The first time I experienced the Marcia Brady of Delaware was at the House Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50 last spring. She spoke in opposition to the bill to the ire of many parents and teachers across Delaware. Courtney Fox is the Head of School at First State Montessori Academy. As the below Charter School Accountability Committee report shows, this school can do no wrong. Marcia Brady, the oldest sister on the Brady Bunch, could also do no wrong. This caused her younger sisters to envy and disdain her. Such is the way of Delaware education at times. There is always a bright star in the crowd. And the comments from Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wanted to make me heave! But is all it appears to be at the groovy school? Below is CSAC’s initial report, followed by a very interesting letter from a company I’ve written about before on here, and finally the public comments received for this modification request to increase their enrollment and to take over the Del Met building. The last public comment raises some serious eyebrows, including my own…
Sometimes the best conversations happen when there is a freedom to it with no strings attached, just honest questions and answers. Yesterday, Senator David Sokola responded to a post of Mike Matthews on Facebook about House Bill 186 and Senate Bill 171. The two competing bills both deal with charter audits. What happened next on the “debate” was pleasantly surprising. I actually admire Sokola for entering into what I’m sure he knew could be “hostile territory” so to speak. What ensued was very interesting.
Here is the bottom line, as I wrote in one of the final replies on this: something needs to be done to make sure the charter school fraud just stops. We can’t have school leaders going rogue and raiding the public coffers. It’s just wrong. I think House Bill 186 would prevent that quite a bit. Will it prevent any school employee from ever absconding money for personal use? No, I don’t think anyone could ever 100% stop that. But it is one hell of a deterrent. There are more than enough issues with school funding in Delaware, the last thing we need is for one cent to be wasted like this. It is criminal, it is illegal, and it needs to end.
Given all that has occurred since Senate Bill 171 was introduced last week, I would actually love to hear Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network response to this thread. So I invite Kendall to comment on here. This is not a free-for-all to jump on her should she take up the invite. It is just a debate about the issues at hand. If Kendall does take me up on this, I believe it could shed light on what the charters may be looking at for this.
In my opinion, the way charters were set up in Delaware is miles away from the present reality. It is much more visible in New Castle County, but the whole traditional school district/charter school debate has morphed into something with both sides pitted against each other. I will fully admit it’s something I’ve been guilty of. But is it good for the education landscape of Delaware? Should charters be funded separately from regular school districts? But even bigger than that is the competition. This need to be the best school in the state and all that comes with that. Since the catalyst for that is standardized test scores, what would happen if those scores all of a sudden didn’t hold the weight they currently have? What if schools were judged on their own merits, good or bad, based on something not so exact?
Our Department of Education, in line with the US DOE, certainly set up this kind of environment. But let’s get real for a moment. The traditional districts and the charters aren’t going anywhere. I know I’ll probably get shot for even bringing this up, but a lot of us look at education in Delaware under the lens of how the charters affect the schools around them. But I’m going to attempt to look at this from the charter perspective. They view themselves as not getting as much money as districts, thus their assumption they do “more with less”. In defense of that, they don’t have the sheer size and multiple capital costs the way districts do, so there is that. Most of their teachers are not unionized, so turnover is most likely greater. So they need to retain their good teachers and find ways to keep them and attract them to their schools. They also need to make sure their enrollment stays at certain levels or the DOE will come after them. To do that, they need to make their schools look as attractive as possible, so they need to sell it as such. While some schools do indeed have enrollment preferences that are very questionable, a lot of them do not. But still, the lure of charters for many parents is the escape from the local school districts who do “less with more”. Most parents who are engaged at that level, and have made a choice to keep their kids out of a district, will certainly be more active in their child’s education, which results in more of a collaborative relationship between charter parents and their schools. But the flip side to all of this, as those students who most likely have more parental engagement with their child’s education (not all) and pull their kids out of districts, it has a rebound effect on the traditionals. It can draw out the “better” students resulting in more issues at the local level for the remaining students. This is certainly not the case in every school in every district, but we have seen this happen in Wilmington most of all.
So how do we get around all of this and work to make both co-exist? The conversation gets very heated very quick with parties pointing fingers and making declaratory statements that don’t serve to solve the issues but actually polarize both sides into their position of defense. As a result, we see legislators with differing opinions proposing laws that the other side opposes. In the case of the charter audit bills, Kim Williams wins that one, hands down. Will it cost charters more money? Like I’ve said before, probably. But we should have never reached this point. It should have always been equitable for both when it comes to audits. It isn’t now, and it wouldn’t be with Senator Sokola’s bill. I’m not saying this cause I like Kim better than Dave, I’m saying it cause it makes sense. There are some Republican bills I think make a lot of sense, and vice versa. But let’s face it, the Democrats have controlled Delaware for a long time now, so their bills tend to get more press and traction because of that control.
This is what I would like to eventually see in the charter/traditional debate. All schools, be it charters, magnets, or vo-techs, have no enrollment preferences whatsoever. This would put everyone on the same level playing field. As well, charter schools should be funded the same way vo-techs are. But there could still be a problem of a district shedding students as we see in Christina. How do we solve that issue? Not an easy answer. When districts do lose a lot of students, it is bound to cause financial concerns. But obviously we can’t just close districts. But we can’t let them go to the poorhouse either. And when a referendum goes south, it doesn’t just affect the traditional school districts, it flows into charters that receive the funding for those students.
Finally, our legislators need to find a way to minimize the importance of standardized testing. At a state level, not a district level where those assessments do actually help students. I posted an article on American Institutes for Research last September where their CEO admits standardized testing is actually accountability tests against teachers and schools. Because our states and federal government have allowed this to happen. They set up this crazy chess match but is very bad for schools, students, teachers, administrators, and even communities. Whenever there are high-stakes, there are also consequences. While some are intended, others are not. Setting our schools up to compete against each other can bring innovation, but then it becomes a matter of “who has the better test scores?” It’s not good, it’s not healthy, and this is leading all our students into the assumption that if they do well on a once-a -year test they are actually a success and “college and career ready”. But even more dangerous, the schools actually think this and instruction is aimed around the test as opposed to the individual student and their own individual success. The question that always comes up after this argument from the proponents of standardized testing is “How do we measure our student’s progress?” There are measurements that don’t have to be the focal point of everything. But yet our DOE has the Smarter Balanced Assessment with most of the weight on the Delaware School Success Framework.
Until we can get out of this testing obsession, nothing will ever change. If charters and traditional school districts want to survive, they should join together to eliminate this abusive practice, not to perpetuate it. There is no stability in it, and it is very destructive. To those who do profit off this, they truly don’t care. As long as they are making money. This should be something parents of students should want as well. They may not see it now, but they certainly will after their child graduates and they find they are really struggling in college. This is why we are seeing more students taking college-level courses in our high schools because even the corporate education reformers know this. But what we should really be doing is focusing less on test scores and letting children progress naturally in schools without the test stress. So by the time they go to college, they are ready for what comes next. College is supposed to be hard. It shouldn’t be easy. If we are seeing so many kids taking remedial classes, maybe this isn’t a reflection on our schools but on the emphasis society places on test scores.
For me personally, I care deeply about these issues. Because I believe the students that pay the price the most are those who need the most. By leading all students toward these very specific goals of “proficiency” and “growth”, we are allowing students with disabilities and those who come from poverty to start at the gate with a disadvantage. And wanting to “close the gaps” without changing their inherent disadvantages results in an explosion just waiting to happen. I’m not saying these kids can’t learn, or that they don’t want to learn. But the instruction they need may not be the same for their regular peers. If the end goal of accommodations is to make a student do better on a test, then we are losing sight of the true picture. We can’t erase a disability or poverty in schools. There are far too many outside factors to make that ever happen.
The charter/district debate is a systemic issue, but it is symptomatic of the far greater disease: standardized testing. We have many excellent teachers who can become even better by allowing them to flourish in an environment that isn’t poisoned and set up as a competition. Education isn’t a race. It isn’t a contest. It is education. No child learns the same, and no child tests the same. It needs to stop. Until our leaders learn this, parents will continue to opt out. At greater numbers than each year before. Because we see it and we have the power to act on it. Sooner or later they will get the message. But in the meantime, the reformers and leaders continue to spin their wheels looking for the next big thing in order for them to survive. They do not care if a school is doing bad. They love it and they will pounce on it. They use our schools and students so they can get rich. And their method of measurement: the standardized test. And far too many lap it up and believe it.
You would think, facing the State Board of Education this week and hoping for a miracle that your charter may not get revoked in the middle of the school year, that you would do everything possible to stop the cycle of violence at your school. This is obviously not the case with the Delaware Met. But then again, this is a school like no other because no charters in Delaware have ever had their charter revoked mid-year. This will most likely happen tomorrow. But I’m sure this is small comfort for the student who had a chair thrown at his head on Tuesday. This resulted in a trip to the emergency room and stitches. With all the additional support this school has put in place: a new principal, school climate officers, discipline staff, and mentors, you would think someone would be able to prevent this pattern of behavior. But no, not at the Delaware Met. I don’t know if these students can afford to wait until January 22nd for this school to close.
It is becoming painfully obvious that this school does need to close. As I’ve said numerous times, you can’t put a Band-Aid on a wound that needs a tourniquet. I am changing this article to reflect that Kendall Massett and the Delaware Charter Schools Network did actually encourage the school to reach out to other charters. As well, DCSN did contact other charters in an attempt to help Delaware Met. I truly don’t know what happened from there, but we are where we are now. I can say this though, there will be no situation where Kendall negotiates a deal where another charter essentially takes over the school. I would have to assume that with Innovative Schools huge role in this school (more so than any other charter they have provided support for in the past), that could get VERY complicated. My apologies to Kendall for my earlier comments!
Just kidding Kendall! But seriously, the more I am hearing about this Delaware Met meeting, the more I can’t wait to see the transcript! Meanwhile, both Avi with Newsworks and Matt Albright with the News Journal covered this big news today as well. One clarification which I am now hearing about. The school did not have most of their population as Moyer students. There were about ten of them I am now hearing. According to Avi’s article, if Godowsky and the State Board shut it down, the students will have the choice to go back to their district feeder schools or other charters. But back to Kendall, from Avi’s article:
School safety also emerged as a major theme. Wilmington police have visited Delaware Met 24 times since the school year began and made nine arrests, according to the testimony of state officials at Tuesday’s meeting. Last month, in response to a CSAC request for information, school officials said local police had only visited Delaware Met six times.
That discrepency irked Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter School Network and a non-voting member of CSAC.
“It’s not the number of times the police came, it’s that they need to be honest about it,” Massett said.
Massett said she “absolutely support[ed]” the committee’s recommendation to shutter Delaware Met.
I supported this recommendation before it was even made! One important thing to take note of is the timing. The way charter school funding works, they get their next big chunk of funding in February. By shutting the school down in January, this would prevent them from getting those funds and squandering them if they knew the school was going to shut down at the end of the year. Even the DOE issued a press release on this:
The Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee today recommended the revocation of Delaware MET’s charter in January because of academic, operational, governance and financial problems at the Wilmington school.
A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Carvel State Office Building at the corner of 9th and French streets in Wilmington. Public comment will be accepted through December 11. After reviewing the full record, Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky will present his decision regarding the school’s future to the State Board of Education for its assent at the board’s December 17 meeting.
Issues considered by the committee include:
Educational program, specifically:
o Fidelity to the school’s approved curriculum and instructional program, including the Big Picture Learning instructional model, use of technology, participation in various coalitions, and implementation status of project-based learning. Lessons plans submitted to CSAC also were found to be out of alignment with the state’s academic standards.
o Special education services, including the results of a recent monitoring visit by the Department of Education’s Exceptional Children Resources staff that found the school was out of compliance with all 59 of its students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
School culture, specifically safety and discipline concerns
Governing board and leadership capacity, specifically lack of compliance with open meeting laws
Financial viability, specifically due both to decreased student enrollment and the school’s budget not reflecting full compliance with programmatic requirements, including special education
Delaware MET, which opened this fall, was placed on formal review by the State Board of Education on October 15.
Should Secretary Godowsky and the State Board follow the committee’s recommendation to revoke the charter, the school would close on January 22, the end of the second marking period. The state would assist the school’s 210 students and their families in moving to other schools for the rest of the academic year. The children may return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school that is accepting students. The receiving schools would receive prorated funding for the returning students.
As they look toward next year, families also may fill out the state’s School Choice application for another district or charter school for 2016-17. The application deadline is January 13, 2016.
I feel bad for these kids. I truly do. It is one thing to have a school not service you and give you a proper education. Delaware Met is another thing altogether! I really hope the State Board of Education and Godowsky do the right thing here. Perhaps the State Board won’t be so quick to approve so many charter schools all at once and will really look at the wisdom of that decision. Perhaps it is time to take a fresh new look at the whole charter school application process. Because it isn’t just Delaware Met. Yes, the spotlight is on them, and they made the most unwise decisions. But other new charters are experiencing severe growing pains. First State Military Academy is now going on their third special education coordinator. I’m not sure if they made their IEP compliance deadline as a new school, but I don’t like what I’m hearing in terms of the school’s issues with understanding the IEP process and what they feel are appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities.
One thing that will become a huge problem in the future for all schools is the concept of personalized learning. If you have a personalized learning program at your school, the IEP is covered under a federal program called IDEA. For those who may not know this, the decisions of an IEP team, covered by federal law, trumps the online learning system. As an example, if a student is required to do 15 out of 20 math problems based on their IEP, than the school needs to honor that. You can’t say the computer score is right and you have to go by that. Unfortunately, the state standardized assessment is another issue. But for unit tests and quizzes, and even homework done on the computer, these schools need to contact these companies like Schoology and learn how THEIR system can accommodate students with IEPs, not the other way around.
As for Delaware Met, they had plenty of time to get it right and it comes down to very bad choices. I’m sure they knew their head of school was pregnant when she got the job last March. Knowing that, why would you not plan for the eventual maternity leave? Sorry, I’m just getting really tired of hearing that excuse. I have to wonder how much training and professional development teachers really got at this school. Positive Outcomes has the same Big Picture Learning program, and they haven’t had the issues Delaware Met is experiencing. And they are a school with about 60% of their population having IEPs. I’m sure the school will play the blame game on the districts and other charters for failing to send them information about the students. But given the issues with the staff and Innovative Schools, I have to wonder how much effort was put into actually requesting those records. We can’t assume everything coming from the school is the Gospel truth. I caught Innovative Schools in at least three lies at their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.
At the end of the day, it is about doing the right thing, and Delaware Met failed. I have no doubt the intention was there with many of their board members, but this needs to be a lesson learned for those wanting to start a school without the experience to back it up. First State Military Academy and many other schools are using models that are strongly suggested by Innovative Schools. Perhaps it is past time Innovative Schools has a state investigation and audit to see how useful the services they are offering Delaware charters truly are and how much is wasteful.
Matthew Albright with the Delaware News Journal wrote an article today about Delaware charters, and centered on Odyssey Charter School. Delaware charter schools face obstacles to growth is the name of the article. I think it’s funny, because many disadvantaged students face obstacles to getting into these “dream” charters like Odyssey, Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy. Their student populations always have less African-Americans, students with disabilities and low-income students than those around them. And their cheerleaders always say the same thing: “Their lotteries determine who gets in.” Yeah, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
School leaders and parents at successful Delaware charter schools say the state can and should do more to help them grow. While understanding that the Department of Education has to crack down on charters showing evidence of financial mismanagement or a failure to provide high quality education, parents and educators wonder: If a school has top test scores, deep community connections and parents clamoring for expansion, can’t the state help?
Did Publius from Kilroy’s Delaware write this article? If a charter school has “top test scores”, which doesn’t mean squat to me because I don’t value any standardized test score as a true measurement of any school, than they have trimmed the fat and picked the better students and essentially recruited (stolen) them from their local districts.
Albright talks about Odyssey’s latest money problems, something I wrote about six days ago. But of course, Albright, being a reporter for a somewhat major metropolitan newspaper would get more information. I’m just a blogger! Should Odyssey get more money from the state? Hell no! Charters wanted to have it their way, but when they can’t get things their way, they call the State. Enough. They get more financial perks from non-profits and loop-holes in the budget to make up for what they don’t get from the state.
Charter skeptics maintain that the state shouldn’t spend a cent more on charters while traditional school districts cry out for more resources to serve at-risk students. They argue charters don’t serve enough of the kids who need the state’s help the most, and every dollar that goes to a charter is a dollar less for districts charged with that mission.
Damn straight! Some schools are literally falling apart, and Odyssey and other charters want more? After they have siphoned money and students away from their local districts? Sorry, you missed the boat. Why don’t they call the Longwood Foundation? They are always giving away money to charters. Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko got the Albright call and didn’t mince words:
“Until you can prove to me, and I mean show me proof on a piece of paper, that these schools are taking in the same kind of students as our districts and doing a better job, then maybe we have a different discussion,” Kowalko said. “Until then, it is unconscionable for us to be sending additional taxpayer dollars to them.”
Why would we give more money to a school that is facing this on their latest financial framework with the DOE:
The problems reported include deficits, high debt-to-asset ratios, low cash reserves and negative cash flow over the past three years.
So we give them a get out of jail free card while Christina bleeds? I don’t see the state rushing to help them. And the article even has Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network joining the fray! I’m not sure when she finally figured out there were other schools in Delaware aside from charters, but I’m not sure I buy what she wrote:
“If any public school, not just a charter, is doing great things for kids, we should be enabling them to do more of it,” Massett said. “Odyssey is a great example of that.”
The timing on this is impeccable. The DOE and Donna Johnson will be presenting to the State Board on the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities. This is the strategy to “determine how charters operate in Delaware” along with all the other great programs our schools offer. Another US DOE non-regulatory non-Congressionally approved “suggestion”.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved a moratorium on new charters until June of 2018, or until the state finishes a comprehensive strategic plan that would address how charters fit into the state’s overall public education system.
If anyone really thinks there will be a moratorium on charters until 2018, they are smoking something funny. Once the State Board celebrates Donna and the DOE’s hard work and does their high-five party, the charter applications will flow.
The State Board of Education finally put the Delaware School Success Framework update on the State Board of Education agenda for the meeting today. They have tweaked the opt-out penalty a little bit, but it’s still not good enough. It is still a harsh penalty that will hurt schools over parental choices that are beyond a school’s control. Nobody was allowed to give public comment about an action item. I didn’t. I talked about school transportation.
This is what I said:
So I’m driving my son to school this morning, at a private school with no Common Core and no Smarter Balanced Assessment. (Thank you God!) (look up) And ahead of me, there’s this school bus. In the other lane, a car swerves over the line in front of the bus, but the bus driver keeps going straight ahead. I watched in astonishment as the car noticed the danger and moved over, almost hitting a sidewalk on his side. I don’t know why the car swerved over the line, and I don’t know why the bus driver kept moving straight ahead oblivious to the danger in front of him. But it could have been a serious accident. I can imagine though. Perhaps the other driver had a disability and suffered a painful motor tic while driving. Maybe they were a student who comes from poverty and wasn’t able to eat the past few days. Maybe it was a teacher running late for school because they lost so much sleep worrying about their next evaluation. We just don’t know. Meanwhile, the bus driver who ignored an obvious danger, what were his motivations? I would assume a bit of arrogance. I can imagine the thought of “I’m not moving. I’m in the right.”
This is Delaware education in a nutshell. We have different bus drivers carrying the load of every single student, educator, and school in the state. Sometimes it is Governor Markell, other times it is Secretary Godowsky. It could be Dr. Gray. Or Pat Heffernan. Or any of you on this board. Sometimes it seems like someone not even allowed to be a bus driver, like Paul Herdman of Rodel , is driving the bus! I see the same mentality of that bus driver when I see the leaders of education in Delaware. I see them making changes and policies based on plowing ahead without knowing the dangers that are clearly in front of them. Sometimes they spend millions of dollars trying to find out why the other driver swerved over the line. For whatever reason, our leaders assign blame to people who weren’t even in the car. Sometimes we are so focused on the blame that we fail to realize the other factors that could be taking place.
Every time this board meets, you make decisions for the children of Delaware. You’ll do that today. You’ll decide how to prevent accidents even if you could be the ones causing them. But you will never take the accountability on yourselves and realize that you could be the cause of many of them. Because you are so focused on driving down that road and getting to where you want to be, that you fail to understand the other conditions of the road. And in your decisions, it never dawned on you that you are driving in the wrong direction on a one-way road that leads to heartache and devastation for hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, parents and communities.
I showed the State Board some pictures of my son since they have never had the opportunity to meet him in person. I advised them their collective actions have led to his situations in the Delaware public education system since the focus just isn’t on the kids anymore. Sabine Neal spoke about special education and the DOE’s failure to act, State Rep. Kim Williams talked about the State Board getting to more meetings and not just sending the same designee, Mike Matthews spoke about WEIC and his desire to see the State Board at all four of the public hearings for the redistricting effort in Wilmington, and Kendall Massett from the Delaware Charter Schools Network spoke about school choice and the upcoming Charter School Expo. Below is the Delaware School
Punishment Success Framework.
Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, gave the News Journal a quote tonight about the Delaware Met story playing out before our very eyes.
“The process for getting a charter is extremely rigorous,” Massett said. “Look, it’s difficult to open up a new school. The team here just needs more time to get things to where they need to be. I’m glad to see this board asking hard questions, though.”
What she, and obviously the rest of the board at this school don’t seem to get is these students can’t wait around for the school to figure it out. They aren’t an experiment. This school should have been ready from day one. They knew they had a large population of special education students coming. They met their 80% enrollment last Spring, otherwise they would have gone on formal review like the two other charters at the time. All they are doing now is making excuses. The fact they started the year with two special education teachers with a population of 60 students with disabilities is preposterous. And the Delaware DOE let this happen. But thank God we have legislators like State Rep. Sean Matthews who understands the reality behind the pipe dreams these charter schools live in.
If the state is going to approve charters, they should be under enough scrutiny from the state that they don’t encounter problems like this, he said.
Amen Rep. Matthews!
Matthew Albright with the Delaware News Journal finally jumped on the Delaware Met story three days after this blog broke the news about it’s pending closure. The article does not state the school is closing because the board is meeting tonight to decide if they should hand in their charter. I would fully expect a mainstream media source to take this route. However, I do take offense to this part:
Rumors circulated through the weekend that Delaware Met had already made the decision to close. Students did not attend school Friday – Harrington said the school scheduled professional development for teachers – but kids were back Monday.
“We’ve been trying to get the message out to parents that no decision has been made, but they keep hearing people saying it’s already happened,” Harrington said. “It isn’t helping.”
Why would Albright only contact the school about this? There was no mention of the Delaware Department of Education who I’m sure would have been notified. As well, he knew what the source of the “rumors” was and I never heard from him. But he was up in Philly for the Papal Visit. Mr. Harrington, you could have easily contacted me as well, but the school did not respond to my two emails on Friday. Nor did the Department of Education.
Is this school a special education school? Calling it a “Big Picture School” is not indicative of what has been going on there.
Second, the board will decide whether the school can get a handle on problems with school climate. Harrington said there have been fights and incidents in which students have been disrespectful towards school staff.
“We’re talking about kids acting out,” Harrington said. “Our board’s and leadership’s priority is making sure we can provide a safe environment for our students.”
Part of providing a safe environment for students is having a firm handle on student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) prior to the start of school. Being that there was no board meeting in August, I would really have to wonder how prepared this school was for opening day. I do have a lot of respect for Ed Emmett from Positive Outcomes, and he could be a valuable source for helping the school understand special education issues. But I think their financial issues may be beyond just an enrollment issue. How much are they paying to Innovative Schools for rent? Since they have NO financial information on their website (which they are required to do monthly as per Delaware law), how could anyone ascertain what their financial picture is?
I also have to question the role Innovative Schools plays in Delaware education. Their name has been attached to far too many charters that close or have huge financial issues at some point. Is it time to reel them in for a serious investigation? And of course Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network is riding in for the rescue. But is it too late? Given everything I have written about this school in the past few days I would be very concerned as a parent of a teenager attending this school. Conflicts of Interest are as transparent as Saran Wrap and this school has red flags all over it.
I sent the below email earlier today to an employee of the State of Delaware. They are a source, and I am outing them as that source, as well as multiple pseudonyms used on my blog, and possibly others. Sometimes there is a higher call of duty than blogger honor, and this gross negligence of right and wrong called for this. This is an extreme situation, affecting multiple people, but most of all, the students of Delaware. Especially in the Christina School District. Below is the full email I sent to Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the Delaware State Board of Education. As well, I blind cc:ed several persons on this email, so no one will be able to say “I didn’t know about this.”
From: Donna Johnson <email@example.com>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2015 9:56 AM
Subject: Re: State Board Meeting The Other Day
Could you call my cell please?
“The Markell Administration and the Delaware Department of Education led a number of initiatives aligned with and supported by the Rodel Foundation and Vision Coalition.”
Melissa Hopkins with the Rodel Foundation wrote a very long article recently about the non-profit company’s outlook on the first half of the 148th General Assembly. You can read Rodel’s Legislative Update article and see which bills they openly supported. Aside from House Bill 50, which Executive Director Dr. Paul Herdman openly opposed, what other legislation did they fight? By announcing in this article what legislation they supported, it is very easy to find out what legislation they opposed. By going to the Public Integrity Commission website for Delaware, you can actually download all the lobbyist activity for all legislation. I did just that and found all the bills Rodel has registered as a lobbyist for.
Rodel sees itself as some sort of policy-maker and thinks they have the ability to “align” the field with their own interests. This is very dangerous in the education arena. They are a non-profit designed to disrupt public education as we know it, and their ultimate goal, along with the other “reformers” is to create more and more charter schools.
What always concerns me about Rodel, as well as the Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee, is how much lobbying influence they have. Yes, that is the whole point of being a lobbyist. But it just seems whenever these three get going on certain legislation, there are always problems. The biggest bills all three of these groups opposed this year were House Bill 50 (the parent opt-out bill) and House Bill 186 (the charter school post-audit accountability legislation). The good part is these lobbyists have failed to sway enough legislators to prevent these bills from moving forward. These groups are experience waning influence as the voices of parents and educators are rising. But they have certainly made their mark in providing disruption and getting parts they want added to bills.
Take the Delaware Charter Schools Network. With Senate Bill 33, the IEP Task Force legislation, this bill was destined to make a clean sweep through the Senate and the House. But once DCSN got their hooks in, the bill found itself tabled, with two amendments, later stricken, and a 3rd one added in. You can also see what legislation they lobbied for here:
The very fact that the Executive Director of DCSN was able to get 600 emails sent to legislators to oppose House Bill 186 is very worrisome. Did these 600 “opposers” get all the facts? No, they received the very tainted and biased views from the same organization that made every attempt to gut this bill like a fish. As charter school fraud and financial abuse spreads throughout the state, this bill is a no-brainer. It passed the House of Representatives in Delaware, and will next go to the Senate Education Committee in January. To openly oppose legislation like this does not seem like the best public relations move, especially knowing that even more reports like the recent Academy of Dover one are forthcoming.
It seems like every time I am at Legislative Hall, I see the same faces: the lobbyists from Rodel, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee. The last of these is the most concerning to me. The Delaware Business Roundtable is a group of businessmen in Delaware who meet to determine how education should be in Delaware. They aren’t educators, they are big businessmen, with more accumulated wealth than the gap in Delaware’s anticipated FY 2017 budget. They have no official website, and they are not a public entity. So you can’t see minutes of their meetings or what they talk about behind closed doors. In fact, on the Delaware lobbyist website, it shows this:
Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee, Inc.
c/o Rodel Foundation of DE
100 West 10th St., Suite 704
Wilmington, Delaware 19801
I reported last November, based on the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee’s non-profit tax forms, that Rodel runs the show for this organization. They file the taxes for them, get the mail and act as a management company for this organization. When I tried to find a listing of their current membership, a simple Google search yielded no results. This is a level of non-transparency and secrecy beyond the realm of normalcy. The Roundtable may be great at running their prospective businesses, but I don’t think they should be influencing State Departments and legislators for how education ought to be, especially when we don’t even know who they are. But if I were a betting man, I would assume most of these companies have someone sitting on this “roundtable”. But education is not King Arthur’s Camelot. Big business getting involved in education led us to the creation of high-stakes assessments with funds flowing out of the classroom and into the waiting arms of “consultants” who will “fix” the problem. But nothing ever gets fixed.
Their lobbyist firm is The Byrd Group. With the Roundtable, it seems like they send the same three people in for a certain amount of legislation whenever they go to Legislative Hall. Are they meeting with legislators all at once, or taking turns, picking and poking along the way? Find out which bills they lobbied for!
Of particular concern to me is the amount of lobbying done on bills sponsored by State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola. As the Chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, these two legislators have a tremendous amount of influence with education bills. But how much of the direction of the bills under their jurisdiction are influenced by these three organizations? And who is the fourth factor involved in all of this who is always at Legislative Hall but is not considered a lobbyist because she actually works for the State of Delaware?
Donna Johnson is the Executive Director of the State Board of Education. Never mistake her for a Delaware Department of Education employee. She doesn’t like that. She is at Legislative Hall all the time. When she isn’t in education committee meetings, she is hanging out with folks, talking away. She speaks on almost every single education bill that comes before the House and Senate. But what is very alarming is her very close connection with the three above lobbyist entities. Is she influencing them or are they influencing her? Or are they all in cahoots with each other? I can’t recall too many bills this session that the four were in disagreement with each other over. Which is very frightening that legislation is made or opposed based on the influence of three non-profits and the woman who runs the day -to-day operations of the State Board of Education.
The legislation that makes a lot of sense, bills that come from folks like State Reps. Kim Williams, John Kowalko, and others tend to be some of the bills that are opposed by the four. Both Williams and Kowalko are tired of the lack of accountability and transparency by the DOE, and are very wary of the influence the three non-profits have on the state of education in Delaware.
To be fair, there are other lobbyists that hang out at Legislative Hall and do exert influence, most notably Kristin Dwyer with the Delaware State Educators Association. The organization she works for is charged with looking out for the thousands upon thousands of teachers in our state. Since so much legislation does revolve around education, and more specifically, the role teachers play in education, I would be shocked if she wasn’t there. But even DSEA’s lobbying activity on education bills is much less than any of these three. Other organizations such as the Delaware PTA and some of our universities make appearances. But these three non-profits are always there.
Parents have no idea how much goes into legislation surround their children in schools, and it astonishes me how much public policy is based around three non-profits sticking their nose in areas where they have a clear conflict of interest. Even more astounding is the role the State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE play in this quagmire. Our Governor plays right along, helping to dictate policy and curriculum for our children, oblivious to what is going on in his own state.
An anonymous source, speaking out because they felt it was the right thing to do but was also afraid for their job, said “The News Journal plays right into their hands because if they don’t they lose valuable advertising dollars they desperately need.”
The education four will surely be around in January, fighting the bills that make the most sense, and cheerleading bills that serve their own agendas. It’s the landscape of education in Delaware now, because we have allowed it to happen. These are the forces that want Common Core State Standards, Smarter Balanced Assessment, Annual Yearly Progress, Personalized Learning, and Teacher Accountability based on High-Stakes Testing. We have allowed this “breakfast of champions” to control our children’s lives.
Pictured are Kendall Massett (back left), Donna Johnson (back right), Rebecca Byrd (front right), and Melissa Hopkins (center front). This picture was taken at 7:30 in the morning on July 1st, right after Governor Markell signed the FY2016 budget bills following the all-night legislative session.
“Rep. Dukes asked how many charter schools are under investigation. Ms. Davies said seven. Rep. Dukes asked if they were serious infractions. Ms. Davies said some of the investigations are far enough along to know it is really bad.”
One of the most interesting legislative arguments in the past few months has been the saga of the charter school audit bill. First introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams back in March, the bill has taken on different forms, culminating in a House Education Committee battle from 6/17/15.
The minutes from the 6/17/15 meeting clearly show a House divided with common sense prevailing on the Democrat side (with the exception of Education Chair Earl Jaques) and blissful ignorance on the side of the House Republicans. When it comes to charter school accountability and transparency, this pattern consistently emerges and it does not bode well for the education system in Delaware when seven schools are investigated by the state Auditor of Accounts. I asked one House Republican why they voted no on House Bill 186, but he was unable to remember why at the time. This was late in the evening on June 30th, but I would think anyone would know why they voted no on a bill.
By the time the bill got to the Senate floor, Senator David Sokola immediately tabled the bill and demanded it be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Sokola has long been a clear supporter of charter schools and has sponsored or supported many bills that give them the lack of transparency they currently have, including the original charter school legislation from 1995.
When the Delaware General Assembly shows a clear bias towards charter schools, who represent only 10-15% of Delaware students enrolled in these types of schools, but takes up so much of the conversation, it is very troubling to know charter schools can get away with so much. When we have Education Committee chairs on both sides of the General Assembly who very openly make every attempt to protect these schools is extremely disturbing. Even more alarming is the parents and supporters of charter schools who just don’t care, or continue to enroll their children in schools that have clearly had serious financial abuse.
I contacted the Auditor of Accounts office a couple weeks ago and spoke with Ms. Davies. I asked again for the names of the other four charter schools being investigated by that office, but she explained she was not able to do so at the time because that could give a presumption of guilt when no judgment has been rendered since the investigations are still under way. Which I completely understand but there is another side of this issue which I did explain to her. Parents make choices for their children with different schools and they have a right to know if the school they choose has issues going on. She understood that, but was still unable to reveal the schools. I don’t blame her in any way. It is a thorny issue.
We have to wonder, as citizens of Delaware, why certain legislators seem more concerned with looking good for the Delaware Charter Schools Network than showing clear transparency and open government for the constituents they represent. Charter schools are not evil in and of themselves, but the secrets, lies, and cover-ups are increasing rapidly and the more they occur the more we see this insane protection of them by some of our legislators.
The Delaware House of Representatives released their House Agenda for their last day of legislative session until January 2016. The first item on the agenda is State Rep. Kim William’s House Bill 186. These are the reasons this bill needs to pass:
1) Noel Rodriguez & Academy of Dover- $127,000 in personal spending and another $129,000 the State Auditor isn’t sure was used for school or personal spending. As well, an anonymous source informed me two other staff members at the school were also pilfering funds, and this was reported to the FBI, but nothing has come from any of that…
2) Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore & Tennell Brewington- over $90,000 in person spending between this dynamic duo, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in other questionable spending performed by this school during their reign. The State Auditor’s report hasn’t come out yet on this one, but it will be a doozy that may make Academy of Dover look weak in comparison.
3) Delaware Military Academy & Jack Wintermantel- while out of the news, this 2013 State Auditor investigation found numerous financial violations at this school. Source: http://auditor.delaware.gov/Reports/FY2013/DMA%20Investigative%20Report.pdf
4) The seeming inability for many charter schools to accurately code items correctly on the state financing website, as indicated by what is shown on Delaware Online Checkbook. In some situations, funds are allocated in areas that have absolutely nothing to do with why the funds were spent, i.e. Academy of Dover putting a payment for an out of state residential treatment center under “Employee Recognition”. Furthermore, putting students names in a special education settlement transaction on Delaware Online Checkbook is a clear violation of FERPA legislation but schools continue to do this.
5) Section 347 of Paragraph 508 of Title 14: This special designation for charter schools allows them to keep the unused portion of their transportation funds for “educational purposes”, but there is no clear mention of what those “educational purposes” can be, or where the funds should be directed on an accounting level. In the past two fiscal years, over $2.4 million dollars was kept by Delaware charter schools, with Family Foundations Academy and Newark Charter School each keeping over $400,000 EACH from this caveat.
6) As indicated by the ten charter school performance fund applications I just posted, most schools don’t have a clue about finances and what funds can go to which allotment.
7) The Delaware Charter School Network is vehemently opposed to this bill- while they have a right to be concerned about the cost of audits, the cost to taxpayers over the complete and utter disregard of how taxpayer funds are spent as well as the strain and disruption this places on all education in Delaware makes it very clear more oversight is needed over the Wild West of Finances occurring in our charter schools. As well, at least two of the current or former members of their governing board are/were heads of school at two of the charter schools that are being investigated, and one of them sits on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE
8) The DOE is not in a position to do anything about this: through a complete lack of oversight over the charter schools they authorize, the DOE has never caught fraud in the act. They do not monitor they money flowing in and out of these schools
9) Lack of oversight at the charter schools themselves- many charter schools just started having a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee this year. This has been in state code for years. As well, a DOE representative is supposed to be at each meeting for each school. If some of these schools that have operated for years never had a DOE rep at their non-existent CBOC meetings, than the DOE fell asleep at the wheel but they are never held accountable.
10) In discussing House Bill 186, the State Auditor’s office said seven charter schools are under investigation. We know Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, and Providence Creek Academy are three, but who are the other four? Judging by their board minutes, Thomas Edison Charter School may be one, but who are the other three and why are they being investigated?
Kendall Massett at the Delaware Charter Schools Network is fighting like a House Bill 50 parent proponent, but she is against this bill. She has emails going out every day begging parents to email legislators to stop this bill. Should what is essentially a lobbyist firm receive that much free reign to stop a bill? What is Kendall so afraid of? Is there something much, much bigger yet to be discovered? That wouldn’t shock me at all.
Since charters dominate education news these days (like oxygen being sucked out of a room), I thought we could replace Smarter Balanced with the Smarter Charter Assessment. This will be a multiple choice assessment, and if you fail you go to jail (not really, but everyone will think you should but you will probably settle down the road).
Okay, here we go:
1. This charter was close to having it’s charter pulled over financial issues…
a) Academy of Dover
b) Family Foundations Academy
c) Brandywine Springs
d) All of the above
2. This charter spread the Kendall Massett love on their website cause their interim principal also sits on the board of the Delaware Charter Schools Network
a) Campus Community
c) Toyota Academy of The Marsh
d) Providence Creek Academy
3. This charter was shut down by the DOE
a) Reach Academy For Girls
d) All of the above
4. Which State Rep. sat on the board of a failed charter application this fiscal year?
a) Trey Paradee
b) John Kowalko
c) Mike Ramone
d) Mike Matthews
5. This charter school recently had a pool donated to them by Schell Brothers…
a) Charter School of Wilmington
b) Kilroy’s Blogging Academy for Disgruntled Republicans
c) Newark Charter School
d) Sussex Academy
6. This charter’s enrollment was so low it went on formal review
a) Delaware Design Lab
b) one above and two below
d) Prestige Academy
7. This charter had their Christmas Party board meeting far away from the school so no parents could attend…
a) Legislative Hall
b) Odyssey Charter School
c) Academia Alonso
d) Prestige Academy
8. Tragedy struck when the sign outside their school was destroyed..
a) Gateway Lab School
b) East Side Charter
c) Positive Outcomes
d) Our Lady of Perpetual Labor Montessori Academy for Boys Charter School of Wilmington Lab of Zero Tolerance
9. This charter should probably not label an out of state residential treatment center as “employee recognition” on Delaware Online Checkbook
a) Early College High School
b) Reach Academy for Girls
c) MOT Charter School
d) Academy of Dover
10. Seven charter schools were or are under investigation by the State Auditor’s office. We know three. Which ones do you think are the other four?
a) Odyssey Charter
b) Thomas Edison
c) Rodel Foundation’s Vision of Schools That Lead Through Innovative Rigor
d) Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security
11. Which charter school managed to have an employee do something bad
a) Family Foundations Academy
b) Providence Creek Academy
c) Academy of Dover
d) all of the above
*Bonus-Which of these had someone arrested?
*Bonus 2nd round-Which of these did I apply for their school board?
*Bonus 3rd round-Which of these was a blue ribbon school?
13) In Kendall Massett’s “Please don’t pass House Bill 186 cause I will have to actually do some work to do damage control” video, she mentioned three charters to use as an example of which school to pick on her online demonstration of how to use a dropdown menu (yes, this really happened..). Of the three schools she mentioned, which has NOT had a State Auditor report come out on it?
a) Delaware Military Academy
b) Academy of Dover
c) Family Foundations Academy
d) The Mark Murphy Military Academy of No Confidence
13. This Charter Head Of School/Principal/Headmaster actually spoke in opposition of House Bill 50 at the House Education Committee meeting. Which one was it?
a) Positive Outcomes
b) First State Montessori
c) First State Military
d) Great Oaks
14. This charter school had their head of school resign after he ruffled up a citizen outside their building:
a) Great Western
b) Dover School of Transparency & Financial Trickery
(look, I pulled a DOE move. I put three dumb answers in a multiple choice question so everyone will answer the “right” one giving me the results I want. It’s like a Jedi mind trick…these aren’t the answers you’re looking for…oooo…cool!)
Okay, now that you went through this, you can consider yourself college and career ready. Cause you won’t get your score until September 31st! But only on that day, and you have to go to the place where Governor Markell signed House Bill 50 to look at the report! You can now compete with all the kids in Singapore because you maybe might possibly be proficient on the Smarter Charter. I’ll give you 3 to 10 odds! But only for the first few years…
Wow Kendall. Thank you for the computer lesson! I had no idea how to navigate through a website until you taught me. Notice on this very important “action alert” she doesn’t give any reasons why House Bill 186 is bad for charter schools, just that it’s “bad for our charters”. For those who have never heard of Kendall Massett (which is most of the state), she is the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. Or, in another words, a cheerleader non-profit for Delaware charter schools, backed by other “non-profits” and “foundations”. Aside from having an annual show called “The IDEA awards” (which has absolutely nothing to do with special education), nobody really knows what they do except show up to charter school open houses, hang out at the Delaware DOE and Legislative Hall, and make very strange videos.
So if you believe your voice matters, and you want our charter schools to stop stealing taxpayer funds, please email your legislator by 7:00pm on Tuesday evening and offer your support of House Bill which makes charter schools in Delaware get a post-audit by the State Auditor. As the poster in Kendall’s office says, “Change the way you look at things.” An email or phone call of support will allow you to change the way you look at charter school finances!
- Today at 10:23 PM
I am the writer of Exceptional Delaware, and I would like to know why your organization is objecting to House Bill 186 and other legislation that would provide the essential oversight Delaware charter schools so desperately need. This isn’t about protecting the finances of these schools, it is about making sure the students in these schools get the best education possible.
What is occurring in so many of our schools: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Providence Creek Academy, Odyssey Charter, Thomas Edison and others is a direct result of financial mismanagement, boards not properly trained in oversight, and allowing administrators to cut the board out of important decisions. It isn’t the boards that suffer or the admins. It is the students and teachers.
If your organization truly represents school choice, then you need to make sure the schools under your purveyance are effectively able to run those schools. Because we both know the DOE isn’t able to. You have the backing of millions of dollars and several huge companies, but at the end of the day none of that matters if the charters are involved in all these scandals. I would ask that you allow transparency to rule the day and that your organization backs House Bill 186 and House Bill 61. Parents should have choice, but only when everything is crystal clear and out in the open. It is completely inappropriate for any school to conceal finances or other important matters that can impact children.
I’m sure you don’t like me, and I’m okay with that. I don’t like a lot of the underhanded tactics I have seen your organization perform, like having parents mass email representatives to block a bill that would actually allow the charters to escape from the financial malfeasances and show why they can be just as good as traditional schools. I don’t understand the need to protect them, because it always comes out. If it isn’t me, it will be the next blogger or reporter. Things are reaching a crisis point with education in Delaware, and serving the will of money over students is not going to help these kids.
Many people say the entire goal of the education reform movement in the past 10 years has been about the eventual destruction of traditional school districts and the “privatization” of schools, making them all charter or private schools. I believe this point of view is the goal, but I also know it is a system that will never work. Because along with that comes the notion of power and people will abuse that. If you truly want charter schools to survive in our state, than I would strongly consider a different approach. Because this way, it doesn’t work. Charters will never take over. Now it needs to become a matter of co-existence. The way our schools are funded, with funds coming out of local funds from the traditional school districts does not work. Fighting for scraps will always cause fighting. We all need to come up with a better way and stop the fraud, waste and abuse going on in our schools. For schools that only represent a small percentage of our students, I have never seen such so much chaos and disruption coming from anything in education as I have with the charter school movement.
The next move is yours. And since I am a firm believer in transparency, I will publish this email.
In their April 27th board minutes, Thomas Edison revealed they have been in communication with the Delaware State Auditor’s office. While it doesn’t go into specifics, there is a lot of discussion about how to reveal contingency items and how to hide them…
“Mr. Christie stated that to Mr. Velasquez point we have a total of $104,250.00, that we’re saying we have spent this on contingency, but we haven’t really. Mr. Blocksom asked if this makes us look bad and how would the auditors look at this. Mrs. Winder stated that our external auditors wouldn’t recognize it, but not quite sure how the State would react.”
As well, the school absolutely kills it in discussion about the Smarter Balanced Assessment which they only refer to as “the test”. Every Delaware Senator needs to read this report before the vote tomorrow.
The Delaware House of Representatives also need to read this and Pete Schwartzkopf needs to get House Bill 186 on the agenda tomorrow, the Senate needs to suspend Senate rules and skip the Senate Education Committee meeting for this bill, and get House Bill 186 passed before midnight June 30th. This is a shining examples of how Delaware charter schools openly flaunt their disdain for state code and regulation in terms of financial matters. They also need to do the same for House Bill 61 and get these charter schools recording all their board minutes and place them on their websites within seven business days. The days of Delaware charters making their own rules are coming to an end. And nothing Kendall Massett and the Delaware Charter Schools Network or all the backers, investors, and “non-profit” foundations do is going to stop this.
Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams is mad as hell, and she is making it known! The reason for her anger? Her Delaware charter school audit bill, House Bill 186, is facing some fierce opposition. But why? Find out here, from her State Rep. Facebook page:
PLEASE READ VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!! Our teachers are held accountable, students are held accountable, don’t you think our public tax dollars should also have accountability?
Academy of Dover since 2010-2011 has not met or fell far below the financial standards set forth by the Department of Education and the Charter School Accountability Committee. The charter school office reported to the State Board of Education yesterday that in early April they learned of serious allegations… of financial management by a former Academy of Dover school leader. Their financial framework for the last three years have shown there have been financial issues. I brought a bill forward which would require all charter schools to be audited through the Auditor’s Office, currently all public schools are audited through this office except for charter schools, and the House republicans sitting on the House Education Committee voted against the bill that I sponsored; House Bill 186. Family Foundation this year had issues with two former co-directors misusing the public’s money, over $90,0000, and now we have Academy of Dover who is now under investigation by the Auditor’s Office for misuse of public funds. The Delaware Charter Schools Network were there on Wednesday lobbying legislators hard not to support my bill. This is a great bill and it should be released from Committee. I have eight Democrats who are willing to sign the bill backer. During the State Board of Education meeting you hear one board member stating that the Financial Framework would not have caught this. Another board member stated this is happening a lot. DOE Charter School Office stated that Academy of Dover has been working for years on a payment plan, so does that mean folks knew for years this was going on. House Bill 186 needs to be released and voted on the House floor.
If you have never met Kim Williams, she doesn’t seem the type to get mad. However, once she is, you know it pretty fast. I’ve seen her and she isn’t the yelling and screaming type, but she is very direct and firm. I can completely understand why she is so upset about this bill. Charters, many of them, have been pilfering taxpayer funds for a long time now. At the House Education Committee on Wednesday, a representative from the State Auditor’s office confirmed seven charter schools are under investigation in their office and no traditional school districts are at all (which squashes the rumors I heard about two school districts in our state being investigated over there). Three are known: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy. Who are the other four? That’s 31.8% of the charters in this state!
Patrick Heffernan with the Delaware State Board of Education raised a very good point the other day. The settlement with Mosaica was $650,000.00. Academy of Dover plopped down $200,000 right away, and has $150,000 due 7/3/15 and another payment of $150,000 by 7/31/15. Then they will pay $50,000 once a year for 3 years after. So that’s $500,000 they will pay by the end of July. Where does all this money come from? This is taxpayer money they have been tucking away somewhere waiting for this rainy day. This is funding that should be going to students. Now I understand why they were being so cheap about paying their paraprofessionals an extra buck or two an hour when they were asked to substitute teach!
Write you state representative today and demand accountability for charter schools!
Now I have a new website to look at on a weekly basis. Thanks for that Kendall Massett! It turns out the Delaware Charter School Network has a portal set up on their website to automatically email legislators when they don’t like a pending bill that might affect charter schools. That’s fair, I suggest folks email legislators all the time. However, when the messages sent do not give accurate facts, I take issue with that.
For example, the current campaign is against House Bill 186. In a nutshell, HB186 is as follows:
Currently, all school districts, including vocational schools, are subject to the Auditor of Accounts. Edits to the November 2010 Charter School Manual removed instructions for charter schools to go through Auditor of Accounts when contracting for audits. There is presently no legislative authority to require charter schools to submit to the Auditor of Accounts processes. This bill adds charter schools to the list of entities for audits through the Auditor of Accounts. The bill takes effect so that the Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits for the time periods starting on or after July 1, 2015. (source: http://legis.delaware.gov website)
This bill combines the now stricken House Bills 53 and 154, which were both sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams. She watched as Family Foundations Academy almost got shut down due to financial mismanagement (fraud), and has seen this time and time again at many of our charter schools.
Now the Delaware Charter School Network is gunning for any legislation that would hold charter schools accountable for their finances through their Action Center on their website. I find the following facts they are using to stop this bill either outright lies or gross exaggerations.
This is the text of the introduction:
Our email campaign last week to stop HB 154 from being released from the House Education Committee was a success! Representative after Representative told us that they had heard from their constituents and that it was so helpful. NICE GOING!! Your action along with other circumstances led to the desired outcome, but the fight is not over. We have learned that the bill’s sponsor has introduced a new bill that combines HB 53 and HB 154 – House Bill 186. The new bill has been placed on the House Education Committee agenda for Wednesday, June 17 (TOMORROW). This means that we must re-launch our campaign, and this time we will be alerting all House members with the same message not just the committee members. We have altered the message slightly so even if you sent an email last week, it is okay to send again. Start by entering your email address and home zip code over to the right. When you complete the next screen, the email will be sent automatically based on your home address. The reasons to oppose the legislation are the same…
Gee Kendall, what were those “other circumstances”? I know you were at Legislative Hall last Wednesday cause I saw you at the Senate Education Committee meeting. Your organization are registered lobbyists down at Leg. Hall. More concerning is the text in this email you are having people send to their elected officials.
“This bill will not stop fraud.”
It might not, but it will find it much quicker than anyone else has in the past. All too often we hear the same sob story: “We had no idea this was going on for years and years. Heavens to Betsy, they were so secretive about it.” We don’t just hear this from the charter schools but from our own Department of Education. It would help if these charters actually took the time to have their Citizens Budget Oversight Committee meetings. I saw fraud flags all over the purchase card website Delaware has. It’s called opening your eyes.
“…our schools already receive less funding on average than district schools ($3000 less on average).”
There are several reasons for that. Traditional school districts, on average, have more special needs students that get more funding for special education, more low-income students, and more minorities in some cases. As well, the LIE they get $3000 less on average is completely false. As per the DOE’s School Profiles website, statewide school districts receive $12,901 on average student funding whereas charters receive $11,521. That my lobbyist friend, is a different of $1,380, not $3000. Nice try. Charters may not receive capital funding, and you will never let us forget it. However, they do get some extra perks to make up for that. We have the Charter School Performance Fund whereby some charters may qualify for up to $250,000 a year from the DOE based on certain criteria. We have the charter school transportation slush fund, where the charters get to keep any extra transportation funds they don’t use which last year alone was well over a million dollars for most of the charter schools collectively. As well, they get tons of money from donors like the East Side Foundation, or the Longwood Foundation which pours millions of dollars into charter schools each year. They gave Odyssey Charter $1.4 million in grant funds for their new school. As well as numerous other corporate donors. Traditional school districts aren’t allowed to get these extra perks and aren’t included in the funding calculations the DOE provides. I would say on average, with all these other factors involved, charters get more funds per average student than traditional school districts.
“…a one size fits all RFP will not take that into consideration and a school could end up paying a significant amount of money for something that they do not need…”
Yet the charters in Delaware seem to be okay with a one size fits all standardized test in the form of Smarter Balanced that gives the illusion of helping vulnerable students but in actuality will further separate them from their peers. And the charter schools DO need this. As a state, we must protect our students from funds not reaching the classroom, and if fraud is going on, we are legally and morally responsible to find, fix and punish actions like this. There are three publicly known charters in Delaware under investigation by the State Auditor’s office: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy. Rumors suggest even more, and the auditor’s office confirmed they are looking at several but wouldn’t name any other schools.
“Charter schools support accountability.”
Then this bill should be a no-brainer. But the reality is they don’t like getting investigated by anyone. When they do, they often lie to protect themselves. Because their board meetings are not recorded, and some charters rarely post their board minutes monthly, it is very difficult to know what goes on in these charter schools. I am not saying this is all charters, but there are enough of them this bill is warranted. And lest we forget, the Delaware Charter School Network is funded by non-profits, for-profits, and dues paid to them by the charter schools themselves. If the DOE can’t hold charter schools fully accountable, perhaps we need even more legislation like this to hold their fat to the fire.
Please email the entire House of Representatives in support of House Bill 186. I apologize for not having a fancy website portal that sends a one size fits all message to legislators, but I can offer your ability to send your own individual and unique message to legislators. It’s called copy and paste!
Charles.Potter@state.de.us StephanieT.Bolden@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Bryon.Short@state.de.us Quinton.Johnson@state.de.us Kevin.Hensley@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Deborah.Hudson@state.de.us email@example.com Peter.Schwartzkopf@state.de.us Valerie.Longhurst@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org Michael.Mulrooney@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Steve.Smyk@state.de.us Michael.Ramone@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Edward.Osienski@state.de.us email@example.com John.Viola@state.de.us Earl.Jaques@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sean.Lynn@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Lyndon.Yearick@state.de.us David.L.Wilson@state.de.us Harvey.Kenton@state.de.us Ruth.BriggsKing@state.de.us Ronald.Gray@state.de.us Daniel.Short@state.de.us Timothy.Dukes@state.de.us Richard.G.Collins@state.de.us
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:
Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Delaware State Senator Nicole Poore, was tabled today in the Delaware Senate. This legislation came about due to the hard work of 24 individuals on the IEP Task Force. How does a bill, which passed through the Senate Education Committee, become LOT (left on table) when it is presented to the Senate? Two words: Kendall Massett. The director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network herself.
After the bill went through the Senate Education Committee with no unfavorable votes, with an amendment to clear up some of the language, Massett got involved and demanded the amendment to the bill be put in Title 31, which is the part of Delaware code covering welfare. Why she was insistent on this being put there I can’t fathom because an IEP is an education issue which would belong in Title 14. Unfortunately with the new General Assembly website, amendments to bills can’t be read.
Apparently, she didn’t like the fact that charter schools would be required to have one employee from each charter school getting specialized training from the Delaware Department of Education on the legal rules for Individualized Education Programs as well as access to resources available in helping students with disabilities. Having attended every single one of the IEP Task Force meetings, I can say the subject of charter schools came up more than once. I am not saying ALL charter schools, but many don’t have a clue in how to handle special education. Many children have been denied IEPs at Delaware charters, “counseled out”, or denied entrance to charters because parents were told by charter school officials they don’t have the “resources” to help those children.
Any time this charter lobbyist gets her hooks into legislators, bills get screwed up in the General Assembly. I would think the charters would want the extra assistance instead of paying out extra costs to special education attorneys and education funds for students. But no, they want traditional schools to have this caveat as well. Here’s a news flash Kendall: traditional schools can’t counsel students out and they can’t say “we can’t take your child”. So if you don’t like the charters getting some heat, tell all your charters to do their job!
Do you want to take a wild guess why the task force didn’t include any charter school representatives? Maybe it’s because the Delaware DOE picked the task force with approval from the legislators involved and knew who would be able to give expert advice on special education in Delaware schools. When the DOE doesn’t think charters can give experts on a task force, you know something has to be seriously wrong. If it was such a concern of yours during the task force, how come you didn’t show up to any meetings Kendall? And now you want to stick your nose into a special education bill that is meant to help these disadvantaged students? Just because your beloved charters got called out on actions they have themselves brought upon themselves for years?
Delaware legislators: this charter lobbyist is wielding WAY too much influence on your decisions for the good of ALL Delaware children. The charter problem in this state is getting worse by the day, and many of you will do nothing but defend these schools and the money behind them. You have allowed them to operate under very little scrutiny and when they are caught, you grow silent. I am not saying ALL charters or ALL legislators. But we all know who they are and far too many of you could care less. As long as you keep the Governor happy you are content with segregation, discrimination and denial of services. And while all this is going on, traditional schools are losing funding and resources while the DOE pumps money into companies that provide all these corporate education reform “services” and then turn around and fund other companies for more charters. Wake up! It’s seconds before midnight and you are still operating under the belief that charters are the next great thing.
Senators Brian Bushweller and Greg Lavelle must have received a mouthful from Kendall on this because they were the ones who initiated the discussion today that got this bill tabled. In a Delawareonline article today, Bushweller stated the fact that charters weren’t represented on the task force was “very disappointing”. And Lavelle, don’t even get me started. He said he wasn’t aware of the amendment on the bill, but his wife was on the IEP Task Force. This bill was introduced in January. The IEP Task Force ran from September to December. Did Bushweller or Lavelle, both of which voted yes for Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 in the 147th General Assembly which created the task force, even bother to read the recommendations or listen to the digital audio recordings from the task force?
It is a shameful day in Delaware when legislation that can and will help special needs students is tabled because the charter lobbyist decided she didn’t like some wording. Shame on those who sided with her during discussion of this important bill. Once again, everything has to be about the charters in Delaware. Enough.
To read about Delawareonline’s take on this, which included NO mention whatsoever of the sneaky, crafty maneuvering of Kendall Massett, please go to: