting approval for the exclusions he put in this bucket based on a referendum allocation, approved by then Secretary Lowery, which would, over the years, increase this bucket.

In the meantime, I have to wonder why Sokola would specifically mention the year 2011 to this constituent he replied to.  That is crucial to all of this under my theory.  It makes Christina look really guilty.  Why would Sokola make Christina appear to be guilty?  I think we all know the answer to that one.  Which confirms my suspicion about his involvement in all of this.  His incessant talk in this email about legal action if Christina doesn’t comply and who can do what and when and where shows he is been looking into this for much longer than anyone else has.  Sokola is not an attorney.  He worked at DuPont for many years.  Is he smart though?  Yes.  Devious?  Hell yes.  Would he be able to paint a picture showing Christina as a district that was denying money to charter schools, especially Newark Charter School, who was “denied” one million dollars this year if this “finding” doesn’t work out in their favor?  He did in his email to the constituent.

I would go so far as to say there is an integrity issue with Sokola at this point.  The ethics involved with this whole mess certainly lend a certain weight to Sokola and Meece being the brains behind all of this.  Jaques wasn’t involved in this based on what he wrote in his email.  But he made it a point to include what Sokola wrote as part of his email which lended considerable weight to perception of this issue.  For that, I have to wonder what Jaques knew and when he knew it.

Is this the end of this?  Probably not.  Someone will come on here and say I have it backwards and I’m theorizing all of  this.  That’s certainly an option.  But at the very least, this opens the door to careful inspection about what the Secretary of Education approves and if it is for exclusions in the local restricted budgets for districts based on referendum amounts, does that item need continuous approval from the Secretary.  I don’t believe it does.

 

 

Charter Bias, Bad Math & Lack Of Integrity Shine In News Journal Article About District-Charter Funding War

The News Journal just put up an article on the charter school funding scam and their bias towards charters is painfully clear.

Saranac Spencer has just proven herself as one of the worst education reporters in the history of Delaware.  First off, I know you reached out to more people than Alison May, Bob Silber, Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and two legislators for this article.  Second of all, you didn’t research the facts behind this story at all.  If the charter supporters were so shocked by the reversal of the Delaware DOE’s decision because they planned for it in their budgets, didn’t that throw up a major red flag for you?  The districts didn’t know about this at all until last week.  Charters planned their budgets months ago.  Doesn’t that point you in a direction of collusion Ms. Spencer?  Do you even know how to investigate an issue?  I know you read my blog post.  You completely ignored the fact this was done in closed-door meetings at the DOE by a rogue Associate Secretary of Education and Secretary Godowsky didn’t even know about this until last week.  That was the true story here.  But you used the word transparency once in the article.

Furthermore, the DOE didn’t “begin looking into this in April”.  It was brought to them by Greg Meece and his merry band of firestarters over at Newark Charter School.  Or, as you put it, the beneficiary of $1 million dollars in this debacle.  The fact that the DOE is in negotiations on this matter after Secretary Godowsky told legislators this would NOT happen this year shows them to be proven liars, yet again.

May said Wednesday night that the department was in discussions with district and charter leaders that would determine which formula would ultimately be used this year.

And what you didn’t even touch on is the fact that the DOE (or is it?) is eliminating the match tax allocations from a restricted status.  Yeah, you forgot that VERY big part.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the district had excluded $9.3 million. Under the adjusted formula for the 2017 fiscal year, it would only be able to exclude about $650,000.

Actually publishing this elusive formula would help.  Did you even bother to look at Christina’s budget to see what that means?  What programs and district services would have to be cut for Christina students?  Take away from poor students so the more affluent students at Newark Charter can get more “cafetoriums” and Title I awards when they aren’t even a Title I school?  And before some NCS parent or teacher says “that is federal money”, you’re missing my point.  No.  Not one mention of that.  It’s all about what the poor charters aren’t getting.  Poor Greg Meece.  Boo-Hoo.  Poor Kendall Massett.  Boo-friggin-Hoo.  Ms. Spencer didn’t even bother to see what those cuts are and what they will mean.  She took the side of the charter advocates and didn’t even ask the districts what their opinion was.  That is bad journalism and in very poor taste on a controversial issue.  I  got lambasted by those “charter school supporters” because my article wasn’t “true journalism”.  Guess what, your article was not true journalism.  Not even close.  I have a good excuse.  This is a blog.  But you, you represent the largest newspaper in the state.  And your taking sides is not a good work ethic or even close to journalistic integrity.  How about the News Journal starts to really investigate what goes on in this state instead of being a public relations vessel for the DOE and the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  It is getting really old.

But the worst bit of sloppiness in the article is the fact that THE NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP!  If you look at Christina’s preliminary FY2017 budget, there is something very wrong with her figures.  To anyone who decides to look up their budget, it shows over $49 million in Christina’s local restricted budget.  Now I can figure out where she got her $9.3 million figure from very clearly.  But to the readers of the News Journal who don’t happen to venture over here or bother to look up their budget, it paints a picture that Christina is skewing their numbers by 94%.  That is just bad journalism.  When the true story, based on what the charters are claiming to be true, is a very different percentage.  That comes out to 17.8% if  you take the TOTAL restricted funds they have of $48,389,296 by the very disputable $8.6 million the charters are claiming to be shortchanged from.  See what they did there?  Painting a picture like that on an already controversial issue is very deceptive.  It makes me wonder who in editorial is doing the fact-checking and let’s this hack work through to the printing press.

FY2016&2017CSD

If you subtract $650,000 from $9.3 million, you get $8,650,000.  Which number in this scenario shows $9,306,899?  That would be salary and wages.  But what the News Journal seems to forget is the fact that this district had a referendum last year.  And certain funds were earmarked out of the referendum revenue they will get to support the promises from that referendum.  Like restoring positions they cut when they lost their referendum attempts last year.  Which they have to do.  But the News Journal Lois Lane wannabe doesn’t bother to look into that important detail.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach plays the wishy-washy side here.

“The main concern is not that we are looking at the formula,” said state Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark. “The main concern is that too few eyes were looking at the formula.”

So whose responsibility is that?  What Rep. Baumbach fails to mention here is who has determined the formula for many years.  It is not the Delaware Department of Education.  It is the Office of Management and Budget, which comes out of the Governor’s office.  I pointed out in an article last night there was something very wrong with Christina jumping from $2.4 million to $7.3 million in payments to Newark Charter School over a three-year time span.  Especially when Newark Charter’s students that choiced from Christina only went from 1200 to 2000 in the same timeframe.  For a formula that hasn’t changed in well over a decade, except for minor inflation costs, that sure is one hell of a leap.  What has the Office of Management and Budget been doing with this formula?  Was this the same Office of Management and Budget that forced the Delaware Auditor of Accounts Office that forced Kathleen Davies to be put on leave?  The Auditor of Accounts for Delaware who was investigating charter schools in various inspections at the time?  One of which just so happened to be Newark Charter School?  I know that is a fact because I gave them the tip!  It looks to me like Newark Charter School has benefitted from this elusive formula for years!  Betcha didn’t know that very important fact Ms. Spencer!

The News Journal only mentions Baumbach and State Rep. Kim Williams as the legislators who reached out to Godowsky last Sunday.  There were many more.

But the topping on this farce of an article was the quote from Kendall Massett, of the lobbyist Delaware Charter Schools Network.

“This should not be a district-charter fight,” Massett said. “It’s about equity.”

Equity?  Coming from a paid lobbyist?  This woman has the unmitigated gall to bring up equity?  When she knows exactly what Newark Charter School does?  My God Kendall, please, just stop.  Equity and equality are too very different things.  Equity in this conversation would be closing down Newark Charter School based on their 21st Century racism, discrimination, and social engineering.  It is RACISM folks.  They can say they are coming around to it now, but the way their school is structured now with their demographics, it would take years for them to turn this discrimination factory around.  It is the affluent keeping out the unwanted.  It is segregation.  The very same school that will get more money and wants to cry poor?  When they just spent over $1.4 million dollars on a STEM lab and a performing arts center (or cafetorium as some may want to call it), when they refused to let a disabled six year old girl apply for their precious lottery until we beat them up over that?  Or when they get Federal money designed for Title I schools and they aren’t EVEN A TITLE I SCHOOL?  And our Delaware DOE was the one that submitted them for the award?  And they only qualified because the surrounding district was Title I?  The fact that this school applied for grant money, DOE performance funds, and a minor modification for a “performing arts center” that is actually a cafeteria and an auditorium already shows their inability to tell the truth.  And people just keep handing them dollar after dollar, and they want more.  Wake up!  Don’t you see what is going on here?

If this goes through tomorrow, Secretary Godowsky will have gone back on his word to the General Assembly legislators.  When he knew about this is immaterial at this point.  He knows about it now.  And if he does go through with it, we all know it isn’t even him making this decision.  It is Governor Jack Markell.  If this doesn’t go through, and things stay on course with our largest media outlet in the state heavily slanted on the charter side of the equation, it will happen eventually.  For a state that wants to do soooo much to help our kids in poverty and who are considered at-risk, we sure have a funny way of showing it.

Who Was Pulling The Strings At Delaware DOE? It Wasn’t Godowsky. And A Message For NCS Parents.

Chartergate 2016 and the aftermath took over social media in Delaware yesterday.  When I searched “Secretary Godowsky” last night on Facebook I saw tons of posts.  Many people were outraged about Godowsky’s actions, but a fair number were upset about my comments concerning Mr. Greg Meece.  I won’t apologize for that.  Chances are probably pretty good I know a bit more about some behind the scenes stuff than you do.

Let me be perfectly clear on something.  I am not the News Journal.  First off, the News Journal wouldn’t write about most of the stuff I’ve figured out over the years.  Second, a blog is not true journalism.  That doesn’t mean the facts are wrong.  But bloggers do not have a journalistic credo they need to have like members of the Associated Press do.  I saw tons of posts about how I’m so wrong about things all the time.  I’ll own that up to a point.  Sometimes I am wrong.  And when I am called out on it, I will either correct it or write about how someone felt I was wrong.

I always use this as a classic example.  When the Family Foundations Academy fraud was going on at the school, I wrote about it before the mainstream media picked up on it.  One gentleman, and I know he won’t mind me saying this, blasted me for it.  How dare I disgrace the school and their leaders by writing about that.  Turns out I was right.  The same thing happened with Academy of Dover.   I wrote about the Smarter Balanced shenanigans, and still there were doubters, but it turned out I was right about everything.

I don’t mind people doubting my information.  I’ve received bad information in the past and ran with it, much to my chagrin.  Here’s the deal though: if our schools and the DOE were more transparent about things, I wouldn’t have to write at all.  But the hard truth some of you may not realize is this: there is a ton of shadiness that goes on in this state.  That’s what I write about.  I can’t just out sources all the time.  I can’t always produce a smoking gun.  But it’s out there.  Most of the time I turn out to be right.  And when I’m wrong and someone actually lets me know that, I’ll do what is right.  Let’s really be honest with ourselves.  With the stuff I find out, am I really going to get an honest answer?  If I emailed Godowsky about this before I published it, he would have ignored me.  I like Steve.  I think he has a very tough job, but at the end of the day, he answers to the Governor.  With what I do and what he does, there really isn’t a time where we can collaborate.  We have talked many times in person.  We’ve even joked around here and there.  But when it comes to the really tough questions I present to him… he can’t own up to them.  I get that.

Here are some facts for the whole mess.

Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel met with Delaware Associate Secretary of Education David Blowman and the director of the Finance area at DOE, Kim Wheatly, last April.  Meece wanted more money from Christina.  Somehow this evolved to all districts and charters.  Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is telling people he didn’t know about this until August 19th.  I do know David Blowman was out of the office all last week because I received an out-of-office reply from him.  Blowman and Wheatly set this whole thing up.  Which means Godowsky didn’t know about the letter sent to all the districts on August 8th asking them to justify their restricted and non-restricted sections of their local funds.  I can say with certainty Godowsky was not on that letter.  But I don’t believe it was solely Blowman and Wheatly who knew about this.  Blowman’s boss is Karen Field Rogers, the Deputy Secretary of Education.  And I have always believed that State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson makes it a point to know every single thing that goes on there.  Did it go up higher than that?  I would assume it did.  Education is Jack Markell’s baby, and nobody touches that baby without him knowing about it.

The charters have been holding meetings at the DOE, some public and some private, to change their organizational and financial framework sections of their budget.  They had representation on the Education Funding Task Force this year.  David Blowman was on that task force.  This issue, to the best of my knowledge, never came up during those meetings.

The change in the local pupil cost for charters and choice schools was all set to change.  I found out about this, ironically enough, when I was working on an article about charter school funding.  This news changed that whole article so you may not ever see it.  I heard from one person in one district, then another, and then another.  24 hours later I wrote the article and published it.  When it comes to stuff like this, I explained it the best way I could.  I’m sorry I didn’t pass the News Journal sniff test.  When I break big news, it isn’t going to be easily tied up like an episode of Murder She Wrote.  There isn’t going to be forensic evidence.  Sometimes I’m able to provide that.  But you need to understand that nothing in Delaware is neat and tidy.  We are a very non-transparent state.  There is a good reason we came in 49th place on a national state transparency ranking last year.  Trust me, I would love to have a smoking gun for everything I write.  I want that more than you do.

With stuff like this, you can either take my word for it or don’t and wait for it to be “officially verified”.  I can take the heat.  What I won’t take is someone trying to make an anonymous comment and attacking my son.  That is intolerable.  I’ve written over 2,800 articles on this blog and no one has ever done that until this article.  You don’t like me attacking your school?  I get that.  Blast me all you want.  But don’t you dare make an attempt to come after me through my son with false information.  There is a line, and you went way past it.  I never attack children on this unless they do something so heinous and it is already in the public spotlight, like the Howard High School of Technology murder.  I will write about adults, but attacking kids… no.  And if you disagree with me on something, that’s fine.  But I hope whoever this was realizes this.  You know who you are.

Today, Brian Stephan with Delaware Liberal wrote an excellent article going into the actual financial implications and what it all means.  Thank you Brian!  Brian has much more knowledge about education funding as a member of the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  I appreciate him explaining this better than I ever could.  In the article, Brian wrote about what the charter schools seem to be looking for.  It is bogus, in my opinion.

This is my big question, especially for Newark Charter School.  If you have such a great school, great classrooms, great teachers, manageable classroom sizes, students behave better than traditional schools, and so forth, what do you need all this extra money for?  Many charters get extra money when their transportation budget is higher than what they actually spend.  Some charters, like Newark Charter School, get tons of money from this.  Probably more than they would have made had this gone through with Godowsky.  Newark Charter School got free money from the charter school performance fund last year.  $250,000.  They got money from various foundations.  Is it worth all this fuss, especially when they know districts aren’t exactly swimming in money.  Lets face it, all Delaware schools have some fat they can trim.  This isn’t a charter thing, this is a Delaware thing.  I saw many comments about how I am so biased against charters.  I’m not.  I’m biased against financial abuse, closed-door meetings, things done in secret, high-stakes testing, an out of control DOE and Governor, and some legislators who care more about profit and pleasing the rich than they do about kids.  I will fully admit I didn’t understand a ton of aspects with district financing until the past few months.  Charters are smaller so it is easier to find stuff.   I look at them as well now.  But this move that was going to happen until I wrote about it was shady beyond all belief.

Yesterday, the legislators swarmed Godowsky, and he backed down from doing it this year.  And it was a lot more than the four I saw on one legislator’s Facebook post.  But it is not over.  On Thursday morning, all the district business managers are having a meeting at the DOE.  This is a closed meeting.  The charter leaders aren’t backing down on this, and I’m sure the district leaders aren’t going to let this just happen.  This will get ugly.  The legislators are involved now, so a lot could happen either way.  Godowsky and Markell will be gone in January.  So if Markell wants this to happen, he would need to do something now or after the election.

In terms of charter funding overall, the way we are doing it does NOT work.  At all.  It sets up animosity between districts and charters.  We also need to get rid of the false competition which is based on standardized test scores.  And I’m going to say this NCS parents.  Constantly saying we are “jealous” or “his kid must not have gotten into the school” is elitist.  To be honest, I never heard of Newark Charter School until a few years ago.  Ask Greg Meece about me.  See what he says.  Ask him all the questions I’ve written about.  The only time he has ever reached out to me was last winter over a lottery issue with a parent of a disabled child.  Ask him the following:

Why doesn’t NCS show other bank accounts run through the school or school activities on their website?

Why did the board remove their May 2016 board minutes?  These minutes were put back on the NCS website at 5:17am this morning by NCS CFO Joanne Schlossberg, and does discuss the meeting with Blowman:

NCSMayBoardMinutes

New Question: Why were the board minutes modified this morning and put up without approval of the Board of Directors at NCS who has to approve the minutes as per your very own bylaws?

NCSBoardMinutesModified

Why does the school refuse to file a tax return based on very bogus reasons for not doing so in the first place?

Why did Greg Meece ignore the IRS Guidance letter stating charter schools really aren’t exempt from filing tax returns?

Did the school divert funds from allocations they weren’t allowed to in building their STEM lab and their new auditorium?

Why did the school accept a Title I award from the US DOE when they have one of the smallest Title I populations in the entire state?

Why did a teacher from the school publicly state yesterday on a Facebook post that in a year NCS will be over 50% minority?

How can NCS make a claim (from the same teacher) that they have more kids in Basic Special Education in K-5 than many Red Clay schools?

Why would Meece email all the teachers and parents to support the Christina referendum but wouldn’t do it publicly?

Why does Senator Sokola write so much legislation that benefits charters, especially NCS, but has no problem writing laws that make things harder for teachers and parents?  How much input does Greg Meece have on that legislation?

Why does Meece refuse to collaborate on his innovative discipline practices with other schools?

Which, if any, legislators knew about this change in the way districts pay charters before a week ago?  Did any help in the organizing or structure of these secret meetings?  Did any attend these meetings?

Why have I heard from so many teachers in this state that if they disagree with Meece on even the slightest thing they are fired?

And the most important.  Does he believe NCS is better than everyone else?

When he can answer all those questions, which I publicly ask him to do, then I may change my mind about him.  But until then, no, I don’t have a high opinion of him as the Head of School at Newark Charter School.  Sorry, but I have seen and heard far too much to think otherwise.  I understand that for the parents and teachers at NCS it is the greatest place on earth.  There is a reason for that.  And maybe you don’t want to face it, but NCS supposed success is based on very selective enrollment preferences.  Set up a long time ago, this prevents many at-risk kids from attending the school.  Sure, some get in, but not enough based on the demographics.  There are key parts set up which prevent the often-heard excuse of “it’s a lottery, anyone can get in”.  You need to understand that choice has consequences.  It may be great for your kid, but when people like Meece want more money, after he gets tons of it already from Christina and other districts, that takes from the very same at-risk kids who can’t get into that school.  Not in the numbers where it would be a true picture of the surrounding area.  And setting it up with a five-mile radius also prevents kids from not even being able to apply.  So when folks see Meece wanting more money, that is what they see.  They see your kid going to a school built on a façade while their kids will have less.  This isn’t all charters.  But enough.  And when the one that is very guilty of this modern-day social engineering is the genesis of this funding change, you shouldn’t be surprised when there is major blowback.  That’s not jealousy, that’s understanding the implications these actions have on the state.  You want equal funding?  You have to earn that.  Prove it by opening your doors to everyone.  Until then, you can say whatever you want, but we aren’t hearing it.  Not until your demographics show otherwise.

 

 

Breaking News: Secretary Godowsky Is Changing Funding Formula So Charter Schools Will Get More School District Money

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is about to set off an education war unlike any Delaware has ever seen.  If you thought the school district vs. charter school war was loud before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

In Title 14, the Delaware Secretary of Education has the authority to change the local cost per pupil.  When a student choices out of their feeder pattern, or their local school district, a portion of that school district’s local funds follows the student to the charter school.  To keep things in perspective, no Delaware Secretary of Education has touched this formula in the past 15-20 years.  There are slight increases each year based on inflation, but they are nominal in comparison to what Godowsky is about to do.

For big districts like Red Clay and Christina, this will hurt them… bad.  Any local school district that sends funds to charter schools will be affected by this decision.  Every school in Delaware already created their FY2017 budget months ago.  Each school district and charter set their budget on the expected number of students they anticipate having.  This was based on the same formula that has been in use for years and years.  When a district has a referendum, the funds generated from that referendum are earmarked for certain things.  Godowsky found a way to circumvent those funds to directly benefit charter schools in Delaware.

On August 8th, Secretary Godowsky sent all the Chief Financial Officers of each district a letter.  He asked them to list all of their restricted and unrestricted funds in their local budgets.  Restricted funds are not used in the calculation for money going to charter schools or other choice schools out of district.  These cover many things, like building maintenance, consultants, and food services as a few examples.  These are district expenses that only affect the district.  These aren’t services the student would bring to the new school.  The school the student choices to should already have those services.  Godowsky is moving budget allocations that were previously in restricted over to unrestricted.  By changing the way this is done, charter schools will get more money while districts will have less.  How much more?  It will differ between district and how much local money they have.  Even though Christina choices out more students, Red Clay has more money in their local share based on their tax base.  But the districts will bleed.  A lot of money.  From what I’m hearing it could be anywhere from 10-15% more money going to the charters, depending on the district.  Millions and millions of dollars.  This won’t just be a Red Clay and Christina thing.  Think Colonial, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smyrna, Capital, Caesar Rodney, Indian River… these districts will feel the pain as well.  Any district that sends dollars to charters will send more.

So when your kid comes home from school this year in school districts, don’t be shocked to see something cut that you thought they would have already had.  For charter school parents, they will be happy when their kid gets some new things they might not have had before.  In other words, charter schools will be getting more while districts will be getting less.  This will be in the double-digit millions.  I don’t have exact amounts yet.  But if your district pays a decent amount of money to charter schools, they will be paying a lot more.

Secretary Godowsky didn’t just wake up one day and say “I’m going to change the local cost per pupil formula this year!”  This wasn’t even his idea.  For this, we can thank the folks at Newark Charter School.  When Christina won their third attempt at a referendum last March, the school immediately pounced on Christina for more money.  Everyone wants more money, but Newark Charter School is relentless with their greed.  Immediately after the referendum, their board discussed a meeting that was about to take place:

NCSAprilBdMtg

This trio from the bastion of discrimination and cherry-picking in Delaware, good old Newark Charter School, is Head of School Greg Meece, Board President Steven Dressel, and their Chief Financial Officer, Joanne Schlossberg.  The Superintendent of the Christina School District, in an Acting Superintendent role, is Robert Andrzejewski.  The Associate Secretary of Education is David Blowman.  This was in April of this year, a month after Christina passed their referendum.  Ironically, Newark Charter School’s May board minutes seem to have disappeared.  I did read these board minutes when they came out, but I don’t recall specifics (I should have saved them).  I know there was a lot of discussion about the school refinancing their bonds.  In looking at Christina Board minutes and listening to their audio recordings, I did not see or hear any mention of “Bob A”, as their Superintendent is frequently referred to, and this strange group of people meeting.  I would like to publicly, right here, right now, ask Bob A what happened at this meeting and be prepared to discuss at their next Board of Education meeting on September 20th.  You don’t get a skate out of Christina free card Bob A.

Bob A did have a meeting with Newark Charter School earlier this year.  He asked Meece to support Christina’s upcoming referendum.  Meece flat-out refused.  Even though their charter school directly benefits from Christina School District with their five mile radius requirement for students.  Even Governor Markell and Senator David Sokola supported the referendum.  Which was a bit unusual.  But even that mystery will be cleared soon.

Meece, backed by the Delaware Charter Schools Network I’m sure, successfully lobbied the Secretary of Education to change the local cost per pupil formula.  By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education has up until September 1st of each year to do this.  But if this wasn’t the final straw, get ready, cause it gets worse.  Several sources are telling me this won’t just go into affect for this school year.  Godowsky wants districts to pay for last year based on the new formula.

Districts are at a loss.  They are in a frenzy and searching other possible remedies to address this education funding catastrophe.  When was this decision made?  I don’t have the answer to that one…yet…but I’m working on it.  It has been in play since April according to the Newark Charter School May Board minutes.  David Blowman, as the former Deputy Secretary of Education until earlier this year, oversaw the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE.  Since their Executive Director left in June, Blowman has been taking on the responsibilities as the authority figure in that area of the DOE until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney.

I have to imagine that Meece had other help with this as well.  Something this high up and controversial would have to fly by Governor Markell.  I have no doubt in my mind Meece’s legislative buddy Dave Sokola had a hand in this as well.  Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. I imagine the Delaware DOE will have to announce this by September 1st since this is the deadline for the Secretary to make these decisions.

This will create a war between school districts, charter schools, the DOE, the State Board of Education, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network unlike anything seen before.  If this change in the way districts pay charters goes through, expect a lot of hardship on districts.  Expect boons for charters.  You will have to pick a side.  You can’t sit there and stay neutral.  Every Delaware candidate for public office is going to face this question.  This isn’t going to be a situation where both sides can come to the table and stay neutral.  This move by Godowsky is the knife in the back that will cause outrage.

All because one little man hates the Christina School District so much, and he continually runs his “great” school.  The same school that continually benefits from the laws Delaware Senator David Sokola creates every single year.  And from what I’m hearing, Sokola isn’t the only candidate running for office that is getting support from Newark Charter School.  But the actions of this one little man will affect an entire state.  If you thought the funding issues for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan were rough before, get ready for this whole thing to take on a whole new level.

I wrote earlier today about this with cryptic words.  But make no mistake, Governor Jack Markell is leaving this in the lap of John Carney to deal with.  Markell doesn’t give a crap about Delaware education.  He has proven this time and time again.  This is just one more of his final revenge tactics before he leaves office (he will have more if Jack lives up to his true self).  Markell hates Christina.  Watching him in the video supporting the district for their referendum… he looked like he would rather have a root canal.  But it was very important their referendum passed.  Which was why Sokola also supported it.  If their referendum failed, Meece wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunity for his huge money grab.

This will affect every public school district student in the state.  For years, education reformers true goals have been to privatize education.  They found a very successful way to do it with charter schools.  They suck money out of local districts until they are gone in some cities.  But this time, I believe Meece overreached.   The reputation of charter schools as greedy, money-sucking vampires of local school districts is now set in stone.  All because of Meece.  Remember this moment.  Remember who started all of this.

District parents… I invite you all to attend the September State Board of Education meeting on September 15th.  The meeting begins at 1pm at the Townsend Building in Dover.  Bring picket signs protesting Godowsky’s actions.  Give public comment and demand the State Board of Education take action on this abuse of power.  Make your voice heard.  Go to your local school district board meetings and tell them to not send this money to the charter schools.  Go to the charter school board meetings and tell them they can’t get more while their children get less.  I have no doubt the charter side will make a lot of noise.  But only 10-12% of Delaware students go to charters.  We have the numbers.  We have the louder voice.  And we have more voting power.  Find out which legislators support the district side and which support the charter side.  If they tell you they support both, they are useless.  This war will demand strength in leadership.

When the dust settles on this, there will be casualties.  The question that remains is how much more students have to suffer because of stupid little men like Greg Meece.  We can’t tolerate this as a state any longer.  We can’t have a third of our state budget benefitting charter schools and allowing our kids in school districts to suffer because of them.  This has to change.  The war began a long time ago, but take a side.  And get ready to rumble!

I will be updating this story with new articles as they come out.  This is going to be a long Autumn.  With this action, Secretary Godowsky will replace Secretary Mark Murphy as the most reviled Delaware Secretary of Education in our entire history as a state.

 

How Newark Charter School Cooked Their Books To Break The Law In Delaware

Newark Charter School found a way to overtly break Delaware charter school laws and they are using parents and students to do it.

Yesterday, an anonymous source informed Mike Matthews that Newark Charter School’s student body activity funds are legit.  Be that as it may, they aren’t reporting the revenue generated from these activities.  Instead, they are putting at as an expense on their monthly budget.  They aren’t reporting this revenue anywhere.  But they are showing the expense on their monthly budget.  How much are they getting overall?  That is unknown, but I was able to find out they are using student body activity revenue to pay for items they should not be according to Delaware law.

Newark Charter School does not post a 990 IRS tax form on their website.  They are exempt from even filing this return.  Why?  Because way back during the Bill Clinton years, they had elected officials on their founding board.  Granted, none of those elected officials are there anymore.  No one has ever questioned NCS at a state level about this before and they just assume it is alright.  Even though the IRS issued very specific guidance to charter schools about this type of exemption.  But of course Newark Charter School takes advantage of this ambiguity.  Until the IRS determines they are not exempt, they will continue to not file tax returns.  Even though they should and the reasons for them not doing so are the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.  On IRS 990 tax forms, non-profit corporations are required to show any revenue they receive.  They don’t have to pay taxes at all, but they are required to show their numbers.

There are a multitude of reasons why Newark Charter School would not want to file an IRS tax return.  They are the only Delaware charter school specifically exempt from this.  Academy of Dover had their corporation status rescinded by the IRS some years ago, but the Delaware Dept. of Education turned a blind eye to this glaring fact during the school’s formal review last year which was in part over financial viability.  Eventually, Academy of Dover was able to restore this status and are now filing their 990 forms on their website.  But Newark Charter School took advantage of the bogus loopholes in this IRS regulation and have had a field day with it ever since.

This was my biggest issue with any changes to House Bill 186, the original charter school audit bill.  My sense was that anything even associated with charter school audit legislation would only be tainted by Senator David Sokola.  This would somehow benefit Newark Charter School and keep their finances in the dark.  Anyone can make a budget and show numbers on it, but a true audit and an IRS return would show a lot of information.  They would have to report the revenue they receive from students or their parents for field trips and student body activities.  But they aren’t.  No one can see this information.  If they get such a huge amount of money from these activities, they should be fully transparent and post their revenue stream on their website.  But they don’t.

On their monthly budget sheets they are required by state law to post on their website each month, they list student body activities as part of their operating budget.  Operating funds are part of state and local funded expenses.  If they have students pay for field trips and they write a big fat check to, say, the Bermuda Institute, and put that as an expense in their budget, that means they are getting these funds from the state and local funds.  Granted, their budgeted amount for student body activities in FY2016 was $300,000 as shown in the below pictures.  But their budget forms the picture of how much money they will need to operate as a school.  This is the spine of any charter school or district’s operations.

Newark Charter School 7/2015 Monthly Budget: Revenue

NCS715Budget

In the above picture, we see the school’s projected revenue for FY2016 as of July, 2015.

Newark Charter School 7/2015 Budget: Expenses

NCS715Budget2

Above, we see their projected expenses. Note the Student Body Activities amount of $300,000.

Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Revenue

NCS616Budget

By June of 2016, their revenues looked completely different.

Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Expenses

NCS616Budget2

Their expenses, especially Student Body Activities went up as well, mushrooming to over $445,000. This was $145,000 over what they budgeted for this category.  As if it was almost planned…

This brings us back to the current situation at the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  As I wrote earlier this week, there is some shady business going on there.  Kathleen Davies had my tip about NCS and Academy of Dover’s lack of IRS 990 forms and I believe it was an active investigation.  I know this because I received a call from John Fluharty about it in March, two months before Davies was put on “leave”.  He wouldn’t call to get information if it was not active.  If that office was leaning towards NCS needing to put up their 990 tax forms, invariably the inspection would lean towards “Why aren’t they putting up this information?” which could further lead towards a full investigation of their finances.

Senator David Sokola has been the Senator for the 8th District since 1995. This district surrounds most of Newark Charter School’s five mile radius.  Sokola helped in the creation of Newark Charter School.  He even joined their board for a stint in the mid 00’s while also an elected Senator, which is perfectly legal in Delaware.  But in his stint as a Delaware Senator, he has essentially served as a buffer between the school and true accountability.  Sokola is a senior-ranking Delaware Senator.  Not only is he the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, but he is also the Senate Chair on the Bond Committee.  If you look at a lot of the legislation about education he writes, every single bill has benefitted Newark Charter School in some way.  I’m sure if you look at some of his non-education legislation, including ones about land usage, those would benefit the school as well.  This isn’t the first time I’ve thought out loud about Senator Sokola.

In my fictional novel I am working on about Kathleen Davies and whodunit, I would put Senator Sokola as the lead suspect in this mystery.  He has the means, the motivation, and the pull to get something like this done.  He is well-connected with the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Rodel.  Since he is also in tandem with many House and Senate Republicans over charter schools, it would stand to reason he would lend his ear to them and get a fire going.  As well, he has a very cozy relationship with the State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky.  As the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, this is to be expected, but he always seems to be able to get support for his bills that do more damage to public education.  His connections with the Delaware Charter School Network go back many years.  He has frequently been involved with the Rodel Foundation sponsored Vision Coalition.  He is a firm believer in standardized testing and teachers being judged by those scores.  He put in very damaging amendments to House Bill 199 a couple months ago based in large part on feedback he received from his beloved Newark Charter School.  He is no friend to traditional school districts.  As the Newark Charter School legislative cheerleader, he can count on votes from his constituents who have students attending that school.  With a student population of over 2,000 students, that is a lot of votes.  In exchange, he allows them to operate with no transparency, accountability, or oversight through his legislative input.

Now some will say Tom Wagner is a staunch Republican and Sokola is a Progressive Democrat!  How could Sokola convince Wagner to do anything?  He didn’t have to.  Somehow, someway, the “whistleblowers” in the Davies complaint to the Office of Management and Budget were told exactly how to get Davies.  This idea had to come from someone with advanced knowledge of the rules and regulations of the Delaware accounting procedures and policies.  We know Newark Charter School knew about what was going on with Davies and her “administrative leave” from the Auditor of Accounts office based on what they put in their June Board meeting notes:

NCSTravelReimbursementBdMtg

In Delaware politics and education, there is no such thing as a coincidence.  The fact Schlossberg would bring this up a month after Davies was put on leave is very telling in my opinion.  We know the Delaware DOE already knew about all this because one of their employees told me about in late May.  So if that person would tell an education blogger, it would stand to reason many in the state knew as well.  NCS, in their board meeting minutes over the past year, has been very diligent about discussing legislation that could impact charter schools (especially the charter school audit bills).  But to write about how Davies was specifically put on leave, something I wasn’t even aware of until last Saturday when the News Journal came out with their article, would suggest having very intimate knowledge of the case against Davies.  So much so that they wanted to adopt this into their board policies.  The News Journal article never even specified if their information was coming from their “sources” or the Office of Management and Budget.

NCS connection with Sokola would give them instant knowledge of anything going on at a statewide level.  But this has always been my big question about the charter school audit bills: why were they fighting them so hard?  Especially Newark Charter School?  Some answers can actually be found in the oddest of places.  Newark Charter School’s selected auditor for their annual required audits is Barbacane Thornton and Company.  As seen below, they do this work for many Delaware charter schools.

BarbacaneThorntonFY2016

In looking at this list, I see quite a few charter schools who have landed in hot water at the State Auditor of Accounts office: Academy of Dover, Delaware Military Academy, and Providence Creek Academy.  One of their lead accountants, Pam Baker, testified in opposition to Kim William’s third attempt at a charter school audit bill, House Bill 186, in June of 2015:

She said this bill takes away responsibility from the board to select (an) independent auditor and takes away the opportunity for charter schools to do that effectively.

Now why would someone who is hired by many of these schools to do their audits put her neck out there for schools she knew were under investigation?  As well, her statement basically said “they may not be able to hire the firm I work for” which would show a clear conflict of interest in her sworn testimony.  A lobbyist for the Delaware Charter Schools Network even spoke on behalf of the business office of Newark Charter School at this meeting:

Nitin Rao, DCSN, spoke on behalf of the business manager of Newark Charter School in opposition to the bill.

For a school that seems to have a great deal of extra revenue after their year-end expenditures each year, this was a head-scratcher.  Like many who felt the same way, I questioned whether the charters opposition stemmed from the cost involved with the legislation or more what these new audits through this legislation would find.

But what Kathleen Davies said at this meeting was the essential problem with the charter school audits in Delaware:

Kathleen Davies, Chief Audit Administrator at AOA, said AOA does not have any firms under contract that conducted any charter school audits. She rebutted that the IRS filing mentioned by Pam Baker is a non-audit service and those fees are not part of the audit work. She said there have been a lot of terms thrown around and the only requirement for charter schools, with regard to oversight, is GAP compliant financial statements. She said there are currently seven investigations on charter schools underway because of mismanagement of funds. She said fraud and abuse were never brought to anyone’s attention for these seven schools. She said AOA has subpoena power and a firm, under AOA contract, can be used to address the issues found. She said those seven charter schools got a “clean bill of health” with no findings and no body to identify issues. She said this bill would change that.

Notice Davies brought up IRS filings.  As we all know, Newark Charter School doesn’t even have to file with the IRS because of their “special” exemptions.  IRS filings require all sources of revenue.  Which brings us back to Student Body Activities.

If student body activity expenses are an item in the school operating budget, they are counting on this money from the state and local funds.  But the issue comes in when these student body activities are pre-planned field trips and events that students or parents pay for prior to the actual event.  I can certainly buy the notion that teachers or the school would have to pay for many of these events ahead of time.  And as Head of School Greg Meece is the only person in the school who has a state procurement card, teachers or the school would have to pay out of pocket ahead of time for these activities.  But to spend $445,000 in student body activities for a school population of over 2,100 students, there would be a bucket load of revenue coming in from field trip money.  This is the revenue we are not able to see.  At all.  Anywhere.  Trust me, I looked.  All over the place.  There is nothing on Delaware Online Checkbook showing any such revenue.  If this revenue was put back into the school, we would see it as negative amounts in their expenses.  But they don’t exist through the state accounting system.  Therefore, they are only showing the expenses of student body activities and not the income that comes back as revenue to offset those costs.

Without knowing exactly where they put that revenue, I can safely guess where they put the entire $449,575.29 they reported as “student body activity” on Delaware Online Checkbook.  They used that revenue to pay for the remaining amounts on two capital building projects they contracted with one company to perform.

In the fall of 2014,  Newark Charter School started talking about building a Performing Arts Center and a STEM Laboratory Suite.  Since these are capital projects, not minor capital improvements, they would not be able to get funding from the state as dictated by the Delaware charter school law.

MinorCapitalFundingLaw

So even though Newark Charter School received $273,447 from the General Assembly for FY2016 for minor capital improvements, they could not use it for projects of this magnitude and scope.  Since the Performing Arts Center would be an entirely new addition to the school and the STEM labs would require structural change to the building, these two projects did not qualify for minor capital funding.  So how much capital funding would they need to obtain for this project?  Quite a bit according to their application for the Delaware Charter School Performance fund in the Spring of 2015.

NCSCharterSchoolPerfFundAppl2015

As part of Delaware charter school law, NCS had to submit a minor modification request for these projects.  They did so, and it was approved by then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy according to their December 2014 board minutes:

NCSDec2014BoardMinutesMinorMod

But in their application for the minor modification, Meece either greatly underestimated the costs for the project or later added more bells and whistles to the whole thing.  Because the original projected amount was $853,088.  At no point in time did NCS resubmit a new minor modification based on the financial difference between the original amount and the projected amount, a difference of $636,061.  But the section of the application where it asked about financial impact on the school was very enlightening:

NCSMinorModApplication2014

Greg Meece and Joanne Schlossberg, their Business Manager, knew they would have to get a lot of money for this project and began working the foundation circuit.  They were able to obtain funding from the Longwood Foundation ($500,000), the Welfare Foundation ($125,000), and the Calder Foundation ($79,000).  They applied for $400,000 in the Charter School Performance Fund (even though the maximum amount any Delaware charter school could win was $250,000 that year).  They received the maximum amount of $250,000.  Even though they were able to generate a lot of funding in a very short time, they were still short from the budgeted amount.   By $535,149.00.  Since construction was already underway by this point, the school had to raise the remaining  funds for the projects or  use funds from their reserves.

In June of FY2015, the board’s treasurer stated the school was $668,000 favorable for revenue “due to the annual fund and pledges from the capital campaign”.  The school received the Longwood Foundation grant in June of 2015.  In July of FY2016, the treasurer stated the school was not $1,283,000 favorable in state revenue due to the grant funds received from the Longwood Foundation and the Welfare Foundation in FY2015.  As well as the other grants they received in June of 2015, they received the $79,000 grant from the Calder Foundation and $250,000 from the charter school performance fund in July of 2015.  At their September 2015 board meeting, it was announced the funds received from the Longwood and Welfare Foundations were received in FY2015 so they could not put this as revenue in FY2016 even though they budgeted these funds for FY2016.  This caused their revenue to be unfavorable in the amount of $961,000.  But they were going to amend their budget to make this happen.  While a lot of these revenue figures are all over the map, it is important to look at the $668,000 talked about in June of 2015.  If the school already had pledged amounts coming from the Longwood and Welfare Foundations totaling $625,000.00, it would stand to reason their remaining “favorable revenue” came from their annual fund.  Which leaves $43,000 they had remaining from their FY2015 annual fund which they committed towards this project.  This reduced their shortage for the two projects to $449,149.00.

Earlier this week, I posted an article about Student Body Activity funds and questioned why Newark Charter School is showing such a high amount for this.  Based on this article, I showed how a FOIA received by a Delaware citizen showed NCS as spending $445,000 in student body activities as of 7/2/16.  As of 8/2/16, that amount increased to $449,557.29.  Now if you notice the projected amount for the STEM Laboratory Suite in the above picture, that amount is for $449,588.  Almost the exact same amount as the expenditures for their student body activity.  If this fund is meant for just student body activities, they should not be going towards capital costs, such as the creation of a STEM Laboratory and a Fine & Performing Arts Center.  Delaware law is very specific about this and the business manager and Greg Meece are well aware of these laws.

How much did these two projects actually cost Newark Charter School? $1,512,599.08.  They contracted with Daystar Sills, a construction company in Delaware.  The difference between the projected amount in their charter school performance fund application and the actual amount was $23,540.08.

NCSBldgImprovDaystarSills

If you add up the following figures:

$43,000 from their FY2015 Annual Fund

$500,000 from Longwood Foundation

$125,000 from Welfare Foundation

$79,000 from Calder Foundation

$250,000 from Charter School Performance Fund

The total amount is $997,000.  Which leaves them very short of the eventual $1,512,599.08 those projects were going to cost.  We know, as of  their November 2014 board minutes, the school received $64,000 from an auction they had.  This was their 11th annual auction.

NCS1114boardmtg

They had their next auction in November of 2015, but at their November 2015 board meeting, Greg Meece did not give an amount of how much they generated.

NCSNov2015BoardMinutes

By not publicly mentioning how much they received in their FY2016 auction, they could leave this open for future use as they saw fit.  Since there was never a capital fund amount given, we would have to assume it was close to the amountselaw they received in prior years.

Since they are so short on this capital project, and we don’t know where the money is coming from to pay for the rest, watch what happens when we add this to the $997,000:

$449,575.29 from FY2016 Student Body Activity expenses

We now get a grand total of $1,446,575.29.  They are still short $66,023.79.  We can safely guess where those funds came from based on their FY2015 Audit with Barbacane Thornton & Company:

NCSFY2015AuditStmntOfNetPosition

Note how NCS received $77,226 in pledged monetary support in FY2014 and $67,812 in FY2015.  It would stand to reason they used their FY2016 pledge amount to supplement the rest of this bill from Daystar Sills.  The school could never use extra local reserve funds because those funds could only be used for operating expenses or minor capital improvements based on Delaware charter school law.  They could not be used for capital building projects.  Meece knew this, and Mark Murphy should have.  The fact that Meece applied for a minor modification for this huge project and didn’t know the true estimate of the costs, didn’t have the capital funding when he applied for it, and operated on the assumption that Mark Murphy would just take it at face value that the school could always fall back on local appropriation reserves speaks volumes about the arrogance behind Newark Charter School.  Meece and Schlossberg, in my opinion, knew exactly what they were doing with all of this.  They knew the project would be short and planned ahead of time.

In June of 2015, they budgeted $300,000 for student body activity.  This would have been a very good guess on the amount they would need to pay towards the final bill for this project.  Because at that time, they somehow thought they could get $400,000 from the charter school performance fund.  This turned out to be a huge error on their part because they had to somehow find a way to get another roughly $150,000 when they only got $250,000 from the performance fund.  This is how their Student Body Activity expense amount went from a budgeted $300,000 to a little bit shy of $450,000.  They actually planned for this amount, in my humble opinion, based on how the project was turning out.  Once they realized their error with the performance fund, they got to work.

To use a shell student body activity account to pay for Capital projects is an obvious violation of Delaware state law.  To never report the revenue they received from parents and students should be a violation of state law.  To use parents and students money to disguise illegal activity is fraud, pure and simple.  Because I am not a judge or a jury, I cannot say with 100% certainty this is exactly what Newark Charter School did.  If I were writing a fictional novel, either as part of the Kathleen Davies whodunit or a new one on Newark Charter School, because no criminal charges or official allegations of wrongdoing have been laid out by any type of legal authority in the State of Delaware, I would say there is most likely a strong connection to this activity going on at Newark Charter School and Kathleen Davies eventually being put on leave.  I believe NCS knew there was an investigation going on with their IRS 990 forms.  I believe they knew their exemption was a glass house that would eventually have many stones thrown at it.  While I don’t think it was a case of Senator David Sokola going to Tom Wagner and saying “You have to stop this audit inspection cause my buddies at Newark Charter School could get in trouble”, I do believe the goal was to slam the character of Kathleen Davies.  By doing so, it would undermine the audit inspections she already completed (the September 30th Enrollment Count inspection and the Millville Fire Department audits which were either pulled or redone).  As well, it would cast a doubt on audits already underway.  I believe the right amount of pressure was put on Tom Wagner by the Office of Management and Budget to get Davies put on leave.  Aside from the false accusations of Davies abusing the travel reimbursement accounts by not using the state procurement card, there had to be a confrontation to push Wagner towards that decision.  The accusations by itself wouldn’t be enough.  There had to be that one final straw.

The Delaware Department of Education wanted the September 30th Enrollment Count done.  When the report came out, they disagreed with Davies recommendations in the report.  They complained to Wagner.  This I do know.  What happened next, I can only surmise.  Wagner wanted Davies to change the report.  Davies said no.  Boom.

Once Davies was gone, Wagner could kill the petty cash audit which would have shown charter schools abusing the petty cash policies in the state.  He did that and instead sent letters to all the charter schools that violated the petty cash policy with no ability for the public to see those letters.  He pulled the September 30th audit.  He took out Davies letter at the end of the Millville Fire Department inspection report.  We don’t know what is happening with the Newark Charter School IRS 990 Form Audit Inspection.   I have to assume we will never see it.  Unless someone gives a very good reason why the school would strongly benefit from not filing such a tax return.  Someone would have to show how they hide things financially so they can get what they want.  Then Tom Wagner’s office would have to act fast and get into that school and investigate ALL of their finances, from top to bottom.  He would want to subpoena all of their bank deposits.  He would have to turn the information over to the Delaware Attorney General’s office and in an ideal world, that office would act on that information.  If any federal funds were found to be abused in the findings of this investigation, the FBI would have to get involved.  Since this school has been around fifteen years with no IRS tax filings, I would assume the FBI would be very interested in how much revenue this Delaware corporation has received and would want to account for every single penny going in or out of the school.  If the FBI didn’t have anything to go on, I would have to imagine the State of Delaware would based on the information they would get out of their investigation.  Not to mention the very shady and scummy enrollment practices this school has had over the years in their attempts to have perfect high-stakes test-takers.  In their isolated and non-transparent world with a five-mile radius around the flagpole at their high school, some of which goes into a neighboring state, but determines what students can or can’t go to their elite wannabe private school.  Where parents can afford to pay for extravagant field trips because they don’t have to use those funds for a private school because this school is so perfect.  In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have this.  But this isn’t an ideal world.  This is Delaware.

I have no doubt Newark Charter School is not alone in Delaware with these kinds of financial games.  I think it has happened quite a bit, and not just in charter schools.  I think it has happened in our districts as well.  Maybe not the same chess move NCS pulled on this one, but other moves designed to give an advantage of some sort.  We’ve seen it before and we will see it again.  Until someone turns the board over and makes new rules for the game.  That is what needs to happen in Delaware.  This is my mission and others have this vision as well.  We keep waiting for someone in power to step up and do the right thing.   All we hear is silence.

To see the full FY2015 audit for Newark Charter School, please see the below report:

Newark Charter School Continues Their Discriminatory Social Engineering Enrollment Practices

This school is a piece of work!  Remember last winter when I wrote about how a six-year old girl with disabilities was denied admission in Newark Charter School’s lottery?  In less than 24 hours, parents, legislators, and other citizens swarmed their Head of School, Greg Meece, with emails and phone calls and we got the school to bend and let her in the lottery.  Ultimately, she didn’t make it into the school, but it was still a victory for the parents because she got the right to participate in it.  The reason she wasn’t let in was because the board had changed their admissions policy last fall.  They wouldn’t let anyone who would be above the age of five by a certain date even apply.  For this girl, who has developmental disabilities, she just wasn’t quite ready the year before to enter Kindergarten.  The board got rid of their policy at their May board meeting, but they did introduce a new one: students applying for Kindergarten can only apply once.

StopDiscrimination

Here is the issue with that.  For students like the girl who had to get people to rally to get her into the lottery, parents of pre-schoolers with a disability don’t always know if their child will be ready for Kindergarten until the spring, when they have a conference with the pre-school.  This is common practice.  If a parent of a child with disabilities may not be aware of this or thinks their child is ready, and they apply to Newark Charter School, they can’t apply again the next year based on this latest discrimination stunt by the wunderbars at Newark Charter School.  This way they can keep those developmental disability kids out of their school.

The board also changed their admissions policy where it relates to “students of employees” at their June 21st board meeting.  Any newly hired employee’s kid gets preference over the rest of the general public kids in the lottery.  I have to wonder what this school’s definition of an employee.  I wonder how much cafeteria staff they hire so they can get certain kids into the school!

Of course, the Delaware Dept. of Education will say this is legal and their board can pick those kind of enrollment preferences (without any needed recommendations or training on discrimination from the DOE).  Our state legislators, most of them, won’t bat an eye.  Especially the guy who might as well be a paid employee of the school for all the cheerleading he does for them!  I’m talking to you Mr. Former Member of the NCS Board now a Senator!  A few of them will complain about it, but in the end, our charter friendly state will rally behind Kendall Massett and her merry band of lobbyists.  And our brilliant Governor Jack would say “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.  I was too busy salivating over Newark Charter School’s Smarter Balanced scores.”  Social engineering got those scores Jack, nothing else!  Discrimination is alive and well in Delaware!  Can you imagine what would happen if a school district tried these kind of tricks?  They would have the Office of Civil Rights all over them.  But charter schools… just look the other way.  They have autonomy!

I hope you are all enjoying your summer.  Cherries are really yummy.  I would pick them, but it appears Newark Charter School has the monopoly on that!  Lobster bucket my buttocks!  To get the full scoop on Greg Meece and Newark Charter School’s history, take a look at this!  In the meantime, if you want to develop a new charter school and get the exact mix of students so you can do great on crappy high-stakes standardized tests, just follow the special recipe below:

Student & Parent Surveys Only Seem To Benefit Administrator At One Delaware Charter School

A commenter named 4equity2 wrote a comment yesterday in response to my thinking out loud article.  She wrote about Newark Charter School and the massive amount of abuse that has generated due to parent surveys.  Sounds like this part of Senator David Sokola’s amendment in House Bill 399 is ripe for controversy…

parent surveys at NCS: they are used to serve the agenda of Mr.Meece. A teacher may be informed of the only negative parent comment, and if that teacher has been targeted for anything, it will be the justification for a scant bonus. if parent surveys had as their purpose, improved instruction, all would be shared with the teachers. however, at this school, that is clearly not their purpose.
this is not a healthy practice as it pits colleagues against each other, and makes parents potential anonymous adversaries, rather than transparent partners.
additionally, mr. meece always has a mole or two, and is quick to dispose of them once their dirty work is done. independent thinking is not just undervalued, it is traitorous.
differing opinions are best concealed.
it’s wonderful to teach classes with little to no behavior problems, but not worth selling one’s soul for.

 

Thinking Out Loud

The first thing I’m wondering is how many people will go past the read more part of this article if they are just going to my homepage to see what I wrote beneath that.  But seriously, the main thing I’ve been thinking about (in regards to education) is a state legislator and a charter school.  And how, when everything comes up, somehow, some way, it always circles back to the two. Continue reading

Senator Sokola & Newark Charter School’s Smoking Gun With The IRS

All charter schools in Delaware except Newark Charter School file 990 tax forms to the Internal Revenue Service.  Charters are considered 501c3 corporations.  501c3 corporations are tax-exempt companies.  Most non-profits, like Rodel, fall under this category.  Unless they meet very certain criteria, they are required to file Form 990 with the IRS.  Could this be why Delaware Senator David Sokola, who lives in a district which also contains much of Newark Charter School’s five mile radius, is so opposed to House Bill 186?  It wouldn’t be the first time Senator Sokola has gone to bat for NCS.

In 1995, before any charter schools even opened in Delaware, the IRS issued new regulations concerning 501c3 corporations.   It allowed very specific exemptions from 501c3 organizations from filing their 990 form.  The IRS ruling was straight forward: if you were a governmental unit and a 501 company, you didn’t have to file.  There were very strict guidelines for what constitutes a “governmental unit”: Continue reading

Breaking News: Newark Charter School Let Her In The Lottery!!!!

I just heard from the father of the daughter with a rare disability that Newark Charter School’s admissions office is letting his daughter into their lottery.  This is good news, and I’m glad for everyone who reached out to Greg Meece at Newark Charter School.  I got an email this morning from someone in Florida who emailed Meece!  While this is not a guarantee she will be accepted into the school, she has a chance which is all the parents wanted based on her very unique situation.  From what I’m hearing, there were 3,500 applicants and only 80 slots are open.  The school has 190 Kindergarten students, but because of their enrollment preference that siblings get first dibs, that filled 110 slots already.

I wish this family all the luck in the world and I look forward to hearing the outcome.  There are still some questions regarding the admission policy in and of itself, but for now, good news all around.  The lottery is tonight at 6pm.

Greg Meece From Newark Charter School Responds To My Email About Their Lottery Process With Kindergarten Students

Last night, I posted an article about a six year-old girl with a rare disability who was denied the ability to even apply to Newark Charter School.  I emailed Greg Meece about this after I posted the article to make him aware of why he may be receiving tons of emails on this, as well as my thoughts on the matter.  He responded to me earlier this morning.

From: Meece Gregory <Gregory.Meece@ncs.k12.de.us>
To:
Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent:
Sunday, February 7, 2016 10:14 AM
Subject:
RE: Let her in the lottery!

Mr. Ohlandt,

We would love to include this applicant in the lottery.  In fact, we would love to be able to serve the more than 3,500 applicants who applied this year.  But the fact is that there are only 190 openings at this time and we must enforce the approved and published lottery procedures to ensure a consistent and fair process for all. 

The assumption that this applicant was denied an opportunity to be included in our lottery is simply untrue.  This applicant was in our lottery for Kindergarten last year, and we have encouraged them to apply again this year, but for the appropriate grade.  They may be in the lottery every year through high school.  It is not that they don’t have access to the lottery.  They clearly do. 

The Board’s policy is, “All Kindergarten applicants must turn five years of age in the period from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016 to apply for KN in the 2016-2017 lottery.”  We can certainly look at that policy for next year and see if it needs to be changed, but doing so now, after the rules have been approved, published and applied consistently to so many applicants would be wrong. 

Our school has many students with severe and complex disabilities.  We welcome all students, regardless of their disabilities.  We use the state’s standard applicant and we don’t ask about disabilities during the application process.  I’m glad parents of children with disabilities see our school as a viable and welcoming school with a solid track record of serving students with disabilities. 

All applicants were apprised of the lottery rules when they applied and they were required to acknowledge that they read the rules prior to submission.  This applicant appealed the situation to the Board of Directors and to the Department of Education and the school has followed all proper procedures.

He didn’t even give a farewell to his email, so I would have to surmise he is not too happy about this.  This board policy is very weak.  The policy says absolutely nothing about the child’s age beyond five.  As well, his suggestion of the girl applying to the “appropriate grade” is ludicrous!  After all of this, even being fully aware of the child’s disability, he is insisting she apply for 1st grade even though she hasn’t even been in Kindergarten.  And the DOE says this is fully legal.  I would like someone to explain to me how this is legal.  If this little girl doesn’t get into this lottery, I fully expect there to be a lot of noise around this matter.  And I will stand at the front of the line!  This is discrimination at the highest level.  I don’t care how many applicants they had, whether it was 1 or 500,000.  This school states they don’t discriminate based on disability, but I’m just not seeing it in this case.  And the transparency surrounding the creation of this policy was horrible.  Shame on you Newark Charter School…

Newark Charter School Denies Lottery To 6 Year Old Girl With Rare Disability

The Newark Charter School admission policy has hit a new low. They are not allowing a child with developmental disabilities apply to the school for Kindergarten because she will be six years old when she enters Kindergarten next August.  Newark Charter School will have their lottery this coming Monday, February 8th at 6pm.

The parents’ daughter has an extremely rare disability called radioulnar synostosis that impacts her fine motor skills and limits the use of her hands and arms. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, this disability is defined as: Congenital radioulnar synostosis is a rare congenital difference in which there’s an abnormal bony or soft tissue connection between the two bones of the forearm—the radius and the ulna.  This disability is so rare, only 400 cases have been reported worldwide.

Her parents made a choice, at the recommendation of her pre-school, to keep her there another year.  According to the mom and dad, their daughter needs extra time to develop her fine motor skills and co-ordination based on her disability.  Apparently, this does not matter to the Admissions Office at Newark Charter School.

The father was told by the Admissions Office that Newark Charter School could not accept the application and enter his daughter into the lottery based on her age. The parents attended a board meeting at the school and a board member suggested to the parents to apply their daughter for first grade, and upon acceptance, they would assess her and move her down to Kindergarten, if needed.  The parents did not find this to be a viable option since their daughter was never in Kindergarten in the first place.  This was not an acceptable option for the father, so he contacted the Delaware Department of Education.

The father spoke with the Charter School Office with concerns about the legality of Newark Charter School’s actions. He talked with Jennifer Nagourney, the Executive Director of the Charter School Office.  She advised him what the school was doing was completely legal.

After reaching out to a State Representative about the situation, the State Rep. asked the father for permission to reach out to some folks on this issue in an attempt to help. I was one of those people, and I spoke with the parents earlier this evening.  The parents are very concerned about this matter and feel other parents have a right to know what the school is doing.

The father claims the Admissions Office referenced a change in their admission policy that went into effect on September 15th, 2015.  I went to the school’s board minutes and found the following changes to their admissions policy:

NCS91515BoardMinutes

The wording on this board resolution is very vague and unclear. It doesn’t even mention a scenario where a child could be older than five and what their policy is on this.  Furthermore, the board voted on this change to their policy without the action item on their agenda.  Parents who may have been aware of this planned action could have attended the meeting and given public comment, or reached out to the school to address it with the Admissions Office or their Head of School, Greg Meece.  The fact they would deny parents who applied for Kindergarten in the 2015-2016 school year is a mystery to me, but there are multiple reasons why a parent could choose not to send their child to Kindergarten and they have a right to do so.  Many families of a child with a disability have made this choice.  Charter school boards in Delaware are required to post an Agenda of their board meetings seven days prior to their meeting, which Newark Charter School certainly did in this case.  However, it did not post any action items to be voted on by the Board of Directors, just Admissions Policy as part of “business” without any clear details surrounding it.

NCSAgenda91515

The board had the same item on their agenda for their August meeting and did discuss admission procedures in the August meeting. They didn’t take a vote on it thought, so the term “business” on their agenda is very misleading and doesn’t indicate what is being discussed or having action taken.  While Delaware’s open meeting law does not give an indication either way about discussion and action items, traditional school districts tend to have these clearly listed on their agendas.  Clarification in the law is absolutely needed so all public schools have the same level of transparency in regards to board meetings.

On Newark Charter School’s website, under Admissions, their general guidelines for applications do not reference the specific age of a Kindergartner:

NCSAdmissionsPolicy

I went to their actual Admissions Policy to see what it says on the subject:

Once again, there is nothing about a child being six years old at the time Kindergarten begins. The matter is not even addressed.  What it does say is this:

  1. All Kindergarten applicants must turn five years of age in the period from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016 to apply for KN in the 2016-2017 lottery. Students applying for Kindergarten do not necessarily have to be currently enrolled in a pre-K program. A birth certificate showing that the child will turn five-years old on or after September 1, 2015 and no later than August 31, 2016 will be required during the registration process in order for the student to be officially accepted.
  2. All other applicants to Newark Charter School must apply to the next consecutive grade level that they would matriculate to if they were to remain in their current school (For example, a current 1st grade student must apply to 2nd grade).

Title 14 in Delaware State Code is very clear about what a charter school can or cannot do in the application process:

  • 506 Restrictions.
  1. A charter school shall not:

(3) Restrict student admissions except:

  • By age and grade;

(4) Discriminate against any student in the admissions process because of race, creed, color, sex (except in the case of a same gender school), handicap, or national origin, or because the student’s school district of residence has a per student local expenditure lower than another student seeking admission

The wording concerning “by age and grade” is vague. It doesn’t give an actual clarification for it.  But it should be assumed it means charter schools will only accept applications for the grades that they have.  There are many charter schools that have students in attendance in certain grades where they are much older than their peers based on individual circumstances.

In the situation with this young girl, she could not have matriculated from Kindergarten since she is not currently enrolled in Kindergarten. So the board member’s suggestion was preposterous.   I asked the father if the application asked specifically about any disabilities and he did not believe it did.  I was able to obtain a copy of the school’s application which verified they did not ask about any type of disability for an applicant.

NCSApplication

In my opinion, because of the Board’s lack of transparency concerning these admissions changes back in September of 2015, as well as very unclear wording for any parent applying to the school, this child should be included in Newark Charter School’s lottery. If you agree, please email Greg Meece at Newark Charter School with the subject line: “Let her in the lottery” and please attach a copy of this article.  You can email Greg Meece at the following email address: gmeece@ncs.k12.de.us

Their lottery is Monday night at 6:00pm. If there are any other parents within Newark Charter School’s five mile radius, from the flagpole in front of their high school, who have also had their child’s application rejected based on this very misleading admissions policy, please contact me at kevino3670@yahoo.com or leave a comment on this article.

In the meantime, the daughter’s parents are praying something changes between now and 6pm on Monday.

So Which School Did Newark Charter Want To Join Their “Coalition”?

On Friday night, I put up a post about the Newark Charter School Coalition and how they met with an Assistant at a charter South of the Canal resulting in the firing of said employee.  As I wrote the other night, the principal was not privy to this conversation and was none too pleased when she found out about it.  Oh wait, I didn’t say she, did I?  So which charter was it?  There aren’t too many in Kent and Sussex. Continue reading