Where’s Kendall? And Margie, I Don’t Have To Know You But I Do Know A Scam When I See One!

I just saw a video of the entire Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security board meeting from this evening.  Since I’m the only blog (or media at this point) really writing about DAPSS these days, I feel it is safe to assume Board President Margie Lopez-Waite was talking about “the blog”.  But an even bigger question is where the Delaware Charter School Network was?  Isn’t their job to support charter schools?  Where was Kendall Massett?

Margie did all the talking for the entire board.  She played a game of bait and switch with the members of the audience.  On one hand, she said she became the “scapegoat” for the slew of termination notices that went out Monday.  She said Head of School Herb Sheldon played a direct role in that.  She is trying to make it sound like those were his decisions to make and carry out.  But then, on the other hand, she has the board pass a motion to revisit those terminations.  She said, “A school can’t function if we don’t let the leaders lead”.  But she is attempting to play to the crowd.

In terms of the DAPSS programs going away, Margie said emphatically they are not going away.  But she said several times she wants to essentially marry DAPSS and her long-term goal of having an ASPIRA high school.   That is her vision.  No one else is screaming for that vision.  Do not let her fool you.  She saw an opportunity and struck.

“When I look in the mirror, I know who I am…And I hope that one day you guys learn the person I am.  Cause I have no agenda here.  I have no motivation other than helping children.  So you can read all you want on the blog.  You can get your information from those sources but they’re all completely wrong.  That person doesn’t know me.  They are just trying to feed you information.  “

You are absolutely right Margie.  I don’t know you.  I’ve seen you a handful of times prior to your involvement in DAPSS.  I’ve never written about anything big at ASPIRA as I have other Delaware charter schools.  But what you seem to forget is the nature of this blog.  I don’t pull stuff out of the air.  It comes to me.  From multiple sources.  If I have nothing to write about, I don’t write.  Plain and simple.  And yes, I am trying to feed information.  What is the purpose of this blog if it isn’t to inform?  I don’t get paid.  I could care less if 10 people read this or 5,000.  I’m just getting it out there because once upon a time I needed information.  Guess where I found a lot of it?  Not in mainstream media articles.  I found it on blogs.  From people that were there.  From comments on blogs.  From what I heard, YOU didn’t know a lot of the staff that were fired the other day either.  In fact, one staff member pointed out how you had never once said hello to him during your many visits to the school.

You said that less than 20% of the teachers were cut.  But at the same time you said other teachers “resigned” because they weren’t able to take alternative positions.  When you tell a full-time teacher they have to become a part-time teacher and they can’t afford that, you aren’t offering them an opportunity.  You are basically saying “you mean nothing but I don’t have the guts to just come out and fire you so I’ll let you quit first.”  Which, in my opinion, is extremely scummy.  So if those people are getting the “demote or leave” slip, what does the percentage come out to factoring that in Margie?  I get the financial perspective and sometimes there is fat to be trimmed.  But we both know this was more than that.  Don’t try to downplay it at a board meeting.  Say those numbers in public including staff members.

You sit there and say you have no agenda or motivation while at the same time you are telling people who were just screaming at you that you want to merge DAPSS with your ASPIRA high school.  You say you don’t want to interfere with the Head of School but you effectively took over the board, got folks who you KNOW will vote with you (hello Joanne Schlossberg from Newark Charter School), and all of a sudden pink slips are going out left and right.  You talked about the Charter School Accountability Committee meetings and how you wished folks came down to Dover.  I did.  I was there.  I heard you say you were going to make tough decisions people were not going to like.  Not the board.  Not the Head of School.  But you.  Not once did I hear a damn thing about your plan to merge DAPSS and this ASPIRA high school.  I heard the rumors that you have always wanted that.  Nor did you mention this HUGE need to have Spanish and Chinese programs at DAPSS.  So don’t try to spin this as if you are some scapegoat.  You initiated all of this.  Like you are the damn superhero that “saved the school”.  You didn’t save anything.  You are an opportunist who saw a chance to get your precious dual language high school on the cheap without just doing it yourself.  And you pissed off a ton of people along the way.  I don’t need to know you.  I need to listen, and hear, and report.  You also don’t know me.  Nor have you ever made a point to.  And I’m okay with that.

As for the part where she started conversing with a parent DURING public comment IN SPANISH, that happened when the father stated he was Puerto Rican like her.  She began speaking in Spanish to him but he shot her down and explained that even though he knows the language he speaks English in his house and his kids do as well.  He said Spanish is NOT the most important language in the world.  But when folks are complaining about having dual language programs at their school, that probably isn’t the best time to start talking in Spanish during a board meeting when someone else is giving public comment.  The fact I have to point this out speaks volumes!

Lopez-Waite listened to what parents had to say.  She took the jabs and expressed her opinions about them.  But never once did she say anything about reconsidering HER vision for an ASPIRA high school.  Even though the parents, former students, and current students loudly said they didn’t want the current programming diluted by HER vision.  When you fail to truly listen and act on what you are hearing, by ignoring the will of the people (and that audience was the DAPSS family), you disrespect them.

Did DAPSS need changes?  Well, yeah, they were under formal review and about to get shut down.  The only thing that shocked me about all that is how long it took the Delaware DOE to initiate that formal review.  But Lopez-Waite came in like a bear and wanted to tear the camp apart.  And she did.  Take responsibility for your actions.  Own them.  Be accountable.  That’s what we want our students to learn.  But when the adults can’t do it, how the hell do you think the students will?

When you have a “vision”, it is often a coin toss.  If you fail to see the other side of the coin, you can’t be shocked when that coin comes up tails.  That’s exactly what happened with Margie Lopez-Waite tonight.  She underestimated parents, staff, and students.  She assumed it was the same crowd she has at ASPIRA.  It backfired big time!  With this crowd, you wouldn’t dare pull your next move, which was to make yourself Head of School at DAPSS.  They would have fileted you alive and you knew it.  Which was why the board meeting was cut short before you could even get through the agenda.

And once more, for the record, where’s Kendall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rep. Kowalko,

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

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

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

Please send me a timeline of events, including:

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

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

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

                *Christina response received June 8 (see attached)

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

                *David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley

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

                *August 8 (see attached)

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

                *August 12 (see attached)

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

                *August 16 (see attached)

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

                *See above dates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCSAprilBdMtg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newark Charter School 7/2015 Monthly Budget: Revenue

NCS715Budget

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

Newark Charter School 7/2015 Budget: Expenses

NCS715Budget2

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

Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Revenue

NCS616Budget

By June of 2016, their revenues looked completely different.

Newark Charter School 6/2016 Budget: Expenses

NCS616Budget2

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

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

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

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

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

NCSTravelReimbursementBdMtg

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

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

BarbacaneThorntonFY2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MinorCapitalFundingLaw

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

NCSCharterSchoolPerfFundAppl2015

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

NCSDec2014BoardMinutesMinorMod

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

NCSMinorModApplication2014

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

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

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

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

NCSBldgImprovDaystarSills

If you add up the following figures:

$43,000 from their FY2015 Annual Fund

$500,000 from Longwood Foundation

$125,000 from Welfare Foundation

$79,000 from Calder Foundation

$250,000 from Charter School Performance Fund

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

NCS1114boardmtg

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

NCSNov2015BoardMinutes

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

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

$449,575.29 from FY2016 Student Body Activity expenses

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

NCSFY2015AuditStmntOfNetPosition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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