Breaking News: State Auditor’s Office Looking At More Than Family Foundations & Academy of Dover

I just talked to Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office to find out when the audits for Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover will be released.  FFA does not have an estimated date, but they expect Academy of Dover to come out in May.  I asked if there are any other charter schools being investigated by their office.  I was told “we have a report coming out on other charter schools.”  I asked if they were of the same magnitude as Family Foundations and Academy of Dover.   The response was that those two were reported to their office and both have been talked about in the public so they have made the fact known they are being investigated.  But the office gave me no other information about which other charter schools are being looked at.  But it is more than one, and whether this is an overall report or locked into specific charters was not provided.

When is the Delaware DOE going to do their job and not just authorize charter schools, but actually take part in State law which indicates they have to have a DOE representative on each charter school’s Citizen Budget Oversight Committee?  This is beyond the point of absurdity.  Enough DOE!  You are making our state look like a bunch of idiots!  Do your job and stop worrying about priority schools, standardized tests, teacher accountability and standards-based IEPs.  Because this Department needs to be held accountable most of all!  House Bill 53 needs to pass as soon as possible so these charters can stop taking taxpayer money and doing what they want with it!  And if their own independent auditors can’t seem to catch these cases of taxpayer theft, maybe their own audits need to go deeper every year.

I’m all for choice.  I know everyone thinks I hate charters, but I don’t.  I hate the lack of transparency, the lack of fair practices, how they keep transportation funds after they have spent their budgeted amount, enrollment preferences that slight any student under any circumstances, the extreme amount of lobbying that happens for their benefit, the special education issues in many of them, the unelected boards, and the corporate education reform designed to create more charters while leaving traditional school districts out in the cold.  There are good charters in this state, but the stink of far too many give them a bad name.

And please, Delaware General Assembly, let’s get House Bill 61 through the House Education Committee and out for a vote.  This is what I will call the Kilroy bill: that all school boards have to record and post to their website all board meetings.  Three years is enough!  The people deserve to hear what these boards are saying!

Delaware Charter Schools Network & State Rep. Michael Ramone Fend Off Charter School Auditing House Bill 53

In the Delaware News Journal today, education reporter Matthew Albright wrote about House Bill 53, which would ensure all Delaware charter schools have their auditor selected by the State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as opposed to them picking their own.  The sponsor of the legislation, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, explained how this came about.  What follows is a response from Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Delaware State Rep. Michael Ramone.  I’ve decided to do the famous “John Young red-pen edition” on this article.

In the wake of bombshell allegations that the co-leaders of a charter school made thousands of dollars in personal purchases on school credit cards, some lawmakers want the state auditor’s office to run charter audits to make sure taxpayer money isn’t being misused.

This is a very wise idea.  Dr. Tennell Brewington and Sean Moore got caught.  Are there others that have been more crafty with finances?  We need to know.

Charters are required to have audits done, but now the schools decide who audits them. Rep. Kim Williams, sponsor of House Bill 53, says having the state auditor, who already audits district and vo-tech schools, perform the work is the best way to monitor spending.

That sounds reasonable.  Charters are always screaming about fairness, and this seems more than fair.

Williams said the legislation was spurred by revelations late last year that the co-leaders of Family Foundations Academy, a charter school in New Castle, had used school credit cards to make more than $94,000 in personal purchases for things like car payments, furniture, flowers and fine watches.

Don’t forget the spa treatments Albright!  And the Sixers tickets!

Though the school was aware of the accusations for almost a year, the Department of Education only found out shortly before the school’s charter was up for renewal. Family Foundations fired the two leaders and replaced its board, bringing in the leadership of Eastside Charter School to convince state officials to renew the charter.

This is the part that always cracks me up.  Why would you NOT report this to the DOE in the first place?  These are heads of a charter school, not the mob.  What were they afraid of?  And I’m sorry, the timing on Eastside Charter coming in to save the day has always been a little suspicious to me.  Does anyone think it is a coincidence the members on both boards happen to be the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer?

“There are lots of charter schools that are operating under the rules and doing a good job, but when these kinds of things happen it gives them all a bad name,” Williams said. “What this is about is making sure that everybody is playing by the same rules.”

Amen Kim!  All schools should play by the same rules.  Charters are no different, but they like to think they can.

The state auditor’s office would not directly audit the schools, but would select the firms that do the audits and set the rules for what the firms should be looking for.

Like a thorough review of their Amex purchase cards, spending that doesn’t quite jive with typical school spending, expenses showing up in the wrong categories, all receipts accounted for…

Charter school advocates say they simply need more clarity on what is expected of them and worry that the bill would limit their flexibility and autonomy if it becomes law.

What flexibility and autonomy?  You can’t hide embezzlement, nor should you be put in a position where you could.  Here’s clarity for you: Don’t steal school money!

“We’re all about transparency and we are fine with having an audit. In fact, it’s required under state law,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. “I do not believe that using a pass-through that will raise the cost and take money out of the classroom is the right solution. I think the solution they’re proposing is bigger than the problem that there is.”

Don’t worry Kendall, I’m sure a lot of them can pay the difference through their “after transportation costs slush fund.”  Who are you kidding here? “We’re all about transparency.”  Half the charters in the state don’t have their board minutes current, and the Red Clay charters seem to be making a point of it lately.

Massett argues charters will have to pay a management fee to the state and that the state-negotiated audit contracts will likely cost some schools more.

No more than the traditional school districts have to pay.  And those fees could get in the way of their dues to YOUR organization Kendall!

But Williams says charters will only have to pay more if they aren’t keeping the right records or otherwise not handling their business correctly. For schools that are already doing everything they are supposed to, she says costs will not significantly rise.

I wonder which charters are opposed to this bill?  Surely not the ones who are already doing everything they are supposed to do.

Rep. Michael Ramone says a change is necessary, but handing duties over to the auditor might not be the right one.

“Everybody looks bad if any of our schools aren’t being fiscally responsible,” Ramone said. “However, as a business guy, the approach I think we should take is to give these schools a clear expectation of what is required of their schools as far as their fiscal responsibility and reporting criteria, and I don’t think we’ve provided that yet.”

This coming from the guy who wanted to open up a charter but the application was declined.  I would think all charters should be required to have their financial people be someone with an accounting background.  As a business guy, you know what is crystal clear with bad business practices.  Many people know the difference between right and wrong, they just don’t choose to use common sense when they are breaking the law.

Ramone said the state should establish a specific, detailed list of everything they expect charters to cover with an audit, so charters can be sure they are hiring the right firm to do the right thing.

I think you are missing the point here Rep. Ramone.  If they don’t know what they are doing, then this legislation is absolutely necessary!

“If we clearly establish what they’re supposed to be doing, I believe our schools will do it,” he said.

Yes, that is outstanding logic.  History has taught us that in Delaware!  Here is an old saying: “Those with nothing to hide have nothing to worry about.”

To read  the non-red-penned version, please go here:

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2015/04/08/charter-school-audits-scrutiny/25470297/

House Bill 53: Charters Must Be Audited By State Auditor

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams introduced legislation that would make Delaware charter schools have to go through the same auditing process as school districts and vocational districts with their yearly audit.  Since 2010, charters have been exempt from being audited by the Delaware State Auditor’s office, currently run by Tom Wagner.

In light of financial improprieties by Family Foundations Academy, Pencader and a slew of other charters that has not yet come into public notice, this bill is timely and important.  The charters have the ability now to hire an independent auditor, but this bill would change all that and would cause the charters to be audited the same way all other public schools in Delaware are required to.