If you thought the arrow Delaware Governor John Carney shot through Christina School District’s heart was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet! Plans are afoot. And what will be left standing after Carney does his coup d’état will shock everyone! Continue reading “Carney Cremates Christina”
House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced on June 29th last year, will be on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting tomorrow. One line in the legislation offended many, including myself, when it was brought to my attention.
WHEREAS, special education represents a growing financial burden on school districts as the need for services increases.
I can pretty much guarantee any parent of a student with disabilities would take offense to that wording. While it is true that special education costs have risen over the past decade, referring to those costs as a “financial burden” is not a wise choice of words. Schools have an obligation, under both state and federal law, to provide those services regardless of cost. Which is exactly how folks took it on social media last night. I do not think that was the intent of the legislators who sponsored the bill.
As well, parents took offense to there only being one slot on this task force for a parent. That seat would be determined by the Delaware PTA. The bill has an odd mix of sponsors. With the majority of the sponsors as Republicans, some wondered why Democrat State Senator Nicole Poore would sign on as the prime Senate sponsor. In addition, Democrat State Rep. Ed Osienski also signed on as a co-sponsor.
State Senator Brian Pettyjohn joined in on the conversation and doubted the resolution would appear in the Delaware Senate.
Last week, news from Texas regarding allegations against the Texas Education Agency shocked Americans everywhere. A report said the TEA was limiting the number of special education students in The Lonestar State since 2004. Their special education population dropped from 11% to 8% over a seven-year period even though most states saw dramatic increases in those student populations. Many blame caps instituted by the Texas legislature on special education funding. Which is eerily similar to the recommendations a task force like this could come out with.
While I don’t believe there was ill intent with this legislation, the optics on it could not be worse. In conjunction with the news from Texas, a lawsuit filed by the Delaware ACLU today against the state has special education funding as part of the overall complaint with education funding.
I have been saying for years that Delaware needs to revamp how they submit payments in their state financial system. No one follows the recommended spending codes so it is impossible to track how money is being spent. Especially with special education. That should be an easy problem for our legislators to fix but no one wants to take up the baton. Not sure why. It isn’t a change to the Delaware Constitution. It would be a simple bill mandating our school districts and charter schools accurately code expenditures in a uniform process. And the Delaware Department of Education would have to oversee this and implement regulations in regards to Delaware state code. Any task force, committee, workgroup or other such thing looking at any facet of education spending is useless until this is done first. Which legislator wants to twirl a baton? Anyone?
Meanwhile, HCR #34 is on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. Delaware State Education Association President Mike Matthews said DSEA does not support the legislation on one of the Facebook posts that came out last night. I would hope that when legislation like this comes out that our state legislators would look at the wording of their bills or resolutions. The people are watching them.
In a shocking announcement, the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union wants to sue the State of Delaware over education funding. But the announcement was not made by the ACLU but rather a Capital School District Board of Education member at their meeting last evening. Continue reading “Delaware ACLU Planning To Sue State Over Education Funding”
The Delaware Senate Education Committee tackled the 5 mile radius bill today with some explosive comments from Senator David Sokola, mostly in response to a public comment. Warning: some of the comments conveyed today will get people very angry. Continue reading “Senator Sokola: “Maybe Christina Should Give One Of Their Buildings To Newark Charter School””
Vice-Chancellor Laster, a Chancery Court for the State of Delaware judge, finally ruled on the Red Clay referendum lawsuit. The very long ruling, clocking in at 186 pages, blasts Delaware’s antiquated method of property tax assessment and delves deep into education funding as a whole for the state of Delaware.
The final ruling, issued today, found fault with Red Clay for going over the line with their Parent Events at 23 Red Clay schools during their February 2015 referendum. But he also stated that the entire referendum process is one of great pressure for school districts and individuals in those situations can dance around what is wrong or right. He found they did not act with intended malice but for the public good since referendum results in the positive bring public schools money to fund them. As a result, he ruled against Red Clay redoing the entire referendum and refunding taxes already paid from it.
The lawsuit was filed by an elderly couple and their daughter through the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union. The plaintiffs claimed they were not able to vote because of inadequate parking due to the parent events staged to bring in positive votes for the referendum.
The ruling suggests no referenda in Delaware would ever have to take place if properties were assessed based on current home values.
This is an amazing read if you are at all interested in current education funding in Delaware. With Colonial facing a must-pass referendum or several teachers and educators will be let go, this decision could have a major bearing on any events they might be planning for their 2nd referendum attempt this year in the beginning of June.
This will be a big question for future referenda in Delaware. Does this ruling set a precedent for all referenda that no events can be held at schools during a referendum?
Last December, the 15 Delaware charter schools and the Christina School District settled in a lawsuit over local funding from Christina to the charters. The district agreed to pay that portion of their local funding (even though the Delaware DOE colossally screwed up) going forward and both the DOE and Christina had to pay the charters attorney fees. As well, wording in the settlement around special education funding indicated there could be a change in the air with those payments. As well, the match tax was brought up in the settlement (but not decided on) and whether charters should get a portion of that. Almost six months later, I am curious if you agree or not whether this was a fair settlement.
Over two years later, the Wahl family and Brandywine have settled on a matter involving zero tolerance and due process. As reported by Amy Cherry with WDEL this morning, Patrick Wahl, father of Joseph Wahl, has reached an agreement with the Brandywine School District. In January of 2015, Joseph Wahl was suspended for bringing “sharp objects” to school. While not intentional, the discovery of the objects were ripe with controversy. Patrick Wahl began a one-man crusade to change the district’s zero tolerance policy.
I’ve been following this story for years now and I am delighted Wahl and Brandywine were able to work this out. This morning, Patrick Wahl released the following statement:
FINALLY! JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH — AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!
I’m very happy to report that the Brandywine School District and my family have settled our differences. I would like to thank the Brandywine School District for all of the work they’ve done to improve policies and to prevent the situation that occurred with my family from ever happening again. At their heart, these changes recognize that “exclusionary discipline” — out-of-school suspensions and expulsions which deny children their property right to a free education — must not be doled out cavalierly, and should be treated with all the seriousness and due process that denying this property right merits.
I said that Joseph’s suspension would not stand. It fell. I said that policies would be changed. They have been. And I said that Delaware’s “Zero Tolerance” laws which tie the hands of school administrators must go. They’re next.
As a result of Joseph’s case, the District has already created and implemented a new, mandatory training program for administrators regarding student rights, due process, what reasonable suspicion is and what it isn’t, how to conduct searches properly, and what the grievance processes are should a student or parent feel treated unfairly. They have fixed their Defiance Policy, clarifying that students can refuse certain requests without fear of punishment. Students will know why they are being searched and absent an immediate threat, students will be allowed to await their parent before any individualized search of their person or personal possessions.
Whenever a student is suspended from school, he or she will be given a form that is now truly informative, even including the contact information for any police officer who has been notified. No parent need lay awake ever again worrying that his child is under criminal investigation, and without any way to find out the status of that investigation. Steps to appeal the suspension are now spelled out on this very form, as is notification of any right to stay in school during an appeal process.
Even more importantly, the District will issue a position statement opposing “Zero Tolerance” laws and calling for our legislators to give our school administrators the ability to address disciplinary issues on a case by case basis. The District vows to lobby for this discretion. Schools breaking their silence on this issue is exactly what’s needed to get our legislators to reform bad law.
Remember when the Christina School District expelled the third-grader whose grandmother had sent a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it to the school? The teacher used the knife, then reported the girl to the administration for having brought a dangerous weapon to the school. This mind-boggling case led to Delaware amending a law and giving school districts the ability to consider the circumstances when making expulsion decisions. That same law must now be amended once more, this time to include suspension decisions. It is a very simple change to make.
Out-of-school suspensions for first-time, unintentional offenses are especially harmful to the marginal, at-risk student. How many disciplinary issues would be better handled by an in-school suspension, where the offender can be assigned educational tasks like writing an essay about his behavior, performing some service around the school, and perhaps apologizing in front of an assembly? If there is no investigation as to who started a fight, are we punishing the victim and turning a blind eye to bullying?
Case by case does not mean weak! On the contrary, when a punishment does not fit the offense, students learn not about justice but about injustice. Students do not turn in found contraband, because they fear, correctly, that doing so will get them punished. They learn to subvert rules and policies and to have no respect for authority.
How long will Delaware schools be forced to treat plastic knives the same way they treat guns? How long are we going to keep pretending that the Advil a student inadvertently brings to school might as well have been cocaine? What happens when a student from a broken home, already feeling that school may not be the place for him, is told he is not welcome on school grounds or in school activities for a week? How does further alienating him from the school advance his education or that of others? It’s time we end the criminalization of childish mistakes. Zero tolerance policies, too, will fall.
Thank you very much to all of you for your support. Community involvement is essential if our schools are to thrive.
Oh, and one more thing.
I’m 51 years old and starting law school at Widener in the fall!
Hey, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old!
Wahl was not alone in issuing a statement. The district released the following language concerning the issue:
The District appreciates Joseph Wahl raising awareness of potential imperfections in the Defiance, Search and Seizure, and Due Process provisions in our Student Code of Conduct. While we admit no liability, we have used Joseph’s situation as a learning opportunity and have made substantive changes to the District’s policies, procedures, and practices including changes to our Student Code of Conduct. We have also implemented safeguards to ensure teachers, administrators, and other school employees are properly trained regarding the students’ rights. These revised provisions are available on the District’s Facebook page, website and will be printed in the next printed version of the Student Code of Conduct. Faculty and staff will be receiving training on these revised procedures.”
It looks like Brandywine’s zero tolerance policy will become a thing of the past. All Delaware school districts should get rid of these obscene policies. Our General Assembly should do whatever it takes to make them extinct as well. While no one wants a Columbine situation at our schools, there is such a thing as taking things too far. Zero tolerance results in situations exactly like what Joseph Wahl went through.
Never underestimate the will and resolve of a parent when something doesn’t feel quite right. Wahl fought the district, the Brandywine Board of Education, took it to the State Board of Education, had a FOIA complaint ruled in his son’s favor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and filed suit. Some have said he didn’t have to do this, but look at the results. He got the district to change a policy. That is not an easy thing to do, especially when dealing with a discipline issue. I salute Wahl for his perseverance.
If Wahl does become a lawyer, I can only imagine what opposing attorneys would go through in a courtroom if this case was any indication.
To follow the storyline of Wahl v. Brandywine, please go to the following links. It looks like all of Wahl’s Youtube videos are no longer viewable.
Yes, the words “chicken-fried awesome” were used by a Christina board member last night. But first they had to get through 45 excruciating minutes of approving their agenda. Board member Harrie-Ellen Minnehan introduced motions to remove three action items from the agenda and to table another item. That was just the beginning of a meeting that had topics as varied as car shopping to a very strong use of the word culpability. A member of the audience drew a great rendering of the meeting and asked me to put it in this article.
The four motions Minnehan put forth failed to move forward. Board member Shirley Saffer kept alleging Minnehan had a personal agenda going on. There was a ton of discussion about the motions and how it was unprecedented for one board member to attempt to remove action items like that. As a result of the motions, what should have been a 1-2 minutes process turned into a 45 minute ordeal for the audience. A lot of the audience had come for the presenting of the Honor Roll which is done right after the approval of the agenda and board minutes.
The charter settlement with Christina fell after a 3-4 vote by the board, exactly how the vote went when they voted for the settlement two weeks ago. Board member Fred Polaski tried to convince everyone that he believed the district would lose if it went to court with the charters. He offered no viable reason for why he felt they would lose. But it didn’t seem to matter because the board was clearly divided on many of the same action items with Polaski, Minnehan, George Evans and Meg Mason on one side. On the other were members John Young, Saffer, and President Elizabeth Paige. Young stated the minutes of the executive meeting would now become public since the need for the meeting was no longer valid and the settlement is public. He said he will be submitting updated minutes on that meeting. He also stated he had concerns about the culpability of the district in the matter. He also had grave concerns about the back and forth between the district and attorneys over Thanksgiving weekend and what amounted to a short time period of 90 minutes for the board to review the settlement. Young said that would make for a very interesting FOIA request. He had many concerns about the authority of charter leaders in signing the document, such as an Interim Principal, a Head of School, or a Board President. He reviewed many charter school bylaws and did not see that authority granted to those parties without permission from the entire board. He also did not special board meetings for the charter boards to vote on the settlement.
One of the shockers of the evening (and there were many), was the situation with the Montessori program in Christina. There was an action item to end the program. This became the controversy of the evening as parents and staff members gave public comment in support of the program. When it came time for the board to discuss the matter, Paige asked a question that solidified a crucial problem with the district, that of transparency. Delaware schools receive academic excellence units which they are free to cash in and do as they please. The Montessori program had three of those units. Paige asked about them and it was revealed by the district the Honors Academy would use three academic excellence units. While the district hemmed and hawed about the “coincidence”, Paige said the “optics” look very bad. In a rare moment of unity, the board voted 6-1 in favor of keeping the program with Polaski as the lone no vote. This prompted Young’s quote of the evening. He said the district believes competition is so “chicken-fried awesome” that they should be doing everything they can to get students who are a wait list at First Sstate Montessori Academy into Christina’s Montessori program. Board member Polaski suggested partnering up with the Wilmington charter school to have them open a satellite school in the Christina school district. No one even responded to this rather absurd notion. But it did point to what I see as a very charter friendly Polaski.
Once again, with a 3-4 vote, the board voted against annulling the Honors Academy vote from November with the same 3-4 blocks. Young pointed out that many of Christina’s existing Cambridge programs are disproportionate with the amount of minorities represented in them. The irony of the district wanting to close a program where there is equity (the Montessori program) in favor of moving forward with a program which has a strong potential of inequity (The Honors Academy) did not escape members of the audience. Concerns around placement tests, a parent letter, and standardized test scores were the chief reasons three of the board members wanted to annul the prior vote. There were also concerns around opt out and how the application for the academy could penalize those students who were opted out despite a board policy that explicitly forbids that.
The point of exhaustion for members of the audience surrounded the district’s Superintendent interviews. Yesterday, the Delaware Attorney General answered a FOIA complaint surrounding the board’s November executive meeting to formulate questions for the Superintendent candidate. Some board members refused to participate in the meeting since they had already figured out it would be a FOIA violation. This prompted the board to make public the questions for candidates. There was also a matter about interviewing the candidates the week before Christmas and a mad rush to get it done. As a result, the board voted in favor of naming an Interim Superintendent with Noreen LaSorsa taking on the role. It was agreed the board would conduct Superintendent interviews the first week of January. Saffer argued the board needed the public to see the candidates in the schools and interacting with students and staff as they had done in the past. Board member Evans said he would not participate in any of that. Young’s action item to begin the Superintendent search again to get a more diverse pool of candidates fell with a 2-5 vote with Saffer and Young as the two no votes.
This board is a house divided. Mostly between common sense and… I don’t know what. On the one side we have Young, Paige, and Saffer who seem to know the law and sees how decisions made today could cause problems in the future. On the other is the not-so Fantastic Four who always seem to be in this frantic hurry to get things done now without looking at all of the angles. They also seem to be easily intimidated by the district and outside forces. This shapes their votes. Minnehan took a pointed jab at Young as she said she would never want to go car-shopping with him because he takes too long to make a decision. I would rather have that than winding up with a lemon Mrs. Minnehan! As I drove down to Dover after this very long meeting which entered an actual new day, I saw a warrior district succumbing to the privatization movement that is paralyzing public education. I believed for a long time Christina was the last hold-out in Delaware, but after some of the votes last night, it was painfully obvious the last blockade fell. At this point, Delaware needs a hero. We need an Obi-Wan moment where someone answers the call of “you’re my only hope“. Will that person come from Christina or somewhere else?
I gave the following public comment to the board last night but despite my six minutes thanks to borrowed time, I was not able to get to the end of it which I will notate in the below comment.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the Christina School District Board of Education. It has been a long time since I came up to this podium to speak before this board. The last time I did so was seventeen months ago. I believe Ms. Minnehan was the Board President at that time. A lot happened at that meeting. I did want to offer an apology in regards to that. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to give public comment here.
I have a lot to talk about tonight, mostly in regards to the charter school shakedown, er, uhm, lawsuit.
First, can you please, for the love of all we hold sacred, fix the sound for the audio recordings on your website? It is a recurring issue and I’m certain it wouldn’t cost that much money to correct this.
Second, I am very curious why a FOIA request I sent to the district was never followed up on. I sent a FOIA request to the district asking for the past three years of all air quality inspections for every single one of the Christina schools. I received an email back that a cost estimate would be forthcoming. That was almost two months ago. I received nothing. As Delaware state code gives any public agency a period of 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, the district has violated FOIA. Please remedy this by tomorrow so I do not have to file another FOIA complaint with the Delaware Attorney General’s office. Which I’m sure this district has had enough of. But I digress.
I do not believe the board should even entertain not voting on the rescission of the settlement. I am glad that motion failed. (I adlibbed the last sentence because of the board not passing Minnehan’s motion but I am not entirely sure on the wording). I believe it is very important you vote in the majority to vote yes on rescinding the settlement. As we all know, this was brought forth by Greg Meece over at Newark Charter School. What has never been answered is HOW Greg Meece suddenly, last winter, decided to get a meeting with the fine people at the Delaware DOE. How, all of a sudden, Meece knew EXACTLY what to look for. According to a letter Meece wrote last week to the parents of NCS students, Secretary Godowsky never knew about the change to the local funding formula. So Godowsky reversing a decision he never made, which was cited in the lawsuit and settlement, is frivolous at best. This entire shenanigan was meant to intimidate Christina, and sadly, the district took the bait. They didn’t just take the bait, they swallowed it and regurgitated it to four board members who voted out of fear rather than common sense. That is something that needs to be reversed tonight. I would rather see this district take this ALL THE WAY than see one more penny going out of this district to certain charters who want for nothing. If anything, the DOE should be the entity paying for this year’s charter share of the 2003 referendum and all future costs due to their colossal screw-up, not just getting off the hook by paying for half the attorney fees. But more than that, what may not have come out of all this, is the role the Office of Management and Budget played. As Brian Stephan wrote in a recent article on Delaware Liberal, something happened in 2014 that changed everything with the local funding formula. What he didn’t write, which he may not have been aware of, was why everything changed that year. The Office of Management and Budget, a section of Governor Jack Markell’s office, took over the responsibility from Mark Murphy to oversee this aspect of Delaware education financing. Oh so coincidentally, that was the same year the Delaware DOE launched the priority schools debacle and launched a coordinated attack against Christina when this board would not cower and buckle to Governor Markell’s shameful education agendas. While I am not an attorney or an accountant, I am just a blogger. According to Newark Charter School parents, I’m a sneaky snake blogger. But it is my belief this omission of paying the charter schools their portion of the 2003 referendum was, at best, an egregious error that the State of Delaware should pay moving forward. If that were not enough, the fact that tuition and match taxes were brought up in the settlement is very troubling. The charters have no right to those funds so why it was brought up in a settlement is beyond me. I certainly hope none of that nonsense was the district’s idea. That just opens the door for future siphoning of district funds the local taxpayers entrusted to the district, not to fifteen charter schools. If I’m not mistaken, Christina does not get large donations from the Longwood Foundation, they don’t get a larger proportion of minor capital funds based on their student populations like the charters do, and they certainly don’t get to keep excess transportation funds under their “budgeted” amount.
While we can sit here and pretend the charter cabal, led by Saul Ewing LLC, is a force to be reckoned with, the simple fact is they made unprecedented money grab. This could have been done a dozen different ways, but they chose threats and intimidation, with support from certain legislators in both the House and the Senate, to get what they wanted. As a result, if this board does NOT rescind the settlement, it will continue to give away funds this district desperately needs to 15 charter schools who have more than enough money already. And if you are going to put your trust in the Delaware Dept. of Education to do the right thing, you have already put one more nail in the coffin of this district.
At this point my time ran out, but this is how I planned to finish my public comment:
I strongly urge this board to continue to keep CSD moving forward. That does not mean responding to bullying threats by what amounts to non-profit corporations in Delaware. That means fighting for what is yours. As your CFO, Bob Silber, rightly argued, this district did what they were supposed to do. It was the State that screwed up. If this board is truly supposed to represent this district, and not Saul Ewing, Greg Meece, and the charters that have taken more funding from this district than any other force in this state, they will need to do the right thing and rescind this farce of a settlement that will allow charter schools to plunder funds not just from Christina, but would set a precedent for every district in this state.
I love the fact that the anonymous donation to Stubbs was highlighted by so much media in this state. But those students deserve more than having additional funds taken from them that would put the lunch balance to shame.
Thank you, and I do want to wish all of you a great holiday. Bob A, thank you for the Frozen memory. Good luck in your future endeavors.
To read the response to the FOIA complaint from the Delaware Attorney General’s office, please read below:
New details emerged in the never-ending Christina-Delaware Department of Education-15 Charter Schools lawsuit/settlement thanks to Newark Charter School leader Greg Meece. I guess now that the ink is dry on the settlement, people can say whatever they want, right Greg? We shall see!
From the Weekly Bulletin sent to Newark Charter School parents yesterday afternoon:
Follow-up on the settlement letter
This will provide additional information and clarification about the recent settlement of the lawsuit filed by NCS and 14 other charter schools over what we considered to be funding errors which cost charter schools – and their students – a fair amount over the years. Because we are satisfied with the agreement reached over local funds and pleased with the new level of transparency created by the agreement, we are happy to offer the following clarifications:
– We stated that the general idea is that the property taxes paid by residents, which are initially held by the local school districts, should follow the child when families choose to enroll their children to a public charter or choice school in Delaware. We believe that, for whatever reasons, in the case of Christina School District (CSD) that was not being done. But we also concede that, as in most settlements, the district admitted no wrongdoing.
– We stated that the August decision was made by the Secretary of Education. Actually, the August decision was made by other Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) executives and Secretary Godowsky was not involved until later. In September, he reversed his Department’s earlier decision and we sued.
– Finally, we said that “both CSD and DDOE agreed to cover the cost of the charter schools’ legal costs.” Let us clarify. In the complaint filed in court, we demanded an award of attorneys’ fees. During the negotiations, we pressed that same demand. The resulting agreement, while not mentioning the subject of attorneys’ fees, provides for a one-time payment of $150k from each defendant. Naturally, the plaintiffs are free to spend that one-time payment as they see fit and have decided to pay their legal fees with it, and we have been told that both DDOE and CSD are paying that amount directly to the charter schools’ attorneys. We are told, in CSD’s case, that payment is funded from “true-up” funds created by a switch in the method of calculating the share going to charter schools.
We hope these clarifications resolve any confusion about the settlement and want to reiterate its essence: both sides agreed to a sharing of local revenues that each believes represents fair compromise and charters will now be given the information in coming years to assure that fairness continues. We are pleased that the Department and CSD have approved the settlement and look forward to working with each in the future.
Ah, Greg Meece, you are crafty. That is for sure! So if I understand this correctly (as well as the thousands of readers who are probably sitting with a dropped jaw right about now), Secretary Godowsky did NOT know about the changes to the local funding formula. Which is one of his job duties, to approve that formula by September 1st. But one could presume, if no changes were presented to him, there would be nothing to approve if the old formula was used. So can someone please tell me why the 15 charters named Godowsky personally in the lawsuit if they knew he did nothing wrong? And it’s not like this is new news. State Rep. Earl Jaques confirmed this in an email I published three months ago.
Greg Meece, are you telling me your attorneys willfully put something in a lawsuit they KNEW wasn’t true? Or was this oh-so-little detail discovered after the lawsuit was filed? Either way, it would have come up before the settlement was written. But the settlement specifically gives details about Godowsky back-tracking on his decision. But it was never a decision he made to begin with. So this ENTIRE mess went down because Delaware Dept. of Education officials neglected to give their State Cabinet-level superior information that IS IN STATE CODE and they only have to pay $150,000 to the charters for “whatever they choose but we planned it ahead of time to pay the attorney fees“. This seems VERY convenient. Too convenient. If this is not the very definition of a shakedown, I don’t know what is. Maybe Secretary Godowsky should sue the fifteen charter schools for a frivolous lawsuit. And Bob Silber. And the Christina School District. The only way Meece can say this wasn’t Christina’s fault is because of the nature of settlements. People try to tell me what a great guy Meece is. I don’t see it. Someone who is okay with playing games with tens of thousands of student lives, staff members, educators, and taxpaying citizens is not in my definition of a good guy.
So we have Greg Meece, the same guy who got this snowball rolling down the hill to begin with, openly admitting this was all the DOE’s fault, but he is glad Christina and the charters could come up with a mutual agreement? Are you out of your damn mind Meece? So why was Christina even named in the lawsuit to begin with if this was all a colossal screw-up by the DOE? IF I were the attorney for this, the only legal option would be to go after the DOE. UNLESS I was already planning on a settlement. With some other easter eggs thrown in for good measure. Things like the tuition and match taxes. Opening the door for them. Very smart. Very shady. Very Delaware. And 4 out of 7 Christina board members fell for it. For now. There is still some information that hasn’t come out yet Greg. But I know it. And it will. Good luck with THAT weekly bulletin Greg! But I do want to thank you for reading my article I put out last Monday based on your last missive to the NCS parents. Had I not put that article up, would you be bending over backwards trying to “clarify” things with NCS parents? I tend to doubt it.
To read the FULL NCS Weekly Bulletin, and learn all about the have to see it to believe it “Hour Of Code”, see below.
Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads. As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters. This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.
As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools. The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st. They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out. But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett. As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000. How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money? How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?
If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education. They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters. Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE. This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina. The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this. The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it. And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly. But instead, they kept this a secret for many months. They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset. These were huge funding changes with charter payments. This was not a wise move for the charters involved. By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war. It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent. It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.
In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters. Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.
She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.
“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.
There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement. The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District. As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement. It states:
In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD. The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students. If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.
So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?
For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.
Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:
§ 604 Special programs.
(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.
(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.
(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.
The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government. They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade. They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades. Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined. The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers. It is not something the district can change on a whim. And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for. What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs. Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services. Then we get into the definition of a comparable service. Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?
Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section. It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways. State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters. As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do. That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws. We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware. A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law. Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process. I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters. Which is even more concerning in my eyes. The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task. A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.
What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability. This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it. Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case. It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina. That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have. Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds? Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds? The settlement does not define that.
If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district. They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students. They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district. That would take away from those students. But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts. They base this on projections within their own district. How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts? For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year. It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.
If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money. She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them. Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations. They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do. All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters. Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend. And charters are free to use this money as they please. So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get? When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs. In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges. You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding. That was the way the law for charters was set up. It was the price of admission into Delaware public education. So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.
Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education. Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations. By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns. But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns. The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School. They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit. The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding. But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are. I have grave issues with that. And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.
In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:
“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.
What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers? Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law? When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school? When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do? Massett cherry-picks her statements. She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true. And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics? Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request? The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information. And what happened? Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information. And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools. Kendall called that “a myth.” Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere. Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration. It is not legal action. It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education. With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way. For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.
Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas. At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state. Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network. In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics. But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools. They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization. I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize. But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from. It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it. That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.
In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware. The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. He promised billions of dollars to charter schools. To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education. A charter school lover if there ever was one. I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events. Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.
In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education. She will exert her influence on the General Assembly. If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it. She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way. But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole. If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big. But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware. There are other things that perform the same damaging results, but we can control how this particular relationship evolves. Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere. If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games. And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra. It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation. Fair goes both ways.
If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement. Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of. It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.
The Christina Board of Education voted last week to accept the settlement concerning the lawsuit filed by 15 charters against them and the Delaware DOE. Next week, an action item submitted by a board member could cause a tsunami of controversy. As well, there is another action item that will certainly cause another ordeal just by being there. Continue reading “Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week”
No one seemed to be the center of controversy in Delaware education more than Head of School Greg Meece, the face of Newark Charter School. Greg Meece had a very busy year behind the scenes of many headlines. It almost seemed like the ongoing district and charter school war centers around NCS and the Christina School District. Here, in it’s entirety, is the story of Newark Charter School in 2016. There are still 27 days left, so I may have to put some updates in before 11:59pm on December 31st! If you see blue in the article, that is a link to an article I published on NCS or Greg Meece.
Before I get into the whole local funding formula fiasco, we need to look at other events Meece was involved in. Prior to this year, I really didn’t write about NCS that much. The school tends to keep things to themselves. What happens at NCS stays at NCS. That changed in February. On February 5th, it was announced NCS would get a “distinguished Title I” designation for their students outstanding scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The only problem? NCS isn’t really a Title I school. The reward was based on the district surrounding them which has Title I schools all over the place.
The next day, I posted how a special needs girl was denied an opportunity to participate in NCS’ lottery. This caused a massive outcry all over the state. The NCS board, the previous fall, said any child who turned six after a certain date would not be able to participate in the lottery. For children with developmental or other disabilities who may start school later, this would prevent those families for applying to NCS. I had people email Greg Meece. He responded to my email the next day. and it eventually caused the school to change their mind. The girl was let into the lottery but she did not win a placement.
A month later, I discovered NCS does not file IRS tax returns because of very vague loopholes from the IRS dating back to 1995. I sent a tip to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office on this. As well, I submitted a FOIA to NCS to which they responded very fast. Nearly ten months later and nothing has come of the tip to the auditor. I know they were investigating this because I received a call from the state auditor’s office about this. When I called over the summer to find out that status of the investigation, I never received a confirmation that it was being worked on.
Things stayed relatively quiet until shortly after the school year ended. Delaware Senator David Sokola nuked a great bill dealing with teacher evaluations in Delaware. House Bill 399 was meant to undo some of the very damaging practices thrust open teachers from the state. Sokola got involved with the bill and put an amendment on it. One of the aspects of the amendment, the addition of parent surveys at the pilot schools, is something Meece implemented at Newark Charter School. The ties between Sokola and NCS just kept opening up like a can of worms.
As folks were getting ready for the 4th of July, I thought out loud about NCS, Senator Sokola, and the missing Kathleen Davies. I wonder if NCS had anything to do with that. Davies disappearance from the Auditor’s office hit mainstream media with a lot of details missing. While NCS and Meece were not mentioned in that article, that didn’t rule them out on my suspect list for what happened to Davies. State Rep. Kim Williams broke the news in comments on Kavips blog about a petty cash audit Davies had been working on that disappeared as well. I went into a lot of detail and started naming suspects. A few months later the mystery deepened what the petty cash audit turned into petty cash warning letters but NCS wasn’t involved.
While the Kathleen Davies mystery was simmering, I discovered NCS did away with the age restriction for Kindergarten applicants but they came up with a new policy that students entering Kindergarten could only apply once. So if a child with developmental or other disabilities did spend another year in pre-school, and the parents applied to NCS before that, they could not apply the next year. It was the same discriminatory package decorated in different wrapping paper.
After I received detailed breakdowns of every school district and charter’s payment allocations for Fiscal Year 2016, I began to take a closer look at NCS payments. I found they spent an exorbitant amount on student body activities. Only one district was higher than them. This raised my suspicions that something funky was going on which led me to examine the funding for their “cafetorium” addition along with a STEM laboratory. I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it was very ironic how numbers matched with other things.
By the end of August, as the school year started off nice and quiet, all hell broke loose. The local funding formula was changing so charter schools would get more from the local districts. I immediately pegged Greg Meece as the catalyst for this and dumped my feelings about NCS throughout the article. Less than 24 hours later, Secretary Godowsky changed his mind on the change to the charter payments. The next day I posed my theories on who was responsible for this at the Delaware DOE and openly asked Meece many questions about NCS. I never did get a response from him. I can’t imagine he is my biggest fan. This led to a resurfacing of Greg Meece’s famous crab bucket analogy. While all this was going on, Senator Sokola wrote a letter to the News Journal on his latest “discovery” for education. Speaking of the News Journal, they wrote a very misleading article on the whole thing which prompted me to do even more research. The President of the Christina board gave me the official news there would be no changes to the formula the next day. But apparently Meece and NCS Board President had their own thoughts on the matter and wrote their version of events in a letter to NCS parents. The true shock came the next day when a Senator Sokola email defended NCS and cast blame on Christina but I debunked a lot of his theories. Then Christina sent a letter to parents. For a week, NCS parents were coming out to defend their school. Some of them got very nasty which prompted this response from me. After a long ten days, I had to recap the whole thing and give some new information about district exclusions. On September 7th, Christina held an open to the public legislative briefing to explain their side of the story and how the funding works with payments to charters. I attended the meeting and recorded it. Transcribing it was a bitch but it gave a ton of key information (which still makes my head hurt when the final outcome of this reached its climax this week). I’ll have to see if I still have the recording to transcribe Part 2 of this meeting. I assumed Christina argued their case so well it caused Secretary Godowsky to issue a letter to the legislators calling off the whole thing for this year. Many assumed nothing would happen on this until the legislators returned in January based on Godowsky’s letter.
In the Spring, the General Assembly finally passed the Kilroy-inspired “All school boards must record” legislation. For Newark Charter School’s very first audio recording, it was a whopping 16 minutes. You can’t make this stuff up. The next week, they won the Blue Ribbon School status from the U.S. DOE for their “outstanding” test scores (smelling a theme here?). Senator Sokola got the spotlight treatment based on his upcoming General Election contest against Meredith Chapman so I felt obliged to showcase his very sad charter school legacy. Of course NCS got a nod.
One would think after such a crazy month, NCS would try to stay out of the news. Not the case. The school ended September with a student sit-in. Inspired by the U.S. Congress, students staged a sit-in when a teacher was fired over an incident with a student. Instead of getting barbecued by the parents, the students jumped in on the comment roasting of this blog. I actually admired the students for what some called “The Slappening”. The teacher got her job back a couple of weeks later as Earth started spinning on its axis again.
On October 5th, Delaware found out the charter school response to Secretary Godowsky not moving forward with the change in the charter school payments from Christina. 15 charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE. I got my hands on the actual filing which named all the schools and parties involved. By this point, everyone knew it was NCS who started this whole thing which they confirmed in another letter to NCS parents. I soon received the whole timeline for the shenanigans involving Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning. This prompted me to look at some things that were very peculiar about this lawsuit.
A couple of weeks later, Delaware United made a three-part video series where they interviewed Senator Sokola. Care to guess what the biggest topic was? Education and Newark Charter School!
At the end of October, I found out that Newark Charter School was supposed to have an outreach plan to get more sub-groups in their school. This was a condition of their major modification to start their new high school. We are still waiting for this.
Last week, the Charter School lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE came back in a big way. Christina’s board accepted a settlement with a 4-3 vote. By the end of the week, the settlement leaked out before all the signatures were on paper. Where did the leak come from? Governor Markell’s office!
So there you have it: Greg Meece and Newark Charter School. More controversy than Donald Trump at a rally for Democrats! More scandalous than… I can’t think of anything… I sure do hope 2017 is quieter for Newark Charter School. They lost their isolationism label this year!
In their haste to get the settlement out, did Governor Markell’s office actually blow the whole thing?
Governor Markell’s office let the settlement between the 15 charter schools and Christina School District get out to the public before all parties signed the document. Markell’s Chief Legal Counsel, Meredith Tweedie, sent an email to State Representative Paul Baumbach yesterday according to Christina School District board member John Young. Young posted the following on Facebook this morning:
If you needed any proof that the Charter lawsuit against Christina (not against the Governor’s office) wasn’t a shakedown, ask your self this: Why is the Governor’s office, a non-party, disseminating the not-yet-final settlement to legislators before the actual parties that signed it? They are clearly invested in this, and it comes off rotten. Here’s the email (you can see the document on Delaware Liberal):
From: Tweedie, Meredith (Governor)
Sent: Friday, December 2, 2016 7:14:23 PM
To: Baumbach, Paul (LegHall)
Subject: Charter settlement agreement–with some signatures
Good evening Representative Baumbach,
Attached is a copy of the signed Settlement Agreement (actually two copies, but it’s the same document with different signature counter-parts). This will be fully “final” when all of the Charter signatures are acquired, which we anticipate will occur early next week.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email me. Otherwise, have a great weekend.
When Christina approved the settlement at their board meeting on 12/1/16, the motion included that the settlement would not be made public until it was final. No legal settlement is final until ALL parties have signed. In the settlement on Delaware Liberal the parents representing the minor children had not signed and two of the charter schools didn’t either. Even if they publicly stated they would approve the settlement this does not translate to the settlement being final. Presumed approval is not the same as final approval. Since this leak from Markell’s office broke the condition of the Christina board’s approval of the settlement, does that render the settlement null and void?
Why would Jack Markell’s office leak a legal settlement that had already caused a great deal of controversy in the state to begin with? To what purpose? Why was the Governor’s office even in possession of this document to begin with before all parties signed on? And even some of those signatures are suspicious based on their authorization in some of those schools. Last night, Delaware Liberal posted the entire settlement. I knew this wasn’t leaked from the Christina board because it had the other signatures on it which would not have been on it before or even immediately after Christina’s board meeting.
According to the above email from Tweedie, there were two attachments, one for Christina and one for the DOE. What were the stipulations in the DOE settlement?
Markell and Christina… this chapter needs to close fast. Watching Markell support Christina’s referendum in a video last Spring was like watching a root canal. The man obviously has no love for the district which spread to his puppets in the DOE during his administration. Should a Governor target an entire school district? It almost seems personal for him. Certain legislators who chair certain education committees in the General Assembly don’t really hide it either. They are transparent as Saran wrap. Will Carney carry on this very obvious disdain? I certainly hope not. It has been very damaging not only to Christina but the entire education system in the state.
That didn’t take long. Three days ago, the Christina board agreed to the settlement. Last night it went public. Delaware Liberal has the whole thing in all its glory. From what I’ve read, the district is off the hook for any back exclusions. There will be a one-time payout for this year of $150,000 plus the per student allocation from a 2003 referendum that amounts to 10 cents for every $100 worth of assessed property value. Christina will pay out the charter school payment part of the $5.5 million they received from the last fiscal year. But going forward…
DOE will have to determine the exclusions and let the charters review them before the annual determination is made. Tuition tax will now be a part of the local district payments to charter schools if the charter has comparable special education services to Christina. Which explains why Newark Charter School took in a special needs child over the summer. As the parent wrote in comments on this blog, this student was 17th on the wait list at NCS. One day the parent got a call from the school and her child was in. That would mean a student left and sixteen parents said no or left the school. The parent did reach out to me to let me know NCS does not have a football team and that with students who may have moved played a factor. As well, the parent states the school was not aware her daughter had special needs and had to scramble a week before school to make sure she got a one-on-one para. They also said there are quite a few students at NCS with either Downs Syndrome or autism that have one-on-one paras.
The settlement also allows for both parties to claim or not claim exclusions from the Match tax. Which means more headaches in the future. I have to wonder how all the other school districts feel about part of their tuition tax now going to charter schools if the charters meet that “need”. Is this why Appoquinimink hiked up their tuition tax last summer? Did they know what the charters were planning back then?
This settlement releases the charter schools claims against Christina and their CFO, Robert Silber. But they also filed against the Delaware Dept. of Education. I don’t see language releasing the DOE. Is their suit against the DOE still alive?
I would attach the Scribd document from Delaware Liberal, but the ink isn’t dry on the settlement yet. Thirteen charters, the Christina board President, and Silber all signed. That leaves two more charters. Not a (legal) done deal yet. But why aren’t all the signatures by the President of each charter board? Some are. Some are signed by the Head of School or a title similar to that. But the board is the legal entity behind a charter school, not the Head of School. I suppose it would depend on the ability of a Head of School to legally bind the corporation to this settlement. I don’t have time right now to look through the bylaws of fifteen charter schools. I would think an interim principal, like the one at Great Oaks, does not have that kind of authority.
Out of everything I’ve written about this whole Christina/charter school funding war, beginning at the end of August, as well as the countless other articles in Delaware media, one question still hasn’t been answered. What made Greg Meece, Steve Dressel, and Joanne Schlossberg from NCS request a meeting with the Delaware DOE and Christina to discuss the local funding formula? In other words, for 13 years, this 2003 referendum and the 10 cent thing was in play. DOE signed off in it each year. But Greg Meece found out about this earlier this year which prompted this whole thing. Who told Meece about it? Meece would have gone after this a long time ago had he known about it. So who betrayed Christina? It had to be someone with inside knowledge of the district’s finances. Someone who knew a 13 year history of the finances. Someone with a deep understanding of school finances. Someone who had the motive and means and willingness to go after Christina. Someone who didn’t care that this would affect tens of thousands of kids across the state. Someone who didn’t care that telling Meece this would instantly cause him to bite the apple and unleash a lot of crap on the Delaware education world. That is cold and unfeeling. I am about 99.9% sure of who you are. I’ve known for a long time. I know how you like to play the long con. I also know how you play people. I know who your allies are and who your enemies are. One day, your actions will come out. And your justification for this does nothing. Not when your sins will cause thousands of students who already had less to lose out even more. You sold out the kids you claim to stand for. It doesn’t balance any scales and it doesn’t even begin to absolve you. You aren’t that crafty. I saw you coming a mile away.
This is a shakedown no matter how you slice it. The Delaware DOE, who approved the exclusions for all these years, gets the stiff penalty of having to do some more paperwork, something they thrive at already. In the settlement, Secretary Godowsky escapes any blame by simply stating he wasn’t aware of the exclusions. Which could very well be true since he wasn’t confirmed by the Delaware Senate until October, 2015. But all the former Secretaries of Education would have known: Mark Murphy, Lillian Lowery, and Valarie Woodruff. Why weren’t they named in the lawsuit if the charter schools had allegations going back to 2003?
I see this as just one more nail in the coffin of public education. Now this opens the door for charter schools to get more funds from a referendum. Funds earmarked for a district are now questionable. Unless some shady deal went down at some point between 2003 and 2015, Christina is not to blame. So why on earth would they settle? I highly doubt their attorney fees would have climbed higher than the results of this settlement. There is no possible way ninety minutes was enough time for their board to digest this settlement. I read it last night and I still have many doubts.
The whole part about Christina paying $150,000 as a “one-time payment”? That reeks of the amount Saul Ewing will charge the charter schools for their legal fees. Wasn’t the Longwood Foundation going to pay for them?
This will be seen as a victory by many charter school parents, especially the ones at Newark Charter School. They will point fingers at Christina and say “See, you settled, it was your fault.” This is not a win for kids.
While no news has surfaced about what the proposed settlement is between the Christina School District and the 15 charter schools suing them and the Delaware Dept. of Education, the board did release the agenda for the meeting tomorrow night.
The board is certainly in their legal right to have this meeting without seven days notice. It sounds like some attorneys were pretty busy over the holiday weekend. This bothers me, a lot. Any settlement will give the charters what they want… more money. It will ignore the history between Christina and the Delaware DOE. The bottom line is Christina submitted exceptions to the local funding formula and the Delaware DOE approved them. I think any settlement should be paid for by the Delaware DOE. But what concerns me even more is what happens to future local funding formulas with this settlement. Which could also impact every single school district in the state. This settlement agreement has to be made public. No questions asked. The people deserve to know exactly what transpired with this whole thing, from start to finish. It seems like the attorneys “negotiations” could put Christina in a bind. Is the cost of the settlement more than the potential attorney fees should Christina prevail in the lawsuit? I would tend to doubt it. This seems like a hasty rush to resolve a complicated situation before certain powers in Delaware begin their terms. This whole thing reeks of foul play. For all the fuss Greg Meece started with this because Newark Charter School didn’t get funding based on Christina’s two failed referenda in 2015, offering a settlement shows severe weakness on the fifteen charter schools part. Unless there was previous foul play involved long before this topic even came up earlier this year. Either way, we want answers on this. Transparency is a must!
According to the draft minutes of Charter School of Wilmington’s latest board meeting, the school lost a lot of money due to Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky deciding not to move forward with changes to the local funding formula for choice schools in Delaware. So why didn’t CSW take the same sort of action Newark Charter School and fourteen other charters did in their decision to sue Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education?
According to their chief financial officer, CSW lost $90,000.00 due to Secretary Godowsky’s decision. That isn’t exactly chump change. But it also says a lot. It means it wasn’t just charter schools that take from Christina schools that were affected by the decision. While I don’t know the exact amount of students CSW has from Christina, I know it isn’t that much. So I would guess that CSW’s stated “loss” is due to Red Clay. On the flip side, Providence Creek Academy joined the big lawsuit and only has a very few students from Christina. I guess when you do it as a huge lump thing, matters like attorney fees and whatnot can be divvied up evenly among the many parties. It would not make sense from CSW to sue Red Clay, even if they had Delaware Military Academy join them. That would make their attorney fees a lot higher. If they lost, the amount they could expect to gain would be much less than $90,000.00.
With all this being said, I still think this lawsuit is complete idiocy in motion. It is just another excuse to go after Christina. And I still have a sneaky feeling there is much more to all this than meets the eye. Something doesn’t add up. But I’ll figure it out. Trust me on that!
Adam Duvernay with the News Journal wrote on article for today’s newspaper. It was the same article that appeared on Delawareonline last evening, but it had a very shocking addition at the end of it.
I apologize for the fuzziness of the picture. But that is very serious. Why should a teacher have to sue a school district when they were poisoned by conditions at the workplace? Is that really what this boils down to for the district? A profit/loss statement? Why wouldn’t they have just offered to pay for her treatment? I have no doubt this won’t be the last I hear about something like this in Christina, much less Delaware. There is something seriously jacked up when our schools can’t provide a healthy environment for our students and teachers.
Pulaski. Downes. Glasgow. Newark H.S. Kirk. Gallaher. Brennan. Gauger-Cobbs. How many more schools are going to come out in this mess? How far back do those go? How big is the cover-ups surrounding Christina’s toxic schools? This is going to be one hell of a board meeting on Tuesday night!
Last Friday, Newark Charter School students performed a “sit-in” to protest an incident which has been referred to as “The Slappening” among the student body of Newark Charter School. 200 high school students participated in the sit-in until administrators broke up the party in the cafeteria. This is about 1/4th of their student body at their high school. While we don’t know if the teacher was reinstated, we do know that when the majority of the people stand up for something they believe in, people take notice. This was what I attempted to push for the opt out movement in Delaware. If everyone opted out, then Smarter Balanced would have disappeared. We can still do this, but not just with “Smarter” as the DOE puts it (which is ironic because it is dumber), but all standardized tests. Whether they are once a year or embedded as “stealth test” in personalized learning technology coming soon to a school near you. And when it comes to all that ed tech, you can opt out of that as well. If enough parents do it, we can make ed tech irrelevant and be assured our child’s every keystroke isn’t tracked and catalogued by Education Inc. and their data is safe. As well, this will protect the teaching profession so they don’t become glorified TFA or Relay moderators. It’s a win-win. No battle is ever won by sitting at the table and compromising to the point of surrender.
Wait one minute, let’s get back to “The Slappening”. I saw many tweets which indicated the teacher was terminated after the student sit-in at Newark Charter School last Friday. While I won’t put minors tweets on this blog, I can say one tweet was pretty definitive! I have a very good idea of what actually happened between the teacher and the student last week and what led to “The Slappening”. I can’t see, in that situation, where a teacher should have been terminated. That teacher has rights. She also has the right to due process. Had I known about this sit-in beforehand, I would have sat in with the students as well (Yeah right, like Greg Meece would let that happen)! But I do respect what the students did.
This has been a very bizarre year for the higher-ups at Newark Charter School. From their insane awards based on Smarter Balanced results to the “social engineering” of their lottery last winter to my strange discovery they are the only charter school in the state that doesn’t file IRS 990 tax returns to the district-charter funding war which has now become the charter-Christina-DOE lawsuit to “The Slappening”. I have to wonder if a change needs to happen. Not my place, but just putting it out there. Many students were terrified of the sit-in and what could happen to them. But they did it anyway. They stood up (or sat down) to the school leaders and said stop with the madness. Granted, what they were hoping for didn’t happen, but it did draw attention to the school through major Delaware media like the News Journal. Even the students seemed shocked they made delawareonline.
It is 2016. Newark Charter School is having a VERY bizarre year. With absolutely no disrespect intended for the students or the parents, but your administrators and board have made some really strange decisions. It’s refreshing in a weird way that NCS has lost its aura of being such a well-behaved mild-mannered gee we’re awesome school. It brings the school back down to earth. I hope more students and parents speak out about issues going on there. I’m not saying NCS should become a priority school tomorrow, but the era of invincibility is over. NCS had the veil lowered and we are all getting a chance to peek in. Greg Meece has allowed his temper to get the best of him this year and he has been there a loooooooooooooooooong time. He can do one of two things: keep the Harry Potter cloak back on the NCS schools or just let things flow. I’m hoping for the latter. But that will require him also lightening up on a few other things.
I believe the original intent of NCS was for parents to get their kids out of the Christina School District. Did they have cause? Sure they did. But there are really good things happening in Christina right now. There are also bad. As there are in every single school in America. Even NCS. I get the need to protect your child. But if it gets to a point where what one student has means many others do without, how is that teaching any child right and wrong? I’m not saying this to start a fight. Truly. But if we always have this divide in this state, nothing anyone does will ever fix anything. This lawsuit NCS triggered… it’s not good for Delaware. It’s not good for NCS or Christina. Lawsuits cost a ton of money. But more than that, they take away from students. They create long-lasting hostilities that play out for decades. NCS sees this one way and Christina sees it another. Eventually, unless it goes into some type of settlement, a judge will decide. Chances are it isn’t going to play out the way the fifteen charters think it will. I have no doubt Meece thinks he has some smoking gun he thinks will make the case. It might, but not against Christina. The Delaware DOE? Probably. But never underestimate what happens when you poke a bear. If NCS truly thinks Christina will take this like a champ, they are wrong. All 15 charters are wrong.
At a time when Delaware as a whole is trying to figure out pretty much every single aspect of education, from funding to academics to post-secondary outcomes to early childhood to special education to testing, we have a group of charters merrily led by their cheerleader over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, some legal eagles, and probably a few other “stakeholders” trying to upset the apple cart and make sure they get what they think is their bounty. But have they given one thought to what this means to Delaware students as a whole? Nope.
That teacher the NCS students staged a sit-in for… why don’t they do that for ALL Delaware students. They loved their teacher and fought for what they believed was just and fair. Something was taken away from these students and they didn’t like it. They did what Americans have been doing since the Boston Tea Party. Now imagine all those students in Christina who will have less so the charters can have more. Is that fair to them? NCS has their engaged parents and their cafetorium and all that. Not every school in Christina does. Some schools don’t even have a librarian. Stage a sit-in for that. If the teacher you lost is as great as you say she is, she will find a new job. This issue, due to your efforts, has been very public. But the students in Christina… they might not get those second chances because of this ridiculous lawsuit.
Education is never going to be fixed no matter what all the corporate dreamers think will happen. As long as there is one individual in a school, there will always be issues. But the key is trying to find a way to make it work. Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t the way. This is why the charters, despite what they think happened and are behaving worse than any petulant child, are a classic example of what not to do in education. This is making them reviled and hated more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.
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 <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request
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.