There are always gems to be found when you comb through district and charter board minutes, agendas, and websites. I did that last night and found a ton of stuff! Instead of coming out with a dozen or more articles about it, I thought I would just combine all of it one fell swoop! There is A LOT of material in here so dig in! Continue reading
Lake Forest School District is in the northern part of Sussex County. Student enrollment hovers around the 3,800 mark each year. New Superintendent Brenda Wynder faces many of the same challenges other districts face in Sussex based on property assessments being among the lowest in Delaware. As a result, the district only has 12 administrators making over $100,000. Continue reading
By Delaware state code, we should be seeing this report every single year. In any event, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Fiscal Year 2016 report today. Yes, a year and a half after that fiscal year ended. And guess what the overall finding was? We don’t know what districts are spending cause everyone codes their expenses differently in the state financial system. And this report states the state ALLOWS the districts to do this. They have discretion. What a crock of…
In an attempt to categorize spending items as instructional or non-instructional for further analysis, the Office of Auditor of Accounts (AOA) extracted all voucher and PCard expenditures made from State and local funds by each of the 19 school districts. However, the State’s financial system has over 11,000 active appropriations and over 1,500 active account codes available for use. As a result, we found inconsistencies in expenditure coding across the 19 school districts that prevented us from performing an in-depth analysis of expenditures.
They named nine areas that are either prohibited by accounting rules or were not used for a functional educational purpose. Some of these are sports lottery, florists, online games, and table games. Are you kidding me? And the report found over $98,000 was used for in-state meals. I can picture it now, Joe Superintendent says to himself “I feel like going to Friendly’s for lunch today”. This is absolutely ridiculous. The inspection found that many of these “inconsistencies” were due to human error. Uh-huh. Yes, I get that humans make errors. But how do you miscode sticky buns?
When it comes to food, it looks like Cape Henlopen and Lake Forest looooove to eat out! The report talks about WaWa purchases. I’m sorry, but since when is fast food or deli considered an in-state food purchase? Do what the rest of us do and pay from your own damn wallet. I don’t pay taxes so you can celebrate Hoagiefest all year long!
But this little bit about Lake Forest…wow!
In December 2015, the Lake Forest School District held a holiday dinner for board members, administrators, and their spouses at The Rookery Golf Club in Milford, Delaware, totaling $1,899.30. (This amount is included in the in-State meal transactions described above in the “Employee Recognition purposes” category since administrators were recognized.) A handwritten note on the invoice stated it was approved at a special board meeting in executive session on October 14, 2015.
Are you friggin’ kidding me? Sounds like higher-ups are feasting on the fatted calf called the Delaware accounting system. And with no oversight whatsoever, this is only scratching the iceberg.
And how in the name of God can you have in-state lodging for any school district in this state? You can drive up and down the state in less than two hours. And it looks like Red Clay was the biggest offender.
Not one look into all the vendors school districts use. Not one peak into the millions of dollars going to vendors who write reports and supply schools with cash-in-the-trash ideas. Not one bit. Disgusting. It’s no wonder none of the school districts want to consolidate. God forbid someone actually get a good hard look into how they spend money!
The best part about all this? They could have read my blog posts in July and August of 2016 to do this report. What the hell took them a year and a half to do a report that anyone with an excel file could figure out in three days? It is time for our elected legislators to get the hell off their collective asses and pass some laws indicating school districts and charter schools can NO LONGER use discretion when submitting their expenditures to the state. This is a third of their budget and they are given carte blanche to do pretty much whatever the hell they want. Sure, most of it is most likely legit but when your own state auditor can’t make heads or tails of where well over $1 billion dollars is going, I have some major issues with that. This is unacceptable and it will no longer be tolerated. I don’t care how much time I have to spend at Legislative Hall in 2018 to drum this into their heads. When education loses tons of money each year but we have wine and dine events at the local country club, that is absurd. This is EXACTLY what I wanted to talk to John Carney about after he was elected. But he had to go and blow me off. Big mistake. It’s not like I didn’t warn people this was going on. They just didn’t want to hear it. Carney just wanted to set up his self-destruct mechanisms for Delaware education, just like his predecessor. And as he sets off on his warped plan to charterize Wilmington schools, he could care less about where the money is going.
Delaware legislators: Cut the crap. I don’t want to hear your whining and complaining come next June about the budget and how you are doing everything you can. Change some laws. Make crap accountable and stop kissing asses all over the state. Do your job! The jig is up. I don’t necessarily blame the auditor’s office for all this. They inspect what they are able to. It is our General Assembly that needs to wake the hell up. You have allowed this scenario to happen. You have allowed this “discretion” that makes a Rubik’s Cube in a three-year-old’s hands look easy compared to the hot mess called First State Financials. No more excuses. Pass legislation demanding that every single expenditure be coded in a uniform way among ALL school districts and charter schools. And yes, charter schools should have been included in this report as well. But no way in hell would that happen because this report would have found a lot more “inconsistencies” and we all know it. But the General Assembly as a whole likes to protect and coddle them. Exactly what is wrong with Delaware education. If I sound pissed off, it’s cause I am. And every single taxpayer in this state should be ticked off as well.
To read this obscenity where money is unaccountable and untrackable and uncrackable and takes money away from where it is truly needed, please read below.
Now that all the surveys are up, it is time for endorsements! I’ve known who I was going to endorse in a few elections for some time. Some I changed my mind on. Some I have always known who I would NOT endorse. Some I wavered back and forth on. Some races won’t get an endorsement from me at all. I don’t always go with the “popular” candidate. I look, as best I can, at the issues facing education and which candidate is willing to stick their neck out and do what is best for students. The biggest thing is if the candidate knows what the issues are. Without further ado, here come the endorsements: Continue reading
Lake Forest and Milford School Districts in lower Delaware have big races for the 2017 School Board Election. In Lake Forest, there is a three-way race between Austin Auen, Phillip Thomas, and Stephanie Justiano Johnson. For Milford, an epic five-way race has Ronald Evans, Michael Firch, Jason Miller, Michael McKain, and Michael Wells vying for the At-Large seat. Milford has another open seat in Area D, but only Judith Purcell filed so she gets the board seat.
I reached out to the candidates in all the Delaware school districts. For Lake Forest, I received a response back from Austin Auen. For Milford, Ronald Evans and Michael McKain responded. I used the contact information on the Kent County Department of Elections website as well as combing through Facebook. I also gave “public notice” about the surveys on this blog if I did not have contact information. I want to thank those who did respond with great answers to tough questions. Don’t forget to vote on May 9th! Continue reading
The Delaware accounting system is a train wreck of epic proportions. I found 100% proof funds were switched around that benefit certain schools. We have one charter school that can’t even follow proper accounting procedures and another charter school that seems to think Student Body Activities are their personal playground.
For something like this chart, I would expect to see school districts firmly in the lead, but we don’t see that at all. Cape Henlopen is a bit of an oddity when it comes to Delaware school districts. They get a lot of money from school taxes and the residents in those areas don’t seem to mind paying them. But Newark Charter School, with $445,000 in student body activities? That is an excessively high amount. For a charter school with a student population of less than 14% of the neighboring Christina School District, they spend 17 times more on activities for students than Christina. Four districts and one charter don’t even have anything coded as “Student Body Activity” with the state: Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Delmar, Sussex Tech, and Sussex Academy. Do they not have any student body activities or do they just put it somewhere else in the Rubik’s Cube called the Delaware Financial System (DFS)?
So how does this even work? Are districts and charters paying out for field trips and fun activities and then reimbursing those costs as revenue generated from parents paying for them? Are these schools paying for them without collecting any money from students? Or is it a combination of both?
Do these activities affect the bottom line for the per student costs for each district and charter school?
Rocketing to number one with $108,000 in student body activity costs based on their number of students is Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security (DAPSS). That sure is a lot of field trips! We know they bought a fire truck for their students last winter, but those funds were generated from a collection by students. So what accounts for such a high amount based on their student population? I went on Delaware Online Checkbook and found that DAPPS is coding all their student transportation costs under student body activity. So that throws their numbers way off! We can clearly see the transportation costs as part of this category, with an amount totaling $84,236. Had they coded this correctly, under student transportation, their costs for student body activity would have been a little over $23,000.
For Newark Charter School’s student body activity expenses on Delaware Online Checkbook, there is no explanation for their very high amounts. While we do see transportation costs, they are not as high as DAPSS. They appear to be transportation costs associated with field trips. What is even more bizarre are the many payments going to certain individuals. As if they are parents or teachers. We see amounts going out to American Airlines for 26 purchases of what I assume to be airline tickets at $818 each and one for $875 totaling over $21,000 on 2/5/16 which were bought with the state procurement card on 1/15/16. I reviewed NCS board minutes and found no mention of any big field trips for students taking place that would warrant such high airline ticket prices. The state’s accounting manual is explicit that no state employee can purchase first class airline tickets. So where was this trip to that cost $818 for each ticket?
Cape Henlopen has an obscene amount of p-card activity associated with student body activities under student body activity. Like Newark Charter School, I see a lot of names associated with these charges.
Where this gets incredibly odd is when I went to look at examples of student body activity for different school districts and charters. A Delaware citizen submitted a FOIA request to the state and received the FOIA in early July. All of this citizen’s information was run by the Department of Finance on 7/2/16 for every single district and charter school’s expenses for Fiscal Year 2016. June 30th was the end of the fiscal year. All the charts and graphs I have made to date have been based on those figures. But upon review, amounts are changing in the state accounting system. The total expenditures for each district and charter are the same, but funds are moving around in the coding system. As an example, Odyssey Charter School showed over $35,000 in student body activity costs. But when I look now on Delaware Online Checkbook, the amount is over $153,000. This trend occurred with many districts and charters, some for nominal amounts and some for rather considerable amounts. And this is just under student body activity expenses.
In looking at Odyssey, it became clear something was up, so I was able to actually find the exact amount that was shifted over to student body activity.
In the above picture, we clearly see Odyssey Charter School, as of 21:06:44 on 07/02/16 had a total amount for FY2016 in Student Body Activity in the amount of $35,831.91.
In the above snapshot, taken from Delaware Online Checkbook today about ten minutes ago, we clearly see an amount showing $153,958.79. The difference between the two is $118,126.88. That is a rather steep increase for student body activities! In looking at their expenses for student body activity for Odyssey, I found two rather large amounts going to First Student Inc. This is the bus company Odyssey uses. As seen in the below picture, the two charges were for $69,486.40 and $48,640.48. If you add those up, you get $118,126.88. Now why would those funds be shifted from some other category to student body activity?
The two payments to First Student Inc. are listed in the below picture.
So if $118,126.88 was shifted to Student Body Activity, where did the funds come from? If Odyssey’s total expenditures didn’t change, what happened to the money? In the FOIA from 7/2/16, it clearly shows Odyssey’s Fleet Rental costs at $612,546.34.
Now watch what happens when I go on Delaware Online Checkbook to find out the current Fleet Rental amount for Odyssey Charter School…
Wait, it went down from $612,546.34 to $494,419.46. That is a difference of $118,126.88…
There is one thing charter schools get that traditional school districts don’t get. Some call it the transportation slush fund. Every year, in the epilogue to the state budget, there is a stipulation that allows charter schools to keep any difference between their budgeted amount for transportation and what they actually spend. For Odyssey, this is listed as “Transportation” in their budget. These costs go up each year. But how much did charter schools get to keep from these surplus funds. Surely it wasn’t that much. In the below pictures from FY2014 and FY2015, we see how much charters get back from this slush fund.
Odyssey has clearly benefitted from this arrangement with legislators that has continued for the past seven years in the epilogue of the state budget. I sincerely hope charters aren’t hiding any funds so they can actually get more from the Delaware Charter School Transportation Slush Fund then they already are!
What I am more curious about with these coding changes are 1) Why are they happening, 2) Who is making the changes, and 3) Are both the districts or charters and the state aware of these changes if only one of them are making the changes? Something to keep in mind is this simple fact: this is only for Student Body Activity. There are hundreds of codes in the Delaware Financial System. This is just what I could find for our schools in one code.
In the picture above, this is based on rounded off figures to the nearest dollar which is why the Odyssey number doesn’t match up with the $118,126.88 I mentioned a few times. I have not been able to look at the other schools to see where the money is going to. Odyssey was easy because of the high amounts involved. While some of these amounts are small, what other shifts are going on? Why are they going on for other areas if they are? We know districts and charters code things incorrectly but who monitors that? Does anyone? And how much does all this shifting of taxpayer dollars affect funding for the next fiscal year?
I would strongly recommend each district or charter school Chief Operating Officer or Business Manager proactively gets in touch with me and voluntarily lets me know of any changes being made to the Delaware Financial System, the justification for these changes, and how they are able to do it. If they aren’t aware of these changes, they need to let me know that as well. Because as I go through each of the different codes in the coming weeks, I will find more. I’ve already done a cursory glance at different (and major) categories and found excessive sums of money shifting around. If you don’t get in touch with me, don’t get upset when I blast the lack of transparency from your school or district in each article. We know this is happening. So the choice is simple: be held accountable or be honest. If there is funny business, you know I will expose it and call you out on it. And each time, I am submitting requests to the State Auditor’s office for each and every category. So you can ignore me all you want, but know that someone else will be knocking on your door. And if the State Auditor’s office ignores this, it is time to take steps at a Federal level. None of you who are manipulating funds will be allowed to do so anymore. If the Auditor won’t hold you accountable, I will. And I will make so much noise you won’t be able to hear above the outcries of the citizens in your district or charter school. This begins now. I don’t want to hear any crap about “I didn’t know” or “no one ever told me”. You are all subject to the rules of this state. Your excuses are exactly that: an excuse. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you won’t have anything to worry about. But someone has to shake all this up and see what settles at the bottom.
I sincerely hope I’m not spoiling anyone’s party and ruining a chance to get some extra money for themselves. The party’s over. Deal with it.
This is an important message for ALL Lake Forest School District parents: You need to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. If they started already, do not let them take one more second of this test. Refuse The Test! The Network of Public Education is calling for a National Opt Out of these high-stakes tests. They aren’t effective at all, and everyone knows it. These tests are being used for nefarious purposes. Do not believe the lies coming out of Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education. They care more about corporate profit than your child. It doesn’t matter if your kid is smart. It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican. What matters is your child, and their education. This is not education. It is a mockery of education.
Please give the principal of your child’s school a letter on Monday morning indicating you are opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Let the school know you want your child to receive academic instruction while the other kids are taking the test. If they tell you that you can’t opt your child out, look them in the eye and say “Yes I can, and if you make my child take this test I will call the police.” To get support from other parents, please join the Opt Out Lake Forest Facebook Page.
Sussex Academy, the only Delaware charter school in Sussex County, was one of the best Smarter Balanced scoring schools in the entire county. This is not an accident, nor is it an indication they are the “best” school in the county. Like the Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy was named in the ACLU lawsuit against the State of Delaware last December for discrimination against minority and special needs students. Or what the blogosphere collectively calls “cherry-picking”. The school is smack dab in the middle of Sussex County.
On the Delaware Department of Education school profiles part of their website, it shows the school’s demographics. Sussex County has a very large population of Hispanics. Western Sussex County is considered one of the poorest sections of the state and that trend is expected to increase over time.
In previous articles, this blog and Delaware Liberal have focused on New Castle County, Capital School District, and all the Delaware charters. Our graphs have shown the effect low-income and poverty has on Smarter Balanced performance. Unfortunately, this trend continues in Sussex County as seen below. Since Sussex Academy is primarily a middle school (although their high school is increasing, with 9th grade added two years ago, 10th grade last year, and 11th grade this year), I ran the graph with just the middle schools surrounding the school. Sussex Academy appears to be siphoning away the “better” students from their surrounding districts.
To put this in perspective, Laurel Intermediate School is currently a Priority School in Delaware, which slipped under the radar of most bloggers until recently. Meanwhile, Sussex Academy is praised by Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE as a great success. All schools would be considered awesome if they were allowed to do what Sussex Academy does with their application process and mythical “lottery”. Like Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter School to some extent, the veil has been lifted and these schools are not superior schools. They have merely placed themselves on that stage by picking who they want, and more importantly, who they don’t want.
While their Hispanic population seems high, 9.6%, compared to many of the other schools, it is very low. Sussex Academy is in Georgetown, the same as Georgetown Middle School. Watch what happens…
In theory then, does the same hold true for the percentage of English Language Learners in Sussex County? Not exactly. Even though a few schools have less Hispanic students, Sussex Academy has the lowest percentage of English Language Learners.
How does Sussex Academy compare to the other schools with special education? I’m sure you know the answer already, but there is a very wide margin between the school and the others.
In fact, they are in the low single-digits compared to the schools surrounding them. When I see this, it always reminds me of the scene in Forrest Gump, when young Forrest tries to find a seat on the bus and the one kids says to him “Can’t sit here.” This is what Sussex Academy does with their blatant discrimination against low-income students, Hispanics, and students with disabilities. But I’m sure they will be recognized as a “reward” or “recognition” school for their exemplary performance…