The Kathleen Davies Mystery Deepens As Charter School Petty Cash Letters Come Out & Many Charters Get Sue-Happy

Delaware is missing one of the key players in transparency thanks to a deliberate campaign orchestrated by one or many.  Because of this, it may have cleared the way for many charter schools to launch a lawsuit in Delaware.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams exclusively released the letters sent to five Delaware charter schools about their petty cash practices last night.  They showed some very extreme violations of state code.  As well, letters were sent to four other state agencies.  These letters were sent by Tom Wagner, the publicly elected Delaware State Auditor, on June 21st to the following charter schools:  Odyssey Charter School, Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy, and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  The state agencies Wagner sent letters to addressing the petty cash violations of state code were the following: Department of Education (Secretary Godowsky), Department of Finance (Secretary Tom Cook), Division of Accounting (Director Kristopher Knight), and the State Treasurer (Ken Simpler).  These letters were never publicly released from Tom Wagner or the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Originally, this was an audit inspection and that report would have been released.  But before that happened, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts top official, Kathleen Davies, was put on leave last spring.  Now we can clearly see why.

Before I get into the results of the letters to the five charter schools, we need to look at motive.  The key to any mystery is “Who benefits”?  That benefit could be the ability to keep something hidden or being able to reap some type of positive outcome from the situation.

We have so many who could have done it: Ann Visalli, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Kendall Massett, Senator David Sokola, Charlie Copeland, Nick Manolakos, and others as well.  We can’t forget the potential role Greg Meece may have contributed either.  State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett are very tight and the DOE is in the same building as the Auditor of Accounts Office.  It could be a combination of any of these people.  It could have even come down from the very top, Governor Markell himself.

Out of all these entities, one of them leads the pack in Delaware when it comes to offering charter schools advice and protection.  That would be the Delaware Charter Schools Network, led by Executive Director Kendall Massett.  When it comes to charter schools, I have no doubt Kendall is in a key position to communicate issues to charter school leaders.  Some charter schools are run by ex-legislators in some sort of capacity.  Former State Rep. Nick Manolakos is the Head of School for Odyssey Charter School.  Delaware GOP Chair Charlie Copeland is the President of the Board of Directors for Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security.  Both are prominent Republicans in Delaware.  Many on the Sussex Academy Board of Directors are also Republican.  Odyssey Charter School and Delaware Military Academy clearly had the most egregious of petty cash violations out of the five charters.  I can imagine the pressure on Tom Wagner from all sides could easily have prompted his decision to make Kathleen Davies go away.

 

Odyssey Charter School:

  1. petty cash fund not approved by State Treasurer and checking account used for petty cash not approved by State Treasurer
  2. 53 petty cash checks over state limit of $500.00, totaled $303,451.65
  3. 57 debit transactions from petty cash account over state limit of $500.00, totaled $326,574.05
  4. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $88,979.83

Delaware Military Academy:

  1. had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian
  3. checks signed with two signatures but each check signed by Account Custodian who can’t sign checks
  4. 30 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $114,111.08
  5. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $20,589.31
  6. failed to provide receipts or invoices for check of $1000.00 for “lunch start-up costs”

Charter School of Wilmington:

  1. had no written polices and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian, was performed by Chief Financial Officer who was not the Account Custodian
  3. no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
  4. 13 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $11,228.90
  5. had debit transaction from petty cash account for $4,000, well over the $500 limit, which was transferred to another CSW account
  6. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $6,174.10

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security:

  1. had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliation done by anyone, including the Account Custodian
  3. no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
  4. 8 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $6,440.11

Sussex Academy:

  1. 5 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $16,377.05
  2. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $26,689.95

 

So let me get this straight.  Kathleen Davies was working on finalizing this report, showing five Delaware charter schools breaking the law, but she got put out to pasture?  And all the charters got was these “don’t do it again” letters?  That were NEVER released to the public, until now?  And look at the cc: on the letter to Godowsky.  All charter school leaders and board presidents.  My theory that Kathleen Davies was put on leave for bogus purposes is actually proven in the letters to the charter schools.  As the News Journal wrote, Ann Visalli with the Office of Management and Budget followed up on a complaint by unnamed individuals at the Auditor of Accounts Office.  As a result, Davies was placed on leave (six months after the tip was submitted to OMB) because she failed to use a procurement card for travel purposes and went through the also-existing state reimbursement program.  But in the letters to the charters, that standard doesn’t seem to exist because Wagner writes:

We also recommend using a State-issued procurement card (PCard) or direct claim through First State Financials when possible.  Regardless of the method of payment, supporting documentation must be maintained for all transactions.

So by Wagner’s own advice to the charters, what Kathleen Davies did is perfectly acceptable.  She followed the procedure.  Maybe not a preferred procedure, but a procedure nonetheless.  Which makes Ann Visali’s actions a complete and utter crock.  A complete and utter lie meant to disgrace the one person at the Auditor of Accounts office who was doing their job, and doing it well.  But no, instead we get these non-transparent letters from Tom Wagner.  And he has the gall to ask Godowsky to collaborate with him on “an event” to make sure all the charter schools know this, even though their leaders and board presidents were included in the letter to Godowsky?  How much more special treatment and hand-holding do the charters need to understand the law?  Do they need circle time to get this right State Auditor Wagner?  This obvious fraud going on in our State Auditor’s office is completely out of control, matched only by that of the Department of Education.

This whole debacle comes down to this: someone or maybe even a group of individuals is protecting charter schools in Delaware.  They have enough power and clout to make things disappear or just focus on other aspects surrounding it to cloud the issues.  We are seeing this with the charter school lawsuit and I have to wonder if the petty cash information was not made public because of that looming timebomb.  One can only assume the charters were given some type of direction in their process for having the DOE review exclusions districts submit for their local funding formulas.  They clearly knew the results before the districts did as evidenced by the emails between the finance office of the DOE and charter school leaders.  They also had to have known there would be some major blowback from the districts and advocates for the districts based on that.  If not, they are complete and utter idiots who truly underestimate the will and resolve of people in Delaware traditional school districts.

This is my new working theory: the charters knew they would wind up filing suit on the local funding formula.  I think they knew Godowsky was intentionally kept out of the loop on this and when the public found out about the new charter bills going out to the districts with very elevated amounts, Secretary Godowsky would be forced by public pressure to reverse course.  As a result, they would be free to sue the Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education for something they wanted to happen in the first place- a big, fat, and juicy lawsuit.  They knew the only thing that could happen for them to get more money would be to create the conditions for a lawsuit to happen.  Which they did.  Delaware is a very corrupt state.  If people don’t see that in this day and age with everything I’ve written, along with many others, they need to get their eyes checked.  There are good people, fighting the good fight, but they are overpowered and outnumbered by those who are either corrupt or lend their ears to those who are corrupt.  If some cities get a moniker of “Sin City”, then Delaware clearly qualifies for the “Sin State”.

But the charters and their friends had to clear a very real obstacle in their road to the lawsuit.  One Kathleen Davies.  The same person who was doing the petty cash audit along with other charter school audit inspections.  One of those inspections was a tip I sent to the auditor’s office on Newark Charter School and their failure to submit non-profit 990 tax forms to the IRS.  While they met the criteria once upon a time for being exempt from filing their 990 tax returns, they knew the conditions which allowed for those exemptions no longer existed.  Something the IRS issued very strongly worded guidance to all American charter schools that participate in these exemptions.  NCS knew they could not look like a victim in a lawsuit against their feeder pattern district if that audit inspection came out.  It had to disappear.  We all know true compliance with properly making sure all our schools in Delaware are truly funding student needs is an exercise in futility, despite what the law already requires.  But an audit inspection into NCS’ finances would be a much deeper probe.  It could have offered a great deal of transparency with their money and what they are doing with it, far past the scope of their annual audit or what appears in their financial statements.  But given the pull they seem to have, with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee (Delaware Senator David Sokola), to some extent the Chair of the House Education Committee (State Rep. Earl Jaques), other members of the Delaware General Asssembly, select members of the Delaware Dept. of Education, lobbyists, and companies within the Newark area, I could easily picture Greg Meece being able to rally enough force to make things happen in regards to Kathleen Davies.  Once again, I stress, with utmost importance, this is only a working theory of mine and is not grounded in documented fact.  I imagine a paper trail that could conceivably supporting this working theory would not materialize no matter how many FOIA requests I might ask for.

Lest we forget, as clearly documented in the above-linked News Journal article, Senator Sokola was the prime sponsor on a bill meant to give charter schools more authority over the choosing of their annual auditors as opposed to the State Auditor of Accounts office.  This was in complete contrast with Rep. William’s original bill which would have had the auditor’s office doing the job.

She publicly supported Williams’s bill over an alternative proposal from Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, which would strengthen the rules charters have to follow in picking auditors but leave them with the authority to do so.

Eventually, Rep. Williams and Senator Sokola compromised on a charter school audit bill but the charters still get to pick their own auditor.  What the new bill also accomplished was any charter school under investigation by the State Auditor of Accounts office would also be audited for that fiscal year by the Auditor of Accounts.  By making the petty cash audit turn into letters instead of a full-blown inspection report, those five charter schools will not get a full financial audit by the Auditor of Accounts office this year.  There are also other stipulations in which that office can do a full financial audit on a charter, including the following, based on the text from the signed House Bill 435.

Has failed to maintain a current status with the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filings, if said filings are required of that charter school.

All of this legislative language serves to expose charters who do not comply with the law.  But discovery of something like an exemption of an IRS 990 filing not being practical based on the current conditions of the only Delaware charter school in the state to not file said return, would come from something like an audit inspection of the school.  Something that is not happening from the Auditor’s office because they got rid of Kathleen Davies and my request to them seems to have vanished into the ether.  Even though I provided clear documentation to John Fluharty about this.  Granted, the Office of Management and Budget received a “tip” from other officials in the Auditor of Accounts office with the allegations of Davies “not following procedure” with travel expenses in November of 2015, the OMB did not act on this until the petty cash audit neared completion and the NCS 990 audit would have been under way.  As well, there was the pulling of Davies’ September 30th Enrollment inspection which was reworked by Wagner and released in September.  That report was released two weeks before Davies was put on leave.

At a bare minimum, the Auditor of Accounts office and the Office of Management and Budget must be made accountable for their actions regarding Davies.  If she was put on leave for something as trivial as not following suggested procedure while charter schools run amok with their petty cash accounts and the results of which were not made public, even if it was switched from an inspection to non-transparent letters, we have a major conflict of interest going on here.  This conflict of interest reaches to the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  As the charter authorizers of these five charter schools, they failed to even publicly broach the subject going on four months since the letters went to them, much less put the charter schools on formal review to address the financial violations of their charters, as they have the ability to do so under Title 14:

  • 515 Oversight and revocation process.

(a) The approving authority shall be responsible for oversight of the charter schools it approves.

(b) In addition to the review required by § 514A(a) of this title, the approving authority may notify a charter school of potential violations of its charter and submit the charter to formal review to determine whether the charter school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures pursuant to subsection (f) of this section.

Both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Board President, Kenneth Rivera, were well aware of the situation because they were included in the letters sent from Tom Wagner.  Bloggers like myself exist because of what amounts to severe issues with education in Delaware.  Our state has, is, and will continue to fail the most important stakeholders in education, the students themselves, because they fail to adequately provide oversight to make sure our schools do the right thing.  Instead, Delaware does its level best to cover up issues with no transparency and institutes polices and measures that have no basis in reality.  They are what outside interests want.  These “poverty pimps”, corporate education reformers, ed tech charlatans, and those hiding behind the cover of “non-profits” and “community organizations” should not be involved in education at all.

This is what I want to see: Kathleen Davies immediately reinstated, the original charter school petty cash audit inspection completed, and any other pending charter or district audits done with fidelity.  As well, anyone else who played a role in this absolute cover-up and smear campaign against Davies needs to be named and held accountable for their parts in this.  As State Rep. Kim Williams asked, who audits the auditors?  I believe it is time to find out.  It is past time the feds got involved in Delaware’s finances.  Corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse are rampant in Delaware.  If left unchecked, as it has been for some time now, the situation will only wind up costing the taxpayers of the state even more money than they have already doled out without even realizing it.

In the above picture, the people in the “Brady Bunch” format are as follows:

Top- Kendall Massett, David Sokola, Governor Markell

Middle- Tom Wagner, Kathleen Davies, Nick Manolakos

Bottom- Charlie Copeland, Secretary Godowsky, Ann Visalli

If Kendall Massett Is In The Picture, It’s Bad For Public Non-Charters. Period.

HB435Signing

On Thursday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill 435, the charter school audit bill.  After 15 months of back and forth between the forces of right and the shadows of wrong, we finally have something that is better than what existed before.  It could have been better, but Kendall Massett (runs the Delaware Charter Schools Network) had to stick her nose in it and get Senator David Sokola (the only guy who isn’t looking in the camera) to mess around with it.

I’ve seen Kendall several times.  We are polar opposites on education policy.  We always say hi to each other.  She has never written anything bad about me.  I can’t say the same.  We don’t see a lot of the corporate education reformers attacking people.  They have the power (or the illusion of it) so they don’t have to.  They are the ones who have a massive amount of lobbyists and political influence to get what they want.  Using Star Wars as an analogy, they are the Evil Empire, and folks like me are the Rebels, fighting the stuff they do with every fiber of our being.

House Bill 435 was a compromise bill.  Had Kendall not interfered with it, there would be a lot more transparency coming out with future audits of charter schools.  They are required to have annual audits.  But those audits miss a hell of a lot of information, as was the case with Academy of Dover and Family Foundations Academy.  We have something less than what it was meant to be because one woman couldn’t have her charter schools look bad.  If she is in the picture, charter schools will benefit while traditional public schools will suffer more in some way.  It’s a sure thing.

In this picture, we have Governor Markell’s right-hand man (literally, to Markell’s real right, and for the love of God Dave, look into the camera, you have an election coming up.  You aren’t going to get any door-knockers that way!) Senator David Sokola, standing on Jack’s shoulders is Kendall Massett, and to Jack’s far left (literally) is State Rep. Kim Williams.  Of course Jack Markell is the guy in the middle.  I have no clue who the guy next to Kendall is.  My apologies Mr. Unknown!

If Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams is in the picture, we know someone is fighting the good fight, sometimes with insurmountable odds.  We are lucky to have Kim Williams in our corner.  I fully endorse Kim Williams for her upcoming State Rep. election!

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…

The Smear Campaign At The Delaware Auditor’s Office & What The News Journal Didn’t Tell You

Revenge is ugly business.  When it takes place at a very high state level and the object of that revenge gets a whole article about it in the state’s biggest newspaper, it is really ugly.

Today, James Fisher and Matthew Albright published an article about the Auditor of Accounts, Kathleen Davies.  The article claims Davies was put on leave over two months ago due to not using the state procurement card for travel expenses.  According to the story, sources who would only be named as “state employees” contacted the Office of Management and Budget, then run by Ann Visalli, in November of 2015.  They alleged Davies spent over $7700 in travel expenses (over four years) and received personal reimbursements instead of using the state p-card.  She did do this.  But was it wrong?  Absolutely not.  I’m not buying any of this.  Let’s take a close look at what else was going on at the time these “sources” (as the News Journal calls them) filed this complaint.

Davies had just come out with a report on many charter schools, not just Delaware College Prep (the only school mentioned in the article).  Kuumba Academy was also named in the report on personal reimbursements as using funds against the accounting policies of the state.  Two other charters did not have any inappropriate use of state funds: Odyssey Charter School and Thomas Edison Charter School.

But there was more going on at that time.  The reports on Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy had not come out yet.  The September 30th enrollment inspection was just beginning (which was published earlier this Spring and pulled from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s website after Davies was put on leave).  Another Delaware charter school, The Delaware Met, was under formal review.  Hearings and meetings with the Charter School Accountability Committee took place in November and December of 2015.  One of the big questions surrounding Delaware Met was how they were spending their money.  And by default, their operation management company, Innovative Schools, would also be looked at.

There was also an inspection released by Davies on December 7th.  This surrounded an anonymous tip about Delaware Department of Education employees abusing travel expenses.  No wrongdoing was found in the inspection report.  But why would the News Journal not mention such an important part of this timeline in their article as well as the actual inspection?  If this accusation by sources who have now become “whistleblowers” was made to the OMB in November of 2015, this would have been the same time when Davies would have been working on the DOE travel expense report which came out on December 7th.  The timing on this is uncanny!

If it took six months for Davies to be put on leave, what was the OMB doing for six months?  Why did Davies just happen to be put on leave at the same time the DOE was pitching a conniption fit about the September 30th Inspection Report written by Davies?  The report, published by Wagner’s office on May 5th, can be found here.  Why did Wagner pull the report which had absolutely nothing to do with her supposed reasons for being put on leave?  Which other pending audits was Davies working on?  I do know the answer to a couple of these, especially one that I submitted to the auditor’s office.  John Fluharty, the policy analyst from the Auditor of Accounts office, contacted me on March 17th to discuss the tip I sent that office.  I talked to him on March 18th with what I knew.  No follow-up has taken place since then nor has any report been released on my tip.  I find that to be very odd…

And then we have the charter school audit bill crisis.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams released three different bills in the first part of the 148th General Assembly.  The first two were stricken in lieu of the third one which passed the Delaware House on June 30th, 2015.  It’s next destination was the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Delaware Senator David Sokola.  Prior to the second part of the 148th G.A. beginning last January, rumors began circulating that Sokola was going to introduce his own charter school audit bill.  With his friends at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Sokola crafted new legislation which weakened Williams bill considerably.  Williams and Sokola battled publicly on Facebook over the bill, resulting in an eventual compromise a few months later.  They both met with Davies, who supported Williams bill, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The new legislation, House Bill 435, passed both the House and Senate and awaits Governor Markell’s signature.

But the biggest question is this: what did Davies do that was so wrong, that would warrant such a drastic action?  While the guidelines regarding travel expenses published by the News Journal said the state prefers state employees use the p-card, it doesn’t rule out personal reimbursements.  Furthermore, the article states she told employees she was doing this.  If you have something to hide, you don’t tell everyone in the office!!!  The only way she would have been reimbursed for those travel expenses is if someone approved it and saw the receipts.  Who approved the expenses?  More importantly, where is the fire here?

Davies was not put on leave over this.  This is a cover.  The whole thing reeks of corruption at a very high level.  Tom Wagner won’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.  So how did the News Journal get the story?  I can tell you this: I was contacted by an employee of the Delaware Department of Education who asked me if I heard about Kathleen Davies.  This was on May 26th, a week after the September 30th report disappeared.  This employee said “word is she had a falling out with Tom Wagner.  And won’t be back.”  Now I hear from sources all the time about different state employees.  But how is that a DOE employee would have intimate knowledge of a situation between Tom Wagner and his second-in-command?  And how in the world would they know Davies wouldn’t be returning?  That would indicate a conversation took place with someone from the State Auditor’s office with either an employee of the Delaware Dept. of Education or an employee of the State Board of Education for that much knowledge to come out for what we are being told is a “personnel issue”.

This is my firm belief: someone was very frightened about an audit inspection Davies was working on.  Something that would make someone or several people look very bad.  This person would have to have the power to be able to pull strings with an elected official to get Davies put on personal leave.  Because this fabricated nonsense about personal reimbursements is absurd.  Other state employees do it.  Even our own Governor was mentioned in an audit report for not following state accounting rules with travel.  Was he put on leave?  Hell no!  Was Tom Wagner put on leave when it was announced he “accidentally” let his own house go into foreclosure?  Nope.

I’ve been going through all district and charter expenses the past few weeks and I can say with certainty that any travel expense amounts incurred by Davies are a drop in the bucket compared to what they spend.  And I seriously questioned one district about an outrageously high amount in one coding area.  No response on that one over two weeks later.  So why target the one person who has the ability to produce reports that can put others in a very bad light over financial abuse?  I believe I just answered my own question.  To pull this off, that takes a serious amount of cunning and guile.  Someone with pull and motivation.  I would have to think Ann Visalli would know that other state employees use personal reimbursements for travel expenses.  I don’t know much about her, except to say she resigned shortly after Davies was put on leave.  The Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Who resigned before the budget passed.

As for Kathleen Davies, I hope she gets the vindication she deserves from this oh-so-obvious smear campaign against her.  This is a woman who has spent most of her time at the Delaware Auditor of Account’s office finding actual situations of financial abuse and scandal.  Most of them have been against charter schools.  Delaware Military Academy report in 2013.  Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep reports in 2015.  Providence Creek Academy, EastSide Charter School and Prestige Academy in 2016.  And potentially more.  But for those reading this smear article on Davies in the News Journal today, they won’t know all of this stuff going on behind the scenes.  So if you read this, please share it so all Delawareans can know that Kathleen Davies is deserving of much more respect than this.  I am positive she has enemies in this state.  Those who expose the truth often do.  Those who do wrong fear exposure more than anything.  So who did Davies frighten so much that they would go to these lengths to remove her and tarnish her good name?

Updated, 6:12pm, 7/31/16: This article has been updated to reflect there was no wrongdoing on the part of Gateway Lab School in any audit report.  This was an error on my end, and I did write an article to apologize to Gateway regarding this.

Thinking Out Loud

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

Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover.  I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours.  But some of my “must list” legislation passed.  Some with changes and some intact.

House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate.  Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready.  But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective.  He couldn’t grasp these facts.  He said he would support the bill.  But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working.  The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes.  The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry.  The amendments added on can be seen here and here.  Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass.  In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes.  But this was the compromise reached.  Will Governor Markell sign the bill?  We shall see.  I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.

After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning.  It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate.  I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later.  It passed soon after.

And the WEIC redistricting plan.  I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes.  A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging.  This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year.  The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018.  But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:

Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline

Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!

As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.

In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”

Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.

While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.

I urge your continued resolve.

There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…  That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either.  We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now.  But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried.  I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22.  Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters.  I will see what this additional year of planning will produce.  But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today.   I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.

Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year.  Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state.  An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved.  The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence.  Good for them!

It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly.  House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times.  But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents.  I respect and admire him for doing that.  Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed.  The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways.  My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago.  I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill.  I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer.  For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.

I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead.  In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!

Teacher Evaluation Bill Will Be Heard In Senate Education Committee On Wednesday

I was told by many people there would be no Senate Education Committee meeting next week.  That appears to have changed since an agenda is up, and House Bill 399 is on it!  The meeting will be on Wednesday at 2:3opm in the Senate Majority Caucus Room (first floor, behind the Senate Chamber).  If you are an educator in Delaware who has some free time, I would strongly suggest attending and lending your support.  The bell will start ringing at 3:00pm for the full Senate to convene in session.  So if you want to give public comment, I would suggest using your time wisely but also giving full support of the teacher evaluation bill.

Thank you Senator Sokola for making this happen.  Sokola tends to add legislation at the last minute.  It is my sincere hope that his and Kim William’s charter audit bill (House Bill 435) appears on the Senate Education Committee agenda.  Both bills got unanimous votes in the House last week.

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!

WEIC Bills Bypass Senate Education Committee And Go Straight To Senate Executive Committee, Bad News For House Bill 399

Could this have been what that meeting in Governor Markell’s office at Legislative Hall was about after the WEIC redistricting House vote?  It turns out the two WEIC bills, House Joint Resolution #12 and House Bill #424, will not have to go through the Senate Education Committee.  Instead, they are going to the Senate Executive Committee.

The Senate Education Committee is the designated committee these bills should have gone to.  I looked in the Senate Rules from Senate Resolution #3 and there is nothing in there that states a bill can be petitioned out of committee unless it is not heard in committee for 12 consecutive legislative days.  And it has to be agreed upon by the majority of the full Senate.  While there could be a stipulation in Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures (which is the go-to guide in case something isn’t covered in the rules), I find it very unusual they would skip that step.  The only scenario I can think of is there won’t be another Senate Education Committee from now until June 30th.  Which I just confirmed is the case.  The President Pro Tempore of the Senate is the one that assigns bills to a committee when they come from the House.  So Senator Patti Blevins is the one that assigned this to the Senate Executive Committee.

The members of the Senate Executive Committee are as follows: Senator Blevins (D) (Chair), Senator Henry (D), Senator Lavelle (R), Senator McBride (D), Senator McDowell (D), and Senator Simpson (R).  That is four Democrats and two Republicans folks.  Which means if all those Dems vote yes for release from committee it will go to a full Senate vote.

If the Senate Education Committee is NOT meeting again this year, that could have a huge impact on bills still in the House or recently passed in the House.  Like House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, or House Bill 435, the charter school audit bill which faces a full House vote today.  House Bill 399 was assigned to the Senate Education Committee so there would have to be a suspension of rules to get it to a full Senate vote.  Which can only happen if the Chair of the Senate Education Committee requests it.  That would be Senator David Sokola…

It must be the last week of June in Delaware folks!  Shenanigans rule the day!

 

Kim Williams & David Sokola Reach Kumbaya Moment With New Charter School Audit Bill

Wow!  I wouldn’t have seen this happening five months ago, but new legislation introduced today by co-sponsors Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams and Senator David Sokola focuses on the fifth attempt at a charter school audit bill in over a year.  Williams’ House Bill 186 passed the Delaware House almost a year ago, but when it arrived at the Senate Education Committee, Chair of the Committee Senator Sokola introduced his own charter audit legislation, Senate Bill 171.  This led to a lot of back and forth on social media between Sokola and Williams and other sides of each bill.

In the spirit of compromise, it appears the two have come together in the form of House Bill 435, seen below.  Will this sail through the House and Senate in the final weeks of the 148th General Assembly and settle the matter once and for all?  Time will tell!