Jaques Is Playing Tricks With 2% School Board Tax Bill While McGuiness and Schwartzkopf Conspire Against Charter School Audit Bill

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Earl Jaques is abusing his position as Chair of the House Education Committee while Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf sits back and lets it all go down.  But Schwartzkopf will protect his buddy Kathy McGuiness at any cost. Continue reading

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New Charter School Audit Bill Would Make Kathy McGuiness Do Her Fricking Job

When the Odyssey Charter School debacle that made Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness look like she was in cahoots with her Greek friends on the Odyssey board became public, it was obvious a change needed to happen.  State Reps. Kim Williams and John Kowalko introduced a new bill today that would give the General Assembly, the Governor, the state Attorney General, or the Secretary of Education more power to force the Auditor of Accounts Office to do audits for charter schools:

This Act authorizes the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Department, or General Assembly, including a House, joint committee, committee, or member of the General Assembly, to request, and requires the Auditor of Accounts conduct or contract for, an audit of a charter school’s business and financial transactions, records, and accounts in certain circumstances. In addition, this Act makes clear that the Auditor of Accounts may not charge for an audit conducted or contracted for under this Act.
In addition, it would get rid of Kathy McGuiness’ ridiculous claim that she would have to charge a state agency for the cost of an audit.  This coming from the woman who cries poor for her Auditor’s office but has been giving out $100,000+ salaries like they are candy in the past few months.
These are the proposed changes to state code:

(4)a. The Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Department, or General Assembly, including a house, joint committee, committee, or member of the General Assembly, may request the Auditor of Accounts conduct or contract for an audit of a charter school’s business and financial transactions, records, and accounts if 1 of the following applies:

1. The Public Integrity Commission makes an advisory finding under § 5807(c) of Title 29 or final finding under § 5810 of Title 29 that a violation of § 5805 or § 5806 of Title 29 has occurred.

2. The Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Department, or General Assembly, including a house, joint committee, committee, or member of the General Assembly has evidence of a violation of State law or regulation or the misuse of State money.

b. The Auditor of Accounts shall conduct or contract for an audit of a charter school’s business and financial transactions, records, and accounts if requested under paragraph (d)(4)a. of this section.

c. The audit the Auditor of Accounts conducts or contracts for under this paragraph (d)(4) of this section must comply with generally accepted accounting principles.

d. When an audit is conducted or contracted for under this paragraph (d)(4) of this section, the Auditor of Accounts shall file a written report containing the information under § 2909(b) of Title 29 with the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Department, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives who shall distribute the report to the members of the General Assembly and the Controller General and Director of the Division of Research.

The bill’s Senate Prime is Jack Walsh, along with co-sponsors including Reps. Baumbach, Bennett, Brady, Longhurst, Matthews, Mitchell, Osienski, Smith, and Viola along with Senators Delcollo, Pettyjohn, Poore, Sokola and Wilson.  Some of these names are very interesting, including Smith and Sokola who have long been champions for charter schools.  But perhaps they are realizing that Delaware can no longer tolerate the financial malfeasance going on at Delaware’s charters.

The next step for this bill will be the House Education Committee.  It remains to be seen if Chair of the committee, Rep. Earl Jaques, will let it be heard before June 30th.  If not, it would carry over into the second leg of the 150th General Assembly which begins in January, 2020.

On June 5th, McGuiness wrote a long letter to members of the General Assembly about why she is choosing not to have her office begin an investigative audit into Odyssey Charter School.  I don’t agree with her reasoning whatsoever and no one has ever done this before in the Auditor’s office when it comes to a charter school audit.

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:

The Charter School Petty Cash Audit You Will Never See

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner has a lot of explaining to do.  And possibly Governor Markell as well!

Things are getting a bit clearer now.  On the Kavips blog, Delaware State Representative Kim Williams wrote a comment on Kavips take on the Kathleen Davies situation playing out at the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  She wrote about how she contacted the auditor’s office last September regarding some concerns she had with a Delaware charter school’s petty cash activity on Delaware Online Checkbook.  The report was near completion prior to Kathleen Davie’s abrupt “leave of absence”.  Williams even had a comment she approved that would have appeared in the petty cash audit inspection.

Williams emailed Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner to find out the status of it following Davies’ leave.  Wagner told her he stopped the audit and issued letters to all the charter schools instead.  Really Wagner?  I know which school Williams found on the petty cash situation.  When the Charter School of Wilmington wrote in their board minutes that the auditors were there to review their petty cash accounts, I knew something was up.  So I checked all the charter schools petty cash activity.  Some of them were quite egregious compared to what they are allowed to have in those accounts.  But I figured I would wait to see the report before I wrote about it.  In other board minutes, CSW board members asked where the audit was and they were going to contact the auditor to find out.  I find it very interesting they chose to write about this one particular audit, not once, but twice.

So now we have an elected official voluntarily choosing to cover up information.  This makes the very bizarre action against Davies’ look even more suspicious.  Who knows what other activity is being “stopped” by Tom Wagner.  Lord only knows how much else she found.  We also have the woman who was in charge of the Office of Management and Budget involved in this scandal as well.  Ann Visalli reported to one man, and one man only… Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell.  We have an obvious set-up against Davies with a lot of BIG Delaware power figures involved.  I hope her attorney eats them up!

Hey… Tom Wagner… where is the audit on Delaware Met?  Where is the audit from the tip I submitted about Academy of Dover and Newark Charter School?  What other audits are you cancelling?  Why do you keep ignoring emails from constituents like Jack Wells and myself?  What do you do all day?  Who got you to stop audits showing abuse of taxpayer money?  Is there an Indian River audit taking place given the firing of their CFO?  Mr. Wagner, do you know what else I’m finding?

Hey, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn… when are you going to announce charges for the charter school employees that were caught?  And that Indian River guy?  Are you waiting for Markell to leave his post?  Or for the statute of limitations to run out on these thieves?  I know the FBI are aware of this because I let them know just in case Delaware didn’t.  That was in April.

If I were writing a mystery novel about this, hypothetically of course, I would have to name suspects in a crime.  Keep in mind this would be a fictional story because no one has been charged with anything (including former charter school employees who were nabbed by the auditor’s office, but I digress).  I would have to look at who opposed Kim Williams’ original charter school audit bills.  That would be Kendall Massett (Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network), a lot of House Republicans, Senator David Sokola, Donna Johnson (Executive Director of the State Board of Education), Nitin Rao (the business manager of Newark Charter School), and Democrat State Representative (and Chair of the House Education Committee) Earl Jaques.  Oh yeah, Speaker  of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no on that one too!  Chuck Taylor with Providence Creek Academy (also the President of the board over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE) had parents from his school send emails to the House prior to the vote opposing the legislation.  And we can’t forget Ann Visalli!  And some guy named Henry Clampitt who was doing work with Kendall’s group also opposed it at the Senate Education Committee meeting on it last January.  I would have to imagine many other charter school leaders were not happy about the bill either.  This is a big list of whodunit suspects!  Did they act in concert in this imaginary thriller?  Or did someone fly solo?  I can’t wait to write the ending to this mystery!  I imagine all these suspects could feel the noose tightening around them right about now.  In this fictional story of course!

I sure hope someone was able to get their hands on all those letters sent from Tom Wagner concerning the petty cash audits that went out to various charter schools…

New Delaware Charter School Audit Bill Unanimously Passes In The House!!!!!!

House Bill 435 passed the Delaware House of Representatives today with not a single no vote.  This is in sharp contrast to last year when the majority of the House Republicans voted no on the former charter audit bill, House Bill 186.  With 39 yes votes and two absent, HB 435 will now head to the Senate.  Whether it is placed in the Senate Education Committee or the Senate Executive Committee remains to be seen.  Since the Senate Education Committee won’t be meeting again between now and the end of the 148th General Assembly on June 30th, a suspension of rules would have to be used for a full Senate vote if it is placed in that committee.  I reported earlier today the WEIC bills passed by the House were sent to the Senate Executive Committee instead of the Senate Education Committee for this very reason.

Congrats to State Rep Kim Williams and State Senator David Sokola for coming together and working on this new bill!

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

Academy of Dover Is Not A 501c3 Corporation As Stated In Their Charter, DOE Needs To Revoke Their Charter Now

The Academy of Dover is not listed as a 501c3 corporation with the Internal Revenue Service.  The Academy of Dover’s charter, which firmly states they are a 501c3 non-profit corporation, is not real.  The Delaware Department of Education put the charter school under formal review last year.  This was their fourth formal review in 12 years.  This did not come up at all during that process.  As well, their auditor, Barbacane, Thornton, & Company LLP, wrote about this in the last three years of audits they did for the school.

AcademyofDoverIRSRevocation

For the past three years, their auditor made note of this in their yearly audit of the school.  Each year provides a link to the full audit:

2013

AoD13AuditPt1

AoD13AuditPt2

2014

AoD14Audit

2015

AoD15Audit

And yet, for all three years, it states the exact same thing.  Ironically, the link for their 2012 audit, which may have shed some light on this situation, comes up as a blank pdf file.

How has this never been publicly disclosed until now?  Actually, it was disclosed a few years ago but it was buried in a comment section on Kilroy’s Delaware.  It was during July of 2013, which as any blogger can tell you isn’t exactly a big audience at that time of the year.  Especially an education blog!  But a commenter wrote exactly what I am telling you now but no one picked up the baton and ran with it.

But this tells me this information has been out there for a while now.  I would have a very hard time believing nobody at the Delaware DOE knew this.  I’m sure they read the annual audits.  But the fact these audits say the exact same thing three years in a row is astonishing.  With the school involved in a $2 million dollar lawsuit as well as former Head of School Noel Rodriguez’ personal theft of school funds, how does this not come up at all?  Who is reading these audits at the DOE?

The oversight for Delaware DOE authorized charters falls on the DOE.  It was right in front of them the whole time and I have never seen it publicly questioned.  It never came up in their formal review meetings last spring.  I know this because I attended all the meetings.  Transparency and this school have never been the best of friends.  But this… the DOE needs to act.  Their 501c3 status was revoked over four years ago.  They have been operating in the dark for over four years.  Granted, they could be trying to work things out with the IRS.  But if they aren’t a 501c3, even though they are still listed as such with the Delaware Department of Corporations…

AoDcertofinc.

And if anyone is wondering why charters need more oversight, this is exactly why.  Avi at Newsworks wrote an excellent article today about more charters under investigation in Delaware, including ones that were already under past investigations.  I’m just going to come right out and say Senate Bill 171 would give us more of what we have: fraud, lies, and auditors copying and pasting the same information year after year.  House Bill 186 would allow information, like what I am writing now, the ability to be seen.  Who knows what other skeletons are buried out there in Delaware charters?

Title14Charter990

One last thought…charter schools are required by the State of Delaware, in Title 14, paragraph 509, that they must have their IRS Tax Form 990 on their website.  Academy of Dover has not had this on their website since at least 2008 since the IRS said they hadn’t posted a return the last three years in 2011.  So we have a law and nobody is making sure this even happens?  Hello Jack Markell… this is transparency calling… your DOE has a lot of explaining to do.  But let’s get Academy of Dover taken care of first.  They have been out of compliance with their approved charter for over four years.  It’s time the DOE and the non-elected State Board of Education make a real decision instead of “probation” four times…

 

Providence Creek Academy Knew About Their Financial Abuse & Still Backed Sokola’s Non-Transparency Audit Bill

As revealed just half an hour ago, Providence Creek Academy was the latest in the never-ending “Delaware Charter School Financial Abuse Scandals”.  They knew this report was coming out.  You would think they would have shut up about charter school audit bills given this information.  But no, they went on their Facebook page and encouraged parents of students to fight State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186, which would help prevent these scandals from happening.

PCASB171

I heard Providence Creek Academy’s Head of School, Chuck Taylor, was in attendance at last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting, along with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, of which he serves as the President of their board. Unconfirmed, but on the rumor circuit is the PCA board voting to oust Chuck as soon as they get a new school leader because he is not qualified to run the school based on what they want in a school leader. The school has been without an official head of school since Chuck “resigned” back in 2013. The current principal, Audrey Erschen, has been around this whole time but the board at PCA seems to be very loyal to her, despite family members causing problems at the school in the Fall of 2014. The DOE and the State Board of Education, fully aware of some of these financial abuses and that the school was under investigation, renewed PCA’s charter last month. While the school told the Charter School Accountability Committee about how they have improved financial control through all of this, they were not exactly forthcoming about the nature of the abuses. I even congratulated them on their supposed transparency based on what I knew, which wasn’t even close to what was in this report.

Providence Creek Academy State Audit Inspection Released: Rehab Costs, Las Vegas Trip, & P-Card Abuses

The Delaware Auditor of Accounts just released an inspection report on Providence Creek Academy showing many violations in procurement card spending and very questionable payroll expenses.  The office was tipped off over a year ago, around the same time as Family Foundations Academy, about alleged financial improprieties at the school, as well as the Delaware Department of Education.  Abuses revolved around personal purchases through the State of Delaware p-card, payroll expenses that were not justified, and even a conference in Las Vegas in the Summer of 2014 that four employees of the school attended (as did representatives from Academy of Dover and Family Foundations Academy).  The school’s auditor from 2012 to 2014 found none of this in their annual audits of the school.

While the abuses were not in the scope of Academy of Dover or Family Foundations Academy, they are still illegal and against the law.  Please support State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 to help prevent these abuses from being missed by the charter school auditors and to bring transparency to light before these investigative inspections even have to occur.  Senator David Sokola’s Senate Bill 171 does nothing to stop these events from happening.

The Sokola Williams House Bill 186 Charter Funding “Town Hall” Debate: What If We Are All Wrong?

Sometimes the best conversations happen when there is a freedom to it with no strings attached, just honest questions and answers.  Yesterday, Senator David Sokola responded to a post of Mike Matthews on Facebook about House Bill 186 and Senate Bill 171.  The two competing bills both deal with charter audits. What happened next on the “debate” was pleasantly surprising.  I actually admire Sokola for entering into what I’m sure he knew could be “hostile territory” so to speak.  What ensued was very interesting.

Here is the bottom line, as I wrote in one of the final replies on this: something needs to be done to make sure the charter school fraud just stops.  We can’t have school leaders going rogue and raiding the public coffers.  It’s just wrong.  I think House Bill 186 would prevent that quite a bit.  Will it prevent any school employee from ever absconding money for personal use?  No, I don’t think anyone could ever 100% stop that.  But it is one hell of a deterrent.  There are more than enough issues with school funding in Delaware, the last thing we need is for one cent to be wasted like this.  It is criminal, it is illegal, and it needs to end.

Given all that has occurred since Senate Bill 171 was introduced last week, I would actually love to hear Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network response to this thread.  So I invite Kendall to comment on here.  This is not a free-for-all to jump on her should she take up the invite.  It is just a debate about the issues at hand.  If Kendall does take me up on this, I believe it could shed light on what the charters may be looking at for this.

In my opinion, the way charters were set up in Delaware is miles away from the present reality.  It is much more visible in New Castle County, but the whole traditional school district/charter school debate has morphed into something with both sides pitted against each other.  I will fully admit it’s something I’ve been guilty of.  But is it good for the education landscape of Delaware?  Should charters be funded separately from regular school districts?  But even bigger than that is the competition.  This need to be the best school in the state and all that comes with that.  Since the catalyst for that is standardized test scores, what would happen if those scores all of a sudden didn’t hold the weight they currently have?  What if schools were judged on their own merits, good or bad, based on something not so exact?

Our Department of Education, in line with the US DOE, certainly set up this kind of environment.  But let’s get real for a moment.  The traditional districts and the charters aren’t going anywhere.  I know I’ll probably get shot for even bringing this up, but a lot of us look at education in Delaware under the lens of how the charters affect the schools around them.  But I’m going to attempt to look at this from the charter perspective.  They view themselves as not getting as much money as districts, thus their assumption they do “more with less”.  In defense of that, they don’t have the sheer size and multiple capital costs the way districts do, so there is that.  Most of their teachers are not unionized, so turnover is most likely greater.  So they need to retain their good teachers and find ways to keep them and attract them to their schools.  They also need to make sure their enrollment stays at certain levels or the DOE will come after them.  To do that, they need to make their schools look as attractive as possible, so they need to sell it as such.  While some schools do indeed have enrollment preferences that are very questionable, a lot of them do not.  But still, the lure of charters for many parents is the escape from the local school districts who do “less with more”.  Most parents who are engaged at that level, and have made a choice to keep their kids out of a district, will certainly be more active in their child’s education, which results in more of a collaborative relationship between charter parents and their schools.  But the flip side to all of this, as those students who most likely have more parental engagement with their child’s education (not all) and  pull their kids out of districts, it has a rebound effect on the traditionals.  It can draw out the “better” students resulting in more issues at the local level for the remaining students.  This is certainly not the case in every school in every district, but we have seen this happen in Wilmington most of all.

So how do we get around all of this and work to make both co-exist?  The conversation gets very heated very quick with parties pointing fingers and making declaratory statements that don’t serve to solve the issues but actually polarize both sides into their position of defense.  As a result, we see legislators with differing opinions proposing laws that the other side opposes.  In the case of the charter audit bills, Kim Williams wins that one, hands down.  Will it cost charters more money?  Like I’ve said before, probably.  But we should have never reached this point.  It should have always been equitable for both when it comes to audits.  It isn’t now, and it wouldn’t be with Senator Sokola’s bill.  I’m not saying this cause I like Kim better than Dave, I’m saying it cause it makes sense.  There are some Republican bills I think make a lot of sense, and vice versa.  But let’s face it, the Democrats have controlled Delaware for a long time now, so their bills tend to get more press and traction because of that control.

This is what I would like to eventually see in the charter/traditional debate.  All schools, be it charters, magnets, or vo-techs, have no enrollment preferences whatsoever.  This would put everyone on the same level playing field.  As well, charter schools should be funded the same way vo-techs are.  But there could still be a problem of a district shedding students as we see in Christina.  How do we solve that issue?  Not an easy answer.  When districts do lose a lot of students, it is bound to cause financial concerns.  But obviously we can’t just close districts.  But we can’t let them go to the poorhouse either.  And when a referendum goes south, it doesn’t just affect the traditional school districts, it flows into charters that receive the funding for those students.

Finally, our legislators need to find a way to minimize the importance of standardized testing.  At a state level, not a district level where those assessments do actually help students.  I posted an article on American Institutes for Research last September where their CEO admits standardized testing is actually accountability tests against teachers and schools.  Because our states and federal government have allowed this to happen.  They set up this crazy chess match but is very bad for schools, students, teachers, administrators, and even communities.  Whenever there are high-stakes, there are also consequences.  While some are intended, others are not.  Setting our schools up to compete against each other can bring innovation, but then it becomes a matter of “who has the better test scores?”  It’s not good, it’s not healthy, and this is leading all our students into the assumption that if they do well on a once-a -year test they are actually a success and “college and career ready”.   But even more dangerous, the schools actually think this and instruction is aimed around the test as opposed to the individual student and their own individual success.  The question that always comes up after this argument from the proponents of standardized testing is “How do we measure our student’s progress?”  There are measurements that don’t have to be the focal point of everything.  But yet our DOE has the Smarter Balanced Assessment with most of the weight on the Delaware School Success Framework.

Until we can get out of this testing obsession, nothing will ever change.  If charters and traditional school districts want to survive, they should join together to eliminate this abusive practice, not to perpetuate it.  There is no stability in it, and it is very destructive.  To those who do profit off this, they truly don’t care.  As long as they are making money.  This should be something parents of students should want as well.  They may not see it now, but they certainly will after their child graduates and they find they are really struggling in college.  This is why we are seeing more students taking college-level courses in our high schools because even the corporate education reformers know this.  But what we should really be doing is focusing less on test scores and letting children progress naturally in schools without the test stress.  So by the time they go to college, they are ready for what comes next.  College is supposed to be hard.  It shouldn’t be easy.  If we are seeing so many kids taking remedial classes, maybe this isn’t a reflection on our schools but on the emphasis society places on test scores.

For me personally, I care deeply about these issues.  Because I believe the students that pay the price the most are those who need the most.  By leading all students toward these very specific goals of “proficiency” and “growth”, we are allowing students with disabilities and those who come from poverty to start at the gate with a disadvantage.  And wanting to “close the gaps” without changing their inherent disadvantages results in an explosion just waiting to happen.  I’m not saying these kids can’t learn, or that they don’t want to learn.  But the instruction they need may not be the same for their regular peers.  If the end goal of accommodations is to make a student do better on a test, then we are losing sight of the true picture.  We can’t erase a disability or poverty in schools.  There are far too many outside factors to make that ever happen.

The charter/district debate is a systemic issue, but it is symptomatic of the far greater disease: standardized testing.  We have many excellent teachers who can become even better by allowing them to flourish in an environment that isn’t poisoned and set up as a competition.  Education isn’t a race.  It isn’t a contest.  It is education.  No child learns the same, and no child tests the same.  It needs to stop.  Until our leaders learn this, parents will continue to opt out.  At greater numbers than each year before.  Because we see it and we have the power to act on it.  Sooner or later they will get the message.  But in the meantime, the reformers and leaders continue to spin their wheels looking for the next big thing in order for them to survive.  They do not care if a school is doing bad.  They love it and they will pounce on it.  They use our schools and students so they can get rich.  And their method of measurement: the standardized test.  And far too many lap it up and believe it.

 

 

Kim Williams Fights Back!!! Send The HB186 Letter To All The Delaware Senators!

One of the things I admire about State Rep. Kim Williams in the General Assembly is her strength amidst fellow legislators.  I believe Kim puts forth legislation that will help the students of Delaware.  While some may see her as one who opposes charters, that is not the case at all.  She just wants equity.  It is why she put forth the Enrollment Preference Task Force from House Bill 90 in the 147th General Assembly.  It’s why she has legislation pending to finally fund basic special education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  It’s why she also put for House Bill 186, the charter school audit bill.

As I wrote in the following article yesterday, https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/dave-sokola-kicks-kim-williams-in-the-back-and-then-thrusts-the-knife-into-it/, it is obvious there are agendas afoot to stop Kim’s bill.  The Delaware Charter Schools Network hates this bill.  The cost isn’t anything that would force a charter school into bankruptcy.  Maybe they won’t be able to buy a slide for a pool, or send their whole staff to dinner at a country club, but they can afford it.  Don’t let the DCSN fool you!  They are paid by the charters to protect them and to advocate for them, just as DSEA does for teachers.  They have a lot of influence among the DOE, the State Board, and Rodel.  In essence, they are lobbyists.  Last year they started a massive letter writing campaign which I talked about in the above Sokola article.  Turnaround is fair play, so another letter writing campaign in support of House Bill 186 started earlier today.

This bill actually does protect charter schools by helping to make sure the outright theft of school funds doesn’t go for personal use by corrupt employees, and those funds go to the classroom where they are needed most.  I can’t for the life of me understand why Sokola and Jaques wouldn’t want that either.  They will argue technicalities, but let’s be honest, they are protecting this bizarre charter school mentality where they don’t want to have the transparency they actually need to survive on a long-term basis.  During discussion last spring for HB186, the State Auditor’s office told the House Education Committee the nature of the charter’s required yearly audits would not catch a lot of the financial malfeasance that went on at charters like Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover.

Please go to the letter writing campaign here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-hb-186?source=direct_link&referrer=hb-186

As of this writing, it states 162 letters have been sent.  To clarify, that is 162 sets.  Each Delaware Senator is receiving this letters and there are 21 Senators.  That is 3, 402 letters that have gone out today!  That is amazing!

Dave Sokola Kicks Kim Williams In The Back And Then Thrusts The Knife Into It

Sokola

Senator Dave Sokola pulled a fast one on State Rep. Kim Williams in his latest political trickery because of his uncontrolled bias for Delaware charter schools.

Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 was approved by the Delaware House of Representatives on June 30th, the last day of legislative session. Senator David Sokola refused to suspend the rules and said this bill needed to be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Fair enough. It was heard in committee this week, and it was released yesterday. Fair enough. What he did behind the scenes is what defines him.

House Bill 186 deals with charter school audits. Rep. Williams felt the charter school fraud and embezzlement was a bit too much for Delaware taxpayers and she brought the bill forward to allow the State Auditor’s office to monitor charters more closely. This is something Kathleen Davies from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office was in full support of. The main party who was not in support of the bill was the Delaware Charter Schools Network. They vehemently opposed the bill stating it would cost charter schools extra money. On their website, they set up a “letter to the legislators” system where parents just add their information and a letter is automatically sent to the legislators.

At present, all traditional school districts audits go through the State Auditor’s office.  Charters use their own hand-picked auditors.  This bill would add an extra layer of protection.  As well, ever since the very first charter school closed in Delaware, funds seem to disappear resulting in millions of dollars vanishing.  Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 would put charters on the same equal playing field as traditional school districts and is not an attempt to treat charters any different.  Why would we not want to ensure our taxpaying funds are being used with fidelity and honesty?

Having sent my son to a charter school back in the day, I know how this works when legislation comes up that may affect a charter school.  Parents get emails from the school leader basically saying “Our poor charter school is under attack, we need your support.”  It usually ties to funding and money.

On June 30th, the bill passed the House with all Democrats except State Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques and all the Republicans voted no.

This week, Sokola, along with co-sponsor Jaques and several Senate Republicans filed Senate Bill 171.

Are charters required to have their audits done the same way as Sokola’s Senate Bill 171 states?  Not at all.  Title 29 of the Delaware State Code, dealing with the Auditor of Accounts, specifically states:

(f) The Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits of local school district tax funds budget and expenditures annually. The results of the audit shall be submitted to the local board, the State Board of Education, the office of Controller General and the local libraries within said school district. Expenses incurred for such postaudits herein authorized shall be borne by the local school districts.

This says absolutely nothing about charter schools whatsoever.  With respect to charter schools, Title 14 does touch on this, but the wording is very vague:

The charter school shall contract to have an audit of the business and financial transactions, records, and accounts after July 1 for the prior fiscal year. The results of the audit shall be shared with the Department of Education by October 1.

What Sokola’s bill does completely ignores the authority given to the State Auditor of Accounts in Title 29.  And the charter audit part is not even included in chapter 29 whatsoever.  Title 14 doesn’t even define what the scope of the charter school’s audit should look like, and even with Sokola’s bill this is not defined either.  But Title 29, the section that once again authorizes the Auditor of Accounts of their duties and responsibilities, bolded for emphasis, states:

(a) The audits shall be sufficiently comprehensive to provide, but not limited to, assurance that reasonable efforts have been made to collect all moneys due the State, that all moneys collected or received by any employee or official have been deposited to the credit of the State and that all expenditures have been legal and proper and made only for the purposes contemplated in the funding acts or other pertinent regulations.

This is a direct attempt to sabotage Rep. Williams’ bill in my opinion. Sokola’s bill does absolutely nothing. It is a piece of paper designed to actually protect charter schools from the financial destruction some of them have inflicted on Delaware. After the State Auditor’s office released reports last year on Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover showing well over $300,000 of taxpayer money being absconded by school leaders, along with other reports showing a couple of charters doing very suspect things with school funds, one would think our elected officials would want to make sure charters are held under a bigger microscope.  In the case of Family Foundations Academy, telling the public they aren’t sure what may have happened to $2.5 million dollars along with another $141,000 in funds that may or may not have been personal purchases shows a clear need for more oversight into charter finances.  But apparently not with the Chairs of our Education Committees, Sokola and Jaques.

How does something like this happen when charter schools are supposed to have greater accountability because of their unique structure with the public school environment?  It is political maneuvering.  Senator Sokola is in the 8th District, in Newark.  Since 1990, Sokola has been a State Senator.  I wrote in great detail about Sokola’s history of education destruction last year.  The 8th District is a very unique district.  In this district is Newark Charter School.  Senator Sokola was one of the founding board members of the school.  Newark Charter School has a 5 mile radius for its applicants, which actually extends past the Maryland line.  So it is not a true 5 mile radius, but ensures all its students come from a very specific geographic area.  The 8th district.  This school is considered to be one of the best schools in the state based on standardized test scores, academics, and school climate.  There is usually an extensive waiting list.  Because of this, Sokola is able to hold onto his Senate seat because of his steadfast loyalty to charter schools.  He is also the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Interestingly enough, State Rep. Kim Williams gave insight into this in a comment on Delaware Liberal last night:

House Bill 186 will require charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts like all other public school districts in the state. Currently, only public school districts are audited through the Auditor of Accounts. Sen. Sokola explained to us during the debate of House Bill 186 that his bill, Senate Bill 171, was drafted with the help of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, who represent charter schools and the leaders who have been stealing from Delaware taxpayers. Senate Bill 171 does not require the charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts office. The charter schools will be able to select who they want once again. Senate Bill 171 does nothing except protect the charter schools and not the taxpayers. I for the life of me cannot understand why these people do not care about protecting the taxpayers’ money; they are more interested in protecting the charter schools.

This is Delaware.  Those in power position themselves in the key positions so they can be re-elected over and over and over again.  Sokola is also the chair of the Senate Bond Committee so he can curry favor with the organizations that receive state funding through bonds and grants.  Sokola has not filed for the 2016 election, but his seat is up for grabs.  No opposing candidate has filed either, so there is still time.

I urge every single Delaware citizen to contact every member of the Delaware Senate to vote yes for House Bill 186.  Sokola’s anti-Williams bill will most likely be on the Senate Education Committee agenda for next week.  His bill will be fast-tracked for passage while Williams bill will either be voted down or sit in limbo.

I just wrote the Delaware Senators an email for my full support for House Bill 186, and I would ask anyone reading this to do the same:

Good morning Delaware Senators!

I wanted to ask for you support in voting yes for House Bill 186, State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit bill which passed with overwhelming support in the Delaware House on June 30th, and was released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  As a Delaware taxpaying citizen, I firmly believe our Delaware charter schools need rigorous examination with their finances.  We have seen far too many charters abscond with public funds for personal use in the past few years for their own personal use. 

I firmly believe, after carefully reviewing House Bill 186, that this bill would give the extra protections Delaware taxpayers need to make sure our dollars are being protected from those who would steal money from us.  If we are going to demand accountability in our schools, that needs to start at the top in each and every building.  Every single traditional school district is held to this same process, so why wouldn’t we include charters in this process?

I would urge all of you to read this article by Business Insider which was written on January 6th, 2016: http://www.businessinsider.com/are-charter-schools-the-new-mortgage-crisis-2016-1  This article clearly shows the environment charter schools exist in and there are red flags all over the place.  Charter school accountability and transparency was also addressed in the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama last month.  The ESSA demands more state responsibility in monitoring charter schools.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

Here is a list of the emails for our Delaware Senators, just copy and paste!

harris.mcdowell@state.de.us MargaretRose.Henry@state.de.us robert.marshall@state.de.us greg.lavelle@state.de.us catherine.cloutier@state.de.us Ernesto.Lopez@state.de.us Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us karen.peterson@state.de.us bethany.hall-long@state.de.us Nicole.Poore@state.de.us david.mcbride@state.de.us bruce.ennis@state.de.us Dave.Lawson@state.de.us senator-colin@prodigy.net brian.bushweller@state.de.us Brian.Pettyjohn@state.de.us gerald.hocker@state.de.us bryant.richardson@state.de.us David.Sokola@state.de.us Bryan.Townsend@state.de.us gsimpson@udel.edu

 

New Year’s Goals From 37 Of The First State’s Finest On Delaware Education

I’m going to kick back today and shut up on here.  After the last 365 days of yapping (487 consecutive days if we want to be technical), I figure it is time to give others a shot!  I reached out to a host of Delaware citizens for their 2016 New Years Goals for Delaware education.  The response was amazing!  You will see teachers, parents, Superintendents, State Reps, Senators, Republicans, Democrats, PTA, DSEA members, school board members, advocates, an attorney, a charter school leader, and more!  Unfortunately, Governor Markell, Rodel’s Paul Herdman, and several DOE employees did not respond.  I can only wonder why…  But there are a few in here I have taken potshots at before and I appreciate their seeing beyond that and responding.  I actually told Jack this would have no opinions or comments from me based on what people write.  I was actually hoping he would respond…

I would ask that folks don’t go nuts in the comments.  These were all well-thought out goals by all involved and I think there are some very recurring themes throughout.  I highly recommend every member of the Delaware General Assembly reads this.  It is a very good barometer of the education environment in Delaware these days.

If anyone wants to email me their own goals for Delaware education, feel free to email me at kevino3670@yahoo.com and I will be more than happy to keep this going.  This includes any who missed this the first time around, even Jack and Paul!

2016 New Years Goals:

Josiah Andrews, Wilmington Resident and Grandfather to Delaware Students:

  1. Make all charter school board members be residents of the State of Delaware. If you’re going to regulate tax dollars, they you’d damn well better have a vested interest as a tax payer in our state.
  2. Unionize charter school teachers so they are not constantly in fear of losing their jobs. Allow them to TEACH and FOCUS on the children, not be in a constant state of fear that they may become unemployed in a minute’s notice.
  3. Allow parents and teachers the ability to OPT OUT. Parents should not be forced to have their children stress out over these ridiculous Smarter Balanced Tests, and teachers should be permitted to TEACH a curriculum, not teach to a test.   I grew up learning how to actually read and write.  I also learned common sense math, rather than the nonsensical common core math.

Adriana Bohm, Red Clay Board of Education Member:

  1. I would like the DOE to implement a weighted funding formula which addresses poverty and institutionalized racism.
  2. I would like the educational system to stop disciplining students of color and those with special needs and IEPs/504s in a harsh, biased, and discriminatory manner.
  3. I would like the state to “deconcentrate” poverty in our schools.

Jennifer Cinelli, Milford School District Parent:

  1. Statewide Delaware Autism Program (DAP) assistance programming for all districts.  This would include respite, in home services, summer programming, etc. for all children in need.
  2. Funding for schools pushed down to the County level including a requirement that the counties be current on property assessments which would increase funding exponentially in Kent and Sussex Counties.
  3. Increase in statewide technology for all students.  I can’t understand the fact that Amazon is in our state but all the school kids don’t have Kindles instead of textbooks.  If we want our children to be competitive worldwide, we need to give them the tools.

Dr. Merv Daugherty, Superintendent of Red Clay Consolidated School District:

  1. Appropriate funding allocations for students of poverty and English Language Learners (ELL), Opportunity to support students and families.
  2. Increase Collaboration, especially in the areas of parent involvement and effective community partnerships.
  3. Increase Support for Pre-K programs, opportunity to work with students (age 4) to prepare them for their elementary experience.

Nelia Dolan, Indian River School District Parent:

  1. I would like to see our legislature consider the financial and spiritual harm that many of the policies they instituted over the last 20 years have inflicted on district schools, their students and their teachers. It is time to start supporting our district schools that accept all students, to stop punishing schools that house the highest percentages of at risk students, and rewarding those schools that manage to keep those children out.
  2. I would like to see the SBA thrown out. Having a test to measure individual student growth that is 9+ hours is ridiculous, and in the case of our younger students is abusive. We need the return of a test that can be reasonably given to all students, that is equal in length to a subject test that can be taken in a single period (50 minutes or less), and that can be used to inform instruction.
  3. I would like to hear serious discussion about making available quality preschool and summer enrichment for all of our low income and at risk students. The first place to look for money should be in our DOE. If the enormous amounts of money the DOE has spent on data, consultants, testing, surveys, salaries, etc., over the last few years had been spent on preschool for low income children in Wilmington, real progress could have been made.

Natalie Ganc, Caesar Rodney School District Special Education Teacher:

  1. Kim Williams funding bill for special education students in K-3. Being back to teaching in 3rd grade has been a real eye opener in this department. There are so many kids who aren’t being identified due to cell numbers and funding, it’s ridiculous.
  2. Delaware stops focusing on testing students, which ultimately would stop everything being ranked and tied to student test scores. I would like to just be able to do my job and spend time teaching students the skills they will need to survive in life. With test scores being tied to my school’s performance (even though they haven’t been tied to mine for going on 2 years), I end up having to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching test-taking skills to students who can barely read or perform basic mathematical operations.
  3. Get rid of Common Core standards and go back to the Delaware Standards that we already had. They were much more developmentally appropriate.  Rushing advanced concepts before a child’s brain is developed enough in that area to process them is very damaging.  I have students who feel like they are failures, because they can’t grasp the 5th grade concepts that they are now forced to learn.  If there are talented and gifted students, then they could work on the higher concepts, but trying to force them on everyone, especially my ELL and SPED students, before they are ready, is creating a culture where everyone feels inadequate. In fact, if you look at my 3 goals for Delaware Education Reform for 2016…  I’m afraid if there aren’t changes made in those areas, then we are just preparing more children to drop out of school.

Lorrie Gloede, Delaware Citizen:

Guess it could be entitled “Impossible Dream”.  I would like to see Delaware educators be free to teach, using their creativity and curriculum and standards planned by them (the way it used to be).  Student assessments would be done by teachers; teacher assessments would be done by the principals and assistant principals; principal assessments would be done by the superintendents.  This “old-fashioned” concept would involve separating ourselves from federal government mandates, federal bribes, corporate involvement; and paying our education taxes to the state and local districts, resulting in more local control.  I believe problems are more easily fixed when we are closer to them.

Karen Gritton, 9/12 Patriots:

  1. Parental oversight of the Delaware DOE to force transparency and get information out. FOIAs aren’t being responded to.
  2. Parental oversight of data collection by schools.
  3. Reversal of funding for Common Core and Smarter Balanced.

Eric Gustafson, Christina School District Teacher:

  1. Cancel SBAC
  2. Funding of charter schools unlined to traditional public schools, imitate vo-tech funding.
  3. Funding of traditional public schools addressed in the Era of Choice, do away with referendums.
  4. Wilmington education scene needs conclusive action. I favor Christina School District being removed from Wilmington.
  5. Reshaping the power of the Delaware Department of Education.

Terri Hodges, President of Delaware PTA:

  1. Establishment of a committee, under the direction of the Attorney General’s office to continue assessing progress and/or areas of improvement with the compliance of anti-bullying policies and reporting of incidents at the local level. As a caveat to this, I would like to see strong and clear language with regards to the rights of victims & their families.
  2. Real meaningful inclusion of parents, teachers, and other stakeholders in addressing components of the Every Student Succeeds Act in the form of legislative initiatives that will give more local control particularly over assessments and accountability. This includes replacing SBAC with a more reliable and valid assessment.
  3. Implementation of the recommendations from the Enrollment Preference Task Force.
  4. I would like to see the passage of House Bill 186.

Dr. Mark Holodick, Superintendent of Brandywine School District:

  1. Double down on early childhood programming and supports, ensuring that ALL children have access to quality early learning opportunities that ultimately lead to ALL children reading fluently and with comprehension by grade 3.
  2. We implement a weighted student funding formula that recognizes and addresses children living in poverty and English Language Learners.
  3. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, districts refocus on the importance of Emotional Health and the Arts in education. Both are critical in the development of the whole child and deserve greater emphasis and resources within education.

State Rep. Earl Jaques, 27th District:

  1. Have audit procedures the same for every school district.
  2. Provide funding for children with disabilities in K-3.
  3. Pass redistricting for Wilmington.
  4. Eliminating test scores as part of Component 5 (in DPAS-II Teacher Evaluation System).
  5. Increase school funding for children of low-income families.

Yvonne Johnson, Vice-President Delaware PTA Advocacy Committee:

  1. Abandonment of The SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment: I wish there would not be a need for a state assessment. I wish that the Federal Government had a better way to measure how students are learning.  Children are not a one size fits all and when we use high stakes testing to determine everything about children and their proficiency, we are not recognizing that not all children develop on the same path. I have always been against high stakes testing, however, SBAC is probably the poorest assessment Delaware has ever used. Why? Because it does not inform instruction for teachers, it does not measure growth from fall to spring, it says that all students should master standards at a particular grade level, and the results land in the parents and educators hands when the student has already moved onto the next grade. My wish is to replace SBAC with a developmentally appropriate growth model assessment.
  2. Parent Engagement: Many school districts think they actually have 100% parent engagement in their schools. Why? Because they check the box off. If a school has a pizza party paid for by Title I funds and only 10 parents show up, the school feels that is parent engagement. I think that no matter how parents show up, it is a win, however, we need to look at parent engagement differently. We need to take the engagement to the families. We need to train parents on what true parent engagement is. Sure, volunteering is essential to support a school, however, parent engagement looks very different to different folks. I wish that we could actually have mandatory parent engagement seminars and activities in each school to show parents that it is not just about volunteering in the building but also about reading to your child, assisting them with their homework, and working with their child’s teacher to ensure that their children are learning while in school and receiving all the resources and services that are mandated. Parents must be their own child’s advocate but not all parents know how to do this. So my wish is that all parents would and should learn to be their own child’s champion.
  3. Weighted Funded for at risk students: In theory WEIC is a tremendous idea. It’s main goal is to ensure that the students in the poorest neighborhoods (at risk students and low-income students) get the best education possible. Delaware DOE has failed this population enormously. These students need more resources from the school system because they may not be getting it at home or in the community. There are so many recommendations for this to work however, if nothing else actually materializes, I wish that our schools can go to weighted funding. This would put the students at risk receiving the resources they most desperately need. These students should get more funding then perhaps their suburban counterparts because many of the students that are not at risk have other advantages to enhance and strengthen their education. My wish is that the state moves to weighted funded formula system and gets rid of unit counts.

Jackie Kook, Vice-President Christina Education Association and Christina Teacher:

  1. A method of monitoring student progress in classes based on the professional judgment of the educator. That could look like proficient scores on an agreed-upon test or a comprehensive, standardized portfolio system or anything in-between, but it should be personalized to the student and integral to the work of the class (i.e., not a standalone test with no relevance to the coursework.
  2. A well-rounded evaluation system for schools. This should include not only academic things but also access to extra-curricular activities, diverse arrays of elective/expressive courses, and respected staff that offers support to all learners on an individual basis.
  3. I’d like to see Dr. Dan Shelton rumored to be next Secretary of Education 😉 But seriously, the third thing I’d like to see is a rescinding of educational laws that make no sense, or that are holdovers from a prior federal educational policy maker. It would be great to take it all back to square one and come up with a new holistic plan instead of piecing it together a little at a time.

State Rep. John Kowalko, 25th District:

  1. Restore the cuts to public education that Governor Markell imposed in 2008-2009 which would enable smaller classroom ratios and a return of the “Minner” reading specialists among other things that have been taken away from the “educators” toolbox.
  2. Cancel all Race To The Top initiatives that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned off into the pockets of the corporate speculators. Stop asking for taxpayer money to continue this public education death spiral that will break our budget while ensuring failure for our teachers and students.
  3. An override of the Governor’s poorly considered veto of House Bill 50 with a legitimate consideration of dismantling the “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” commitment by Delaware.
  4. Making the State Board of Education an elected body.
  5. Cutting the ever-burgeoning bureaucracy that is the Department of Education, and electing a Governor who will insist that entities such as the State Board of Education and DOE serve the will and interest of the communities and families.

Matt Lindell, President of Capital Board of Education and Cape Henlopen Teacher:

  1. I would like to see Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50 overridden by the legislature.
  2. I would like to see someone at DOE or the state admit that rating schools based on tests is a waste of time as it wastes money on something that we already know, which is socio-economic plays a role in successful and so-called struggling schools.  Fix the source of the problem; you fix the schools.
  3. I would like to see a State Board of Education that is a rubber stamp for DOE policy. They do not have to agree with my views 100% of the time; however, it would be nice to see some independent thought out of them on a consistent basis.

Mike Matthews, President of the Red Clay Education Association:

The time is now for the General Assembly and our Governor to act FOR the students in our neediest schools. Will they choose test scores or adequate supports and resources for our students? There are two big things coming down the pike this year: The House and Senate must immediately vote to override the Governor’s veto of HB 50, the parent opt-out bill. And even if they don’t pass the recommendations made by the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, then the Legislature must begin a full-scale review of our schools’ funding system to get more resources to our neediest schools. Which side will the Legislature and our Governor be on?

Greg Mazzotta:

  1. Delaware (state-level) Quality Program R & R – Refreshed and Realized – deployed by the six sections: Manufacturing, Small/Service Business, Non-Profit/Government, Health Care, and Education.
  2. Establish a Baldridge-in-Residence Leadership Program to support the state-level Quality Program regardless if Delaware has its own or is affiliated with that of another state. Currently, the fiduciary is the Missouri Foundation for Excellence and has been since 2012. With leadership changes in MD, NJ, and VA, it’s unclear who will be partnering with whom.
  3. That my work at DSU continues to show promising results in continuous improvement and that other Higher Ed organizations will take note.

Harrie Ellen Minnehan, President of Christina Board of Education:

  1. An end to all but end of the year annual tests and I’d only do them in Grades 3, 5, and 10.
  2. An end to administrative walk-throughs in classrooms. Nonsense, utter nonsense. All that is created is stress on both teachers and kids.
  3. Bring back REAL Kindergarten. Kindergarten kids do NOT NEED TO LEARN TO READ. Some do teach themselves but the typical Kindergarten child is not ready socially or intellectually to be reading. They need to learn to play, to get along with other kids, and to be part of a classroom group.

Sabine Neal, Smyrna School District Parent:

  1. A checks and balance system for IEP process.
  2. Schools to actually face accountability.
  3. For ALL children to receive a quality education.

Lauren O’Connell-Mahler, Attorney for McAndrew’s Law Firm:

  1. Improved collaboration between the state agencies that serve students with disabilities.
  2. Improved supports and services within our schools for students with emotional/behavioral/mental health needs.
  3. Increased focus on educating the whole student, not just boosting report card grades or state test scores, but also developing the other skills that our children need to be ready for life after graduation (e.g., social skills, vocational skills, adaptive skills, behavioral skills, organizational skills, etc.)

Liz Paige, Christina Board of Education Member:

  1. Christina School District moving forward with a permanent Superintendent and strong district leadership.
  2. An elected State Board of Education.
  3. Debates about education to be focused on what is best for students and not grown-ups.

Senator Brian Pettyjohn, 19th District:

  1. I’d like the relationship between the state DOE and stakeholders rebuilt. The animosity between the DOE and just about every group is apparent.
  2. Testing has to be manageable, reasonable, and reflect what we are expecting of our children when they are promoted or graduate. And those expectations have to be grounded in reality and aligned with what employers or colleges are expecting from the final product of our K-12 system.
  3. The funding model for education has to be fixed. It’s an outdated model that does not work efficiently and effectively in the 21st Century.

Lisa Radke, Appoquimink School District and First State Military Academy Parent:

  1. Override the veto on House Bill 50 and more strength in numbers with the opt-out movement in Delaware.
  2. New blood on our school boards if possible.
  3. Be rid of Smarter Balanced and Common Core.

State Rep. Mike Ramone, 21st District:

  1. Establish a unified rolling reassessment of real estate in Delaware in which each property would be grandfathered at their current assessment value and property tax rate until they sell their property at which time the “State Wide Current Market Value” is established and a new State wide property tax rate would then apply. Result: Immediately more income to fund our educational system in a fair equatable way State wide without the cost and time consumed to reassess property values throughout the State.
  2. Consolidation of our school districts into 5 Districts. Sussex, Kent, Southern New Castle, Northern New Castle and Vocational. Result: Reduction in administrative costs, allowing more monies to flow into the classrooms, and a more unified, streamlined educational environment for teachers, students and communities.
  3. Develop a statewide commitment to unified campuses with direct feeders from Elementary to Middle to High schools. Result: Consistency in transition from school to school. Teachers, Students and Administration would be more familiar with families and communities and would be better equipped to address the needs of those entities.

Three big steps but all needed to make Delaware School the Best once again. I am sure my thoughts may stray from my colleagues but they are all designed to help create a consistent environment which supports learning, allowing our teachers to help fill every child’s “cup” to the top regardless of how large or small that cup is. This results in children graduating from high school with the skills and knowledge to contribute to society in a valued and respected way. What more could we ask for?

Kenny Rivera, President of Red Clay Board of Education, Vice-Chair of Wilmington Education Improvement Commission:

  1. Support for Wilmington Education Improvement Commission recommendations (especially the current sustainable and weighted funding recommendations).
  2. Passage of the Enrollment Preference Task Force recommendations to come.
  3. More public education friendly legislators/Governor to be elected and/or stand strong.
  4. Opt Out Override.
  5. Less Testing and change the poor usage of that data to label students, schools, and teachers.
  6. Smarter Balanced replaced by SATs in high school.
  7. Kim Williams’ audit charter bill (House Bill 186).
  8. Expansion of Pre-K for at-risk children.

Ashley Sabo, Delaware PTA Advocacy Committee, Red Clay Inclusion Committee:

  1. More transparency from leaders- school boards, legislators, superintendents, state officials, ALL those in leadership positions.
  2. Return the focus of education to the children and their true needs, not the needs and desires of corporations pushing agendas and big ideas to earn a dollar at the expense of our kids- after all, these kids, our kids are our future- so fewer assessments, standards-based education, Common Core, etc.
  3. More social skills learning and active learning for our little kids in preschool and Kindergarten. They need more time to explore and hands on learning to allow their brains to grow and expand. Not more worksheets.

Dr. Dan Shelton, Superintendent of Capital School District:

  1. All High School graduates college ready and if they choose, prepared to begin the career of their choice.
  2. Full funding of the education budget.
  3. Full funding for initiatives that are places on schools by legislature (future and past).

State Rep. Byron Short, 7th District:

My key concerns regarding education are mostly related to policy leaders understanding the roll of poverty in our educational system. I think few of us really understand how desperate the lives of some of our students really are.  I would like to see schools in high poverty areas almost become community resource centers with social workers helping the whole family connect to available services.  We need strong wrap-around services.  Increased mental health services to address PTSD.  My daughter is at University of Delaware studying to become a teacher.  She is learning best teaching practices but so much of what is required of teachers to be successful are unmet needs outside of the classroom.  I am confident we can be successful but we have to take the real education challenges head-on and that means addressing the life challenges of economically disadvantaged students.

Brian Stephan, Christina School District Citizens Budget Oversight Committee:

  1. Sustainable traditional public school funding formula developed.
  2. Fund Charters via line item on State budget.
  3. House Bill 50 Veto Override.

Senator Bryan Townsend, 11th District:

  1. More funding/services for high poverty schools.
  2. Doing away with predominance of student testing in teacher evaluations.
  3. Reforms to enhance educator compensation.

Leroy Travers, Principal of Campus Community School:

I can basically answer your question with one statement that would encompass all three (and many more) things that I would like to see. That is that I would like to see more attention and emphasis, state and system wide, placed on the needs of students, all students!  That alone would solve many, many problems.

Niki Vella, Red Clay Consolidated School District Parent:

  1. Students with special needs and disabilities not labeled as students with behavior issues. For instance, a student who comes from a home of neglect or abuse and acts out, is NOT the same as a student with disabilities or special needs. Our Governor, Secretary of Education, and Delaware’s education system has failed to recognize this. If they bothered to it just might change things with our diverse students coming into the schools from neglected households in the city. This is not fair to them also. Also there would be less money for charter schools that don’t work who are draining the public school systems funds.
  2. Common Core and State Testing ABOLISHED! With this system our children and teachers strengths are being discounted. This is an ugly system that only benefits our money-hungry stingy government in Delaware and is NOT helping our children and their education in ANY way. It is a test and education plan to make our politicians discount our children’s education. Our special needs and disabled students should be exempt from this test because it is NOT the right way to measure their learning and intelligence.
  3. We need more public schools opening in the next few years. The size of our classrooms is WAY too large. Our teachers cannot keep up with the amount of kids in each class. It would be nice if they did what Jeb Bush did three years ago and passed a referendum that limited 25 kids per class and opened MORE schools per city. Our schools in DE are not evened out enough and there are limited schools in each of our cities. I blame this on the State Testing excuse and bad useless Charter Schools opening up and closing. This is causing the well to run dry! We need to re-open public schools and stop using the discrimination card. Diversity is a wonderful thing and as a parent I believe in it for my son, but these poor kids with behavioral issues caused by bad parenting coming in from the city cannot be expected to flourish in a class of 50 kids.  This is no way fair to those kids or any kids in the public school system. This is hurting ALL of our kids and the wonderful teachers in this state. This is a cry for help!

State Rep. Kim Williams,19th District:

  1. Kindergarten classrooms bring back their play stations, let children explore and use their imagination once again, instead of focusing on their performance on a test they will have to take in three years.
  2. House Bill 186- charter audit bill passes the Senate and is signed by the Governor.
  3. Weighted Funding for K-3 Basic Special Education and Students of Poverty
  4. Eliminate most enrollment preferences in our schools.
  5. No more labels being placed on our schools.
  6. No more teaching to a test, eliminate Smarter Balanced.

State Rep. Lyndon Yearick, 34th District:

  1. A reform to the unit count funding system. Let’s provide more discretion and flexibility for schools.
  2. Classify all education employees as essential and non-essential. For example, an essential employee is the teacher, paraprofessional, custodian, etc.- the individuals as close to the student as possible. Let’s build our schools from the classroom/student up.
  3. Standardize designs for new schools and construction.

Kuumba Academy Blasts State Auditor Over Findings From Investigation

A few months ago, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts found some red flags with Kuumba Academy in regards to misuse of financial funds with their overpayments to their Head of School, Assistant Head of School, and their Custodian.  There wasn’t much that came of it, but upon looking at Kuumba’s October board minutes, I found a very interesting section dealing with this audit.

kuumba

Raye Jones Avery is the Vice-President of Governance for the board, Sally Maldonado is the Head of School, and Ken Brown is the Vice-President of Facilities for the board.  What is so suspicious about the “timing and tone of the report”?  Given the splurges at Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, it would stand to reason the State Auditor would want to look at charter school spending of procurement cards.  I’m not sure what the DSCN is, but I am assuming it was a misspelling of the Delaware Charter Schools Network based on a Google search and seeing several others misspell this abbreviation.  This non-profit vehemently opposed Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit legislation, House Bill 186.  As well, even if the findings were “out of scope”, of course the auditor’s office is going to do a “scope” around the school’s finances given what has gone on at several Delaware charters.  I love the arrogance of some of these charter leaders and board members.  They will do anything to escape accountability!  They make it seem like this was all some witch hunt.  The Auditor’s office found something, and it wasn’t good.  Instead of taking your lumps, especially the Head of School who seems to have escaped unscathed from all this, they sit around at a board meeting talking about it.  In sharp contrast to this was Providence Creek Academy, who proactively found an issue, reported it to the Auditor’s office, and fixed the problem so it wouldn’t happen again!

And I apologize if I am going “out of scope” on this article, but I couldn’t help but notice the Teach For America and Relay Graduate School love going on at this school in the very same board minutes…

kuumba2

I have to say it is very sad when I see a school debating which teachers are better, TFA or Relay.  I will just leave it at that…

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: State Rep. Kim Williams

KimWilliams

As I started blogging, I heard a ton of people telling me I should talk to Kim Williams.  I didn’t even know it was possible to talk to a State Representative who wasn’t in your district.  Of course now I know how silly that is, but at the time I didn’t.  Kim Williams and I think a lot alike.  Many of the things I am passionate about in education Kim is as well.  At the end of the day, it is about equality and equity.

To say Kim had a busy year at Legislative Hall would be the understatement of the year.  She started the 148th General Assembly by submitting education legislation that not only made sense but was a long time coming.  House Bill #28 would make sure charters send funds if a student transfers out of a charter school after September 30th.  One of my favorite bills of the year, House Bill #30, would ensure students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade who qualify as basic special education through their IEP would get the additional funding that has long been denied them.  In an effort to make sure “priority schools” do not lose control at the local level in picking their leaders, Kim introduced House Bill #107.  In another attempt at trying to mitigate the power of the Delaware Department of Education, HB #108 would have given the General Assembly the ability to vote on any ESEA waiver prior to their sending it to the US DOE (now a moot point as the Every Student Succeeds Act kicks ESEA waivers to the curb).  #130 dealt with fees for educator licensure.

Kim also serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee.  With all of the legislation coming through Legislative Hall pertaining to education, she does an admirable job helping to get through it all.  She was a huge supporter of the parent opt-out legislation, House Bill 50.

Perhaps her most controversial, but also a much needed bill, was House Bill #186.  This bill passed the House of Representatives on June 30th, and is now in the Senate Education Committee.  This bill was actually the third dealing with charter school audits.  HB #53 and #154 set the stage, but were both combined to become House Bill #186.  With fierce opposition from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Kim had to fight tooth and nail to get this bill as far as it has.  This bill mandates charters have their post-audits done through the Delaware Auditor of Accounts.  Watching Kim fight for this bill was a wonder to behold.

I have talked to Kim on many occasions.  When there is a hotbed issue going on in Delaware education, she is there.  Whether it is at a troubled charter school, a school board meeting, the State Board of Education, a WEIC meeting, or the Delaware DOE.  Her dedication to improving the lives of Delaware students is unparalleled in the General Assembly.  She is not afraid to ask the tough questions.  Her dedication to her family is amazing as well and they support her 100%.  I look forward to watching Kim in the coming years, and I know she will continue to look out for Delaware education.

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: The Charter Thieves

The biggest Delaware charter school news this year definitely belonged to the three charter bandits: Sean Moore, Tennell Brewington, and Noel Rodriguez.  The first two were the heads of school at Family Foundations Academy while Rodriguez belonged to Academy of Dover.  Altogether, the trio managed to abscond over $300,000 of school funds for personal purchases.  And that was just the verified amount.  Over $1.3 million could not be verified as school or personal purchases by the Auditor of Accounts in Delaware.  That is some serious coin!

Luckily, none of them are currently employed by the schools.  *Brewington surfaced at Christiana in the Emotional Therapeutic Support classroom as a one-on-one teacher.  Shortly before Thanksgiving she was no longer there.  Moore and Rodriguez have been very quiet.  Rodriguez was last seen at the Amazon Distribution Center in Middletown but he was let go around the same time the auditor investigation into Academy of Dover came out last June.

Many are wondering why the three are not in jail.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle, a huge supporter of charters in Delaware, was wondering the same thing.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said his office is looking into the matter.  This is why State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 needs to pass, which would make all charter school audits go through Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  Resistance from the Delaware Charter Schools Network reached a fever pitch last Spring, even resulting in the non-profit recruiting parents to fill out an online form on their website which automatically went to the Delaware legislators.  The bill passed the House on June 30th, but every single House Republican voted no along with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and Chair of the House Education Committee Earl Jaques.  When the legislators return in January, this bill will be in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.

In October, Wagner’s office released a report that showed some other charter schools that had very suspect incidents of financial abuse.  Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep’s incidents were not as egregious as those of Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, but they are still a pattern that needs to change at Delaware charter schools.  In years past, Pencader Business School and Delaware Military Academy were also investigated for misuse of state funds.  While this is certainly not indicative of all charters in Delaware, it is far too many.  Education is about students, not a personal ATM machine!

*This article has been corrected to give a more accurate read on where Dr. Tennell Brewington wound up.  Apologies for the error!

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Kathleen Davies

Behind the scenes in Delaware is a woman who had a VERY busy 2015.  Kathleen Davies is the Chief Administrative Officer at Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  She is the name on all the inspection reports for Delaware charter schools.  Academy of Dover.  Delaware College Prep.  Kuumba Academy.  And yesterday’s Delaware Department of Education inspection (of which they were cleared).  She even has a pending audit investigation with Family Foundations Academy.

These actions did not go unnoticed by one Delaware State Representative.  Kim Williams introduced House Bill 186 (after going through a few revisions) to mandate charters go through the State Auditor’s office when contracting for auditors.  It became one of the lightning rod bills of the season, which prompted Davies to testify to support the bill.  She told the Delaware House Education Committee the situation with the charters was worse than they could imagine.

During this time, the Academy of Dover audit inspection was finishing up.  When the report was released, all the Delaware major media picked up on it.  Former Principal Noel Rodriguez had used well over $160,000 in school funds for personal purchases, along with numerous other egregious activities.  In October, Davies released a report on four charters.  Two were cleared of any wrongdoing, but Delaware College Prep and Kuumba Academy had some nasty findings.  And apparently, while that was finishing up, her office was working on the report on the DOE!

With Delaware Met’s pending charter revocation, will the auditor’s office step in?  While their closure has more to do with academic and organizational reasons the financial picture is not pretty at this point.  And that whole real estate deal is begging for an investigation.  I hope though, for Davies sake, her charter school audits decrease in 2016!

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: State Rep. Earl Jaques

I have to be honest here.  Until 2014, I had never heard of Earl Jaques.  That all changed in 2015, and everyone knew who he was then!  Earl started the year as the Chair of the Delaware House Education Committee.  He took over the slot from former State Rep. Darryl Scott who chose not to run again in 2014.  Many assumed the position would be held by State Rep. Kim Williams since she was the Vice-Chair since 2012.  Before the General Assembly even convened in 2015, State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf booted Kowalko off the education committee.  State Rep. Kim Williams remained as the Vice-Chair.  Why Jaques was assigned the Chair position was baffling, but it soon became apparent.

Jaques role as Chair of the Education Committee defined his year in the 148th General Assembly.  He went head-to-toe with the Department of Education over Race To The Top.  An epic battle played out on the House floor between Kowalko and Jaques over House Bill 50, the opt-out legislation.  Jaques allied himself with Governor Markell over opt-out, which led to Jaques very unfortunate comments about opt-out which appeared in Delaware media.  Referring to those who opt-out as “failures”, many parents of children with disabilities jumped on Jaques’ comments and slammed him for it.  He told a group of Christina teachers that House Bill 50 would never pass.  He helped create very controversial legislation with Senator David Sokola in the form of Senate Joint Resolution #2, the assessment inventory bill that was meant to be a cure for opt-out.  He fought a charter school audit bill created by Kim Williams which led to more angst in the House due to Jaques not releasing the bill from committee to give it a full House vote.

By the time House Bill 50 came up for its first House vote, Jaques and two other lone wolves were the only nay votes for the legislation and it passed 36-3.  It still passed overwhelmingly by the time the Senate added amendments to the legislation causing it to bounce back to the House for a vote.  Jaques still voted no.

Even after the General Assembly went into recess for the recess for the rest of the year, Jaques still caused some controversy.  He was overheard talking negatively about parents at a State Board pizza party in early October.  At the end of October, Kowalko sent out an email to tons of people about the falling NAEP scores.  Jaques tried to hush Kowalko up by telling him not to use the state email system and his facts were biased.  This caused many people to defend Kowalko, including radio-show host Rick Jensen with WDEL.

Jaques will continue as Chair of the House Education Committee in 2016, even though most folks don’t take him seriously at all.  They understand he will do whatever Governor Markell instructs him to do.  As well, the Delaware DOE seems to know exactly how to maneuver Jaques with controversial legislation.  There is SO much more I could say about Earl Jaques, but for those who want to know more, just write Earl Jaques in my search bar and all can be found on here!

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Jennifer Nagourney

Jennifer Nagourney serves as the Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  To say she had a hell of a year would be an understatement!  Nagourney’s role is to oversee the charter schools in Delaware and to make sure they are in compliance on academic, financial, and organizational performance frameworks.  When a charter school has issues, she is one of the main DOE people who determines what type of action to take.  Her office works with all of the other offices in the DOE.

2015 started off with a bang in the form of Family Foundations Academy.  After former Heads of School Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington got caught with their hands in the school finances cookie jar, the Charter School Office put the school under formal review a year ago.  After a whirlwind amount of speculation, the school’s board and leaders was essentially taken over by East Side Charter School.  A few months later, no less than four Delaware charters went on formal review: Academy of Dover, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School.  All came off formal review status but they are all on probation.  Two were new charters scheduled to open in August who received the designation due to low enrollment which affected their financial viability.  Two were for academic reasons, and of those two one was for their former school leader embezzling from the school (Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez).

As the 2014-2015 school year ended, two charters officially closed due to charter revocation decisions by the Delaware State Board of Education.  Moyer and Reach Academy for Girls closed their doors forever, but five more were opening up in August: Delaware Design-Lab High School, Delaware Met, First State Military Academy, Freire Charter School, and Great Oaks Charter School.

Towards the end of September, issues started to rise with one of the new charters, Delaware Met.  After the school was placed on formal review by the State Board in October, the Charter School Accountability Committee voted yesterday for a recommendation of charter revocation at the end of this marking period, in January 2016.

Earlier in the year, with all of the charter movement, as well as the designation of the sixPriority Schools in Christina and Red Clay, the Wilmington Education Advisory Commission recommended a charter moratorium in Wilmington until the state could come up with an action plan for charters in Delaware.  This became legislation in the Spring, and this all morphed into the current Wilmington Education Improvement Commission which is leading a redistricting effort in Wilmington.  While charters don’t make the news a lot coming out of this, they are certainly a part of any plans that come out of the commission.  The State Board of Education will vote on this in January 2016.  Meanwhile, the DOE and the State Board are working on the Statewide Resources for Educational Opportunities in Delaware to determine how all schools in Delaware can best serve their students.

Due to the events at Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, House Bill 186 caused controversy in the Spring.  Introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams , Hosue Bill 186 dealt with how charter schools are audited.  The bill morphed a couple of times into the final bill which passed the House in June and will land in the Senate Education Committee come January.  As well, State Rep. John Kowalko openly and publicly opposed the Charter School Transportation Fund and the Charter School Performance Fund.  Rep. Williams also introduced a bill to make sure if a charter school student transfers mid-year to a traditional public school district, the money would follow the student.  That bill has not even been heard by the House Education Committee, over ten months after its introduction.  I’ve heard rumblings of legislation which would make sure traditional districts send timely information on students that transfer to charters, especially in regards to IEPs and discipline.  Which is fine in theory, but there is a caveat in the potential legislation about the districts paying for the funding if the charters don’t receive that information in a timely fashion.  That will be a bill to watch in 2016 if it garners enough support to become potential legislation.  It will be a lightning rod of controversy between the pro and con charter crowd in Delaware.

All of this charter school activity has certainly kept Nagourney and her staff on their toes at the DOE in Dover.  With a staff of four, this is a great deal of work for this office.  Add in modifications, performance reviews, special education compliance, standardized testing, and leadership changes among the charters in 2015, Nagourney definitely had her busiest year ever at the DOE.  It is no secret I have issues with many concepts behind charter schools as well as the DOE, but I believe the Delaware DOE has come a long way in terms of monitoring the charters and taking action when needed.  This can all be attributed to the leadership of Jennifer Nagourney.  While her name doesn’t get thrown around in the media the way Secretary Godowsky or even Penny Schwinn does, make no mistake that Nagourney is one of the busiest leaders at the DOE.  I am hoping, for her sake, that 2016 does not throw as many challenges her way.  In fact, the Charter School Office is taking another look at how the Organizational part of their charter performance framework is made up and a working group will be starting to make recommendations on this.

Nagourney, in my opinion, is one of the strongest leaders at the Delaware DOE.  This is not an honor I usually give to anyone down there!  At least there is only one charter opening up next year in the form of Delaware STEM Academy.  I am pretty sure the DOE will be watching very carefully at how any new charters use their planning period between approval and opening to make sure a Delaware Met never happens again!  My biggest wish for this office to carefully monitor special education at Delaware charters.  I’m sure that falls under the watch of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE, but I can say with certainty they are missing a lot.  It is not every charter, but it is far too many.  I have tons of issues with special education as a whole in Delaware, but some charters do not even know the most basic fundamental aspects of special education laws.

Underneath all of this is a potential ticking time-bomb in the form of the ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid complaint to the Office of Civil Rights a year ago.  This complaint alleged certain charter schools discriminated against minorities and students with disabilities in their application process.  If it becomes a law suit, it would be against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District who is the only district charter school authorizer in the state.  Information was sent to that office in February this year, but no ruling has come down since.  This could happen at any time.

Kuumba, DE College Prep, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations, Providence Creek, DE Military Academy, Pencader…When Do We Make It Stop?

Charter school financial abuse.  It happens.  All the time in Delaware.  It doesn’t matter what the amount is, despite what the News Journal writes.  These are adults, playing with taxpayer money meant for students, not their own pocket.  But our State Government allows this to happen.  Delaware has no Inspector General.  Legislation meant to curtail these types of activities and lend transparency is held in limbo or doesn’t pass.  And the Delaware Charter School Network lobbies against it.  State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 would allow more oversight of charters through more extensive audits.  Every single one of the House Republicans, along with the House Education Committee Chair Earl Jaques and the Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no.  It passed the House on June 30th, but Senator David Sokola refused to let it be heard on the Senate floor unless it was heard in committee first.  Yet, numerous other bills had rules suspended that evening.

These schools are under the purveyance of the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Why do these matters come out years after the fact after the damage is already done?  These are not elected board members at charters.  And their leaders are picked by these unelected board members.  Many of the charters websites are a joke.  Minutes aren’t always posted, agendas aren’t posted, sometimes even financial monthly statements aren’t put up.  No charter board records their meetings.  No purchase card activity is listed separately from their monthly financial statement, if it even includes that.  None of these so-called leaders have ever done jail time.  The average citizen would in a New York minute.  But we want to hold up these leaders as if they don’t walk on the same ground as the rest of us.  We don’t want to hold them accountable, but by God, we will get those traditional school districts in line.

Let me get one thing straight.  I like Jennifer Nagourney, the executive director of the Charter School Office at the DOE.  I think if she had her way, there would be many changes with charter schools.  I also believe her hands are tied by her bosses who look the other way over these kinds of offenses.  The school goes on formal review, we have the dog and pony show with the Charter School Accountability Committee, a public comment period, a formal Public Hearing, and then the State Board meets and says “Golly gee, how did this happen?” or “Why is this happening so much?”  But they put forth nothing to attempt to stop it.  But they will sneak in regulation after regulation to hold teachers and schools accountable based on a bogus assessment.  It has become a joke.  The State Board and the leaders at the DOE will kiss Rodel’s ass while they pay millions of dollars to consultants to “fix” our schools.  And the results of all these reports are always the same.

The Head of School at Kuumba Academy, named in the Delaware State Auditor’s report today sits on the Accountability Framework Working Group.  If you are not aware, this committee has the task of how to frame Delaware’s accountability school report card.  If Sally Maldonado can’t manage finances correctly and allows herself to be reimbursed for funds that are already included in her job function and her salary, can we trust her to help lead our public schools with decisions as big as this?

And then we have Delaware College Prep Board President Yardise Jones telling the State Auditor’s office “I am not following why DCPA needs to justify expenses incurred to run its business.”  While schools deal with business, the problem in Delaware is far too many “leaders” and “reformers” look at and treat schools like a business.  Children are not a profit center.  They go to school to learn.  They are not there for kickbacks into your piggy bank.  They are not there for the extra perks you get for your non-elected position on a board or your “entitlement” as a leader picked by a non-elected board.  If you want to steal from children (yes, it is stealing no matter how you slice that cake), get the hell out of education.  I have no sympathy for thieves who recklessly allow themselves to take funds that are not their own and then make excuses later.  And Delaware General Assembly legislators: you need to do something about this.  About all this education nonsense in our state.  You don’t answer to Rodel, or the Delaware Charter Schools Network, or even to Governor Markell.  You answer to the people that elected you.  The people are sick of the abuse and scandal.  And we are waking up.  Just because you get 200 emails from charter school parents after a p.r. blitz from Kendall Massett with a scripted response, that doesn’t mean passing a bill designed to fend off this kind of abuse is wrong.  It is the only right thing to do, so get off your buts and do something.  Pass House Bills 186 and 61 in January.  Stop the fraud playing out in our state.  Unless you want to join the unelected on some charter school board.

*This article has been corrected to state every single one of the House Republicans voted no on House Bill 186, not the House Democrats.   The only House Dems that voted no were Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques.