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.

Who Was Pulling The Strings At Delaware DOE? It Wasn’t Godowsky. And A Message For NCS Parents.

Chartergate 2016 and the aftermath took over social media in Delaware yesterday.  When I searched “Secretary Godowsky” last night on Facebook I saw tons of posts.  Many people were outraged about Godowsky’s actions, but a fair number were upset about my comments concerning Mr. Greg Meece.  I won’t apologize for that.  Chances are probably pretty good I know a bit more about some behind the scenes stuff than you do.

Let me be perfectly clear on something.  I am not the News Journal.  First off, the News Journal wouldn’t write about most of the stuff I’ve figured out over the years.  Second, a blog is not true journalism.  That doesn’t mean the facts are wrong.  But bloggers do not have a journalistic credo they need to have like members of the Associated Press do.  I saw tons of posts about how I’m so wrong about things all the time.  I’ll own that up to a point.  Sometimes I am wrong.  And when I am called out on it, I will either correct it or write about how someone felt I was wrong.

I always use this as a classic example.  When the Family Foundations Academy fraud was going on at the school, I wrote about it before the mainstream media picked up on it.  One gentleman, and I know he won’t mind me saying this, blasted me for it.  How dare I disgrace the school and their leaders by writing about that.  Turns out I was right.  The same thing happened with Academy of Dover.   I wrote about the Smarter Balanced shenanigans, and still there were doubters, but it turned out I was right about everything.

I don’t mind people doubting my information.  I’ve received bad information in the past and ran with it, much to my chagrin.  Here’s the deal though: if our schools and the DOE were more transparent about things, I wouldn’t have to write at all.  But the hard truth some of you may not realize is this: there is a ton of shadiness that goes on in this state.  That’s what I write about.  I can’t just out sources all the time.  I can’t always produce a smoking gun.  But it’s out there.  Most of the time I turn out to be right.  And when I’m wrong and someone actually lets me know that, I’ll do what is right.  Let’s really be honest with ourselves.  With the stuff I find out, am I really going to get an honest answer?  If I emailed Godowsky about this before I published it, he would have ignored me.  I like Steve.  I think he has a very tough job, but at the end of the day, he answers to the Governor.  With what I do and what he does, there really isn’t a time where we can collaborate.  We have talked many times in person.  We’ve even joked around here and there.  But when it comes to the really tough questions I present to him… he can’t own up to them.  I get that.

Here are some facts for the whole mess.

Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel met with Delaware Associate Secretary of Education David Blowman and the director of the Finance area at DOE, Kim Wheatly, last April.  Meece wanted more money from Christina.  Somehow this evolved to all districts and charters.  Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is telling people he didn’t know about this until August 19th.  I do know David Blowman was out of the office all last week because I received an out-of-office reply from him.  Blowman and Wheatly set this whole thing up.  Which means Godowsky didn’t know about the letter sent to all the districts on August 8th asking them to justify their restricted and non-restricted sections of their local funds.  I can say with certainty Godowsky was not on that letter.  But I don’t believe it was solely Blowman and Wheatly who knew about this.  Blowman’s boss is Karen Field Rogers, the Deputy Secretary of Education.  And I have always believed that State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson makes it a point to know every single thing that goes on there.  Did it go up higher than that?  I would assume it did.  Education is Jack Markell’s baby, and nobody touches that baby without him knowing about it.

The charters have been holding meetings at the DOE, some public and some private, to change their organizational and financial framework sections of their budget.  They had representation on the Education Funding Task Force this year.  David Blowman was on that task force.  This issue, to the best of my knowledge, never came up during those meetings.

The change in the local pupil cost for charters and choice schools was all set to change.  I found out about this, ironically enough, when I was working on an article about charter school funding.  This news changed that whole article so you may not ever see it.  I heard from one person in one district, then another, and then another.  24 hours later I wrote the article and published it.  When it comes to stuff like this, I explained it the best way I could.  I’m sorry I didn’t pass the News Journal sniff test.  When I break big news, it isn’t going to be easily tied up like an episode of Murder She Wrote.  There isn’t going to be forensic evidence.  Sometimes I’m able to provide that.  But you need to understand that nothing in Delaware is neat and tidy.  We are a very non-transparent state.  There is a good reason we came in 49th place on a national state transparency ranking last year.  Trust me, I would love to have a smoking gun for everything I write.  I want that more than you do.

With stuff like this, you can either take my word for it or don’t and wait for it to be “officially verified”.  I can take the heat.  What I won’t take is someone trying to make an anonymous comment and attacking my son.  That is intolerable.  I’ve written over 2,800 articles on this blog and no one has ever done that until this article.  You don’t like me attacking your school?  I get that.  Blast me all you want.  But don’t you dare make an attempt to come after me through my son with false information.  There is a line, and you went way past it.  I never attack children on this unless they do something so heinous and it is already in the public spotlight, like the Howard High School of Technology murder.  I will write about adults, but attacking kids… no.  And if you disagree with me on something, that’s fine.  But I hope whoever this was realizes this.  You know who you are.

Today, Brian Stephan with Delaware Liberal wrote an excellent article going into the actual financial implications and what it all means.  Thank you Brian!  Brian has much more knowledge about education funding as a member of the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  I appreciate him explaining this better than I ever could.  In the article, Brian wrote about what the charter schools seem to be looking for.  It is bogus, in my opinion.

This is my big question, especially for Newark Charter School.  If you have such a great school, great classrooms, great teachers, manageable classroom sizes, students behave better than traditional schools, and so forth, what do you need all this extra money for?  Many charters get extra money when their transportation budget is higher than what they actually spend.  Some charters, like Newark Charter School, get tons of money from this.  Probably more than they would have made had this gone through with Godowsky.  Newark Charter School got free money from the charter school performance fund last year.  $250,000.  They got money from various foundations.  Is it worth all this fuss, especially when they know districts aren’t exactly swimming in money.  Lets face it, all Delaware schools have some fat they can trim.  This isn’t a charter thing, this is a Delaware thing.  I saw many comments about how I am so biased against charters.  I’m not.  I’m biased against financial abuse, closed-door meetings, things done in secret, high-stakes testing, an out of control DOE and Governor, and some legislators who care more about profit and pleasing the rich than they do about kids.  I will fully admit I didn’t understand a ton of aspects with district financing until the past few months.  Charters are smaller so it is easier to find stuff.   I look at them as well now.  But this move that was going to happen until I wrote about it was shady beyond all belief.

Yesterday, the legislators swarmed Godowsky, and he backed down from doing it this year.  And it was a lot more than the four I saw on one legislator’s Facebook post.  But it is not over.  On Thursday morning, all the district business managers are having a meeting at the DOE.  This is a closed meeting.  The charter leaders aren’t backing down on this, and I’m sure the district leaders aren’t going to let this just happen.  This will get ugly.  The legislators are involved now, so a lot could happen either way.  Godowsky and Markell will be gone in January.  So if Markell wants this to happen, he would need to do something now or after the election.

In terms of charter funding overall, the way we are doing it does NOT work.  At all.  It sets up animosity between districts and charters.  We also need to get rid of the false competition which is based on standardized test scores.  And I’m going to say this NCS parents.  Constantly saying we are “jealous” or “his kid must not have gotten into the school” is elitist.  To be honest, I never heard of Newark Charter School until a few years ago.  Ask Greg Meece about me.  See what he says.  Ask him all the questions I’ve written about.  The only time he has ever reached out to me was last winter over a lottery issue with a parent of a disabled child.  Ask him the following:

Why doesn’t NCS show other bank accounts run through the school or school activities on their website?

Why did the board remove their May 2016 board minutes?  These minutes were put back on the NCS website at 5:17am this morning by NCS CFO Joanne Schlossberg, and does discuss the meeting with Blowman:

NCSMayBoardMinutes

New Question: Why were the board minutes modified this morning and put up without approval of the Board of Directors at NCS who has to approve the minutes as per your very own bylaws?

NCSBoardMinutesModified

Why does the school refuse to file a tax return based on very bogus reasons for not doing so in the first place?

Why did Greg Meece ignore the IRS Guidance letter stating charter schools really aren’t exempt from filing tax returns?

Did the school divert funds from allocations they weren’t allowed to in building their STEM lab and their new auditorium?

Why did the school accept a Title I award from the US DOE when they have one of the smallest Title I populations in the entire state?

Why did a teacher from the school publicly state yesterday on a Facebook post that in a year NCS will be over 50% minority?

How can NCS make a claim (from the same teacher) that they have more kids in Basic Special Education in K-5 than many Red Clay schools?

Why would Meece email all the teachers and parents to support the Christina referendum but wouldn’t do it publicly?

Why does Senator Sokola write so much legislation that benefits charters, especially NCS, but has no problem writing laws that make things harder for teachers and parents?  How much input does Greg Meece have on that legislation?

Why does Meece refuse to collaborate on his innovative discipline practices with other schools?

Which, if any, legislators knew about this change in the way districts pay charters before a week ago?  Did any help in the organizing or structure of these secret meetings?  Did any attend these meetings?

Why have I heard from so many teachers in this state that if they disagree with Meece on even the slightest thing they are fired?

And the most important.  Does he believe NCS is better than everyone else?

When he can answer all those questions, which I publicly ask him to do, then I may change my mind about him.  But until then, no, I don’t have a high opinion of him as the Head of School at Newark Charter School.  Sorry, but I have seen and heard far too much to think otherwise.  I understand that for the parents and teachers at NCS it is the greatest place on earth.  There is a reason for that.  And maybe you don’t want to face it, but NCS supposed success is based on very selective enrollment preferences.  Set up a long time ago, this prevents many at-risk kids from attending the school.  Sure, some get in, but not enough based on the demographics.  There are key parts set up which prevent the often-heard excuse of “it’s a lottery, anyone can get in”.  You need to understand that choice has consequences.  It may be great for your kid, but when people like Meece want more money, after he gets tons of it already from Christina and other districts, that takes from the very same at-risk kids who can’t get into that school.  Not in the numbers where it would be a true picture of the surrounding area.  And setting it up with a five-mile radius also prevents kids from not even being able to apply.  So when folks see Meece wanting more money, that is what they see.  They see your kid going to a school built on a façade while their kids will have less.  This isn’t all charters.  But enough.  And when the one that is very guilty of this modern-day social engineering is the genesis of this funding change, you shouldn’t be surprised when there is major blowback.  That’s not jealousy, that’s understanding the implications these actions have on the state.  You want equal funding?  You have to earn that.  Prove it by opening your doors to everyone.  Until then, you can say whatever you want, but we aren’t hearing it.  Not until your demographics show otherwise.