High Noon For The Delaware State Board of Education On Tuesday

We can do it better ourselves but we won’t tell them that.

The Delaware State Board of Education could be shut down as of Tuesday.  They face the Delaware Joint Legislative Overview and Sunset Committee.  The State Board was put under review by the committee last year after some very rough years under former Governor Jack Markell.  Many of the complaints circulate around their Executive Director, Donna Johnson.  As well, many citizens and education organizations in the state feel the State Board has outlived their usefulness and just seem to perpetuate agendas brought forth by corporate education reform organizations such as the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  I wrote about their last meeting with the committee over a month ago.  But I was able to be the sole attendee at a meeting yesterday where the State Board discussed their final meeting with the Sunset Committee and boy was it a doozy! Continue reading

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kendall Massett

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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:

(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.

Delaware School Boards Association Run Amok! Gives Indian River Free Membership! Doesn’t File Tax Returns! Division Of Corporations Okay With That!

Awesome.  Simply awesome.  A non-profit company incorporated in Delaware can get all their funding from tax-payer local school districts, have their 501c3 status as a non-profit revoked, not file tax returns, and the State of Delaware doesn’t care.  Earlier this afternoon, I wrote about how this exact scenario happened with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA).  Two hours later, I contacted the Delaware Division of Corporations.  Delaware doesn’t seem to care if a corporation files tax returns or not.  There is no oversight mechanism in the State of Delaware to enforce anything related to federal tax filings.  The Division of Corporations advised me that someone would have to get an attorney and go through the courts.  Excuse me?

So DSBA can gouge school districts out of tons of money, but they will go to bat for them on legislation and counsel school boards on how to make sure board members have the most up-to-date board training.  But they fail to show any transparency for how much money they receive, how they spend it, and what their losses are.  That is just wonderful.  What exactly does this organization do for school districts?  They are glorified lobbyists taking funds out of schools.

I attended my local school board meeting a couple of months ago.  One of the items on their agenda was “legislative priorities”.  One of those priorities concerned special education and due process hearings.  DSBA wanted my district to advocate for something that had never applied to their district.  Why does everything in Delaware have to have some type of “association” attached to it?  Once we centralize every group in the state, who watches that centralizing group?  I’m sure for the members of DSBA, and those who sit on DSBA’s board, it looks great on the resume.  “Look at me, I’m not only on a school board but also on the board of DSBA.”

Please… spare me the righteous indignation.  How ironic that in this National School Boards Association guidance to state associations they offer the following advice:

State school boards associations have been established to provide a state-level network for members of local school boards to achieve common goals, support shared improvement efforts, and explore such widespread issues as board member training, policies, statewide needs, state and federal initiatives, and state and federal funding. Improving student achievement also must be a goal since it is the top priority of the state association’s members.

I am pretty ticked off about this as you can tell.  Is it any wonder our state is corrupt as hell?  What does our state offer oversight on when it comes to financial matters and transparency?  It’s not like DSBA’s Facebook page tells us a lot.

dsbacorporatestatusindelaware

Apparently, it is a-ok for DSBA to instill certain codes of ethics on local school boards, but when it comes to that ethical thing like FILING TAX RETURNS FOR YOUR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION WITH THE IRS, those ethics aren’t important.

…the Code of Ethics is recommended by the Delaware School Boards Association as a guide to its members as they strive to render effective and efficient service to their respective communities.

But according to DSBA’s website, this is their role in Delaware:

DSBA offers their members:

  • Developing statewide legislative and funding priorities for public education in conjunction with the Legislative Committee and member boards;
  • Monitoring the impact and progress of legislation introduced in the General Assembly which may affect the programs, operation, funding or administration of school districts;
  • Planning and presenting orientation and training programs designed to enhance the effectiveness of school board members;
  • Providing local school boards with information concerning those issues and activities which affect school districts;
  • Coordinating legal services or local board efforts in those instances where boards share common concerns and goals; and
  • Serving as liaison between school boards and other educational organizations or State agencies.

Can I add one?

  • Show no transparency for how we spend taxpayer funneled money but thanks for your contributions chumps!

From their “membership” list of Delaware school boards, not every district board is a member of DSBA.  Only 13 out of 19 are currently members: Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Colonial, Lake Forest, Laurel, New Castle Co. Vo-Tech, Poly-tech, Red Clay, Seaford, Smyrna, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge.  As well, the Delaware State Board of Education is also a member.  So it looks like Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney, Christina, Delmar, Indian River, and Milford have very wise boards who decided not to join this non-transparent organization.

DSBA is led by Executive Director John Marinucci and an Administrative Assistant named Linda Murphy.  That’s it.  That is their entire staff.  They have an office in Dover.  But of course many Delaware school board members govern the whole thing and decide what legislative priorities are best for school boards, even if those legislative priorities don’t even affect a member school district.  So who are these elected officials and Governor-appointed Delaware board members, running 13 out of 19 Delaware school districts, who serve in another capacity for an organization that doesn’t file IRS 990 Non-Profit tax returns?  Thanks for asking!

Officers- President: Joseph Brumskill (Brandywine), 1st Vice-President: Jennifer Burton (Cape Henlopen), 2nd Vice-President: Matthew Lindell (Capital), Treasurer: Cynthia Brown (Poly-tech), Director of Special Affairs: John Skrobot (Brandywine)

Other members of the Board of Directors: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Bobby Benjamin (Colonial), Nina Lou Bunting (Delaware State Board of Education), John Schulties (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), John Lynch (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Martin Wilson (Red Clay), David Tull (Seaford), Chris Malec (Smyrna), George Torbert (Sussex Tech), and Walter Gilefski (Woodbridge)

Legislative Committee: Ralph Ackerman (Brandywine), Dr. Roni Posner (Cape Henlopen), John Martin, Jr. (Capital), Leo Magee (Colonial), Barbara Rutt (Delaware State Board of Education), Ronda Swenson (Lake Forest), Brent Nichols (Laurel), Mark Stellini (New Castle Co. Vo-Tech), Nancy Cook (Poly-tech), Kenneth Woods (Red Clay), Jeffrey Benson, Jr. (Seaford), Ron Eby (Smyrna), John Oliver (Sussex Tech), and Walter Rudy (Woodbridge)

They also have corporate members!  Those are Stecher Financial Group, Johnson Controls, and Adelphia Furniture Inc.  Two of those companies aren’t even out of Delaware!

On their calendar they have ZERO events on it, so we don’t even know when this organization and their various officers and legislative committees even meet.  This is like the evil twin of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  For all the bitching I do about them, at least DCSN files their IRS 990 501c3 tax returns.  Oh yeah, that’s because they didn’t get their status revoked for failing to file NINE YEARS.  28 school board members throughout the state.  Do they get paid for their service to DSBA?  We don’t know cause the non-profit doesn’t file a tax return!

My bad, the Delaware Online Checkbook changed over to the new Delaware Open Data Portal thing Governor Markell officially launched yesterday.  So I can see that Delaware School Boards Association received $210,177 in FY2016.  Here is the breakdown by district:

Brandywine: $13,907.50

Cape Henlopen: $32,600.00

Capital: $18,938.00

Colonial: $21,488.66

Delaware Department of Education: $13,930.50

Lake Forest: $10,300.00

Laurel: $6,244.00

New Castle Co. Vo-Tech: $8,784.50

Poly-Tech: $8.676.00

Red Clay: $26,322.00

Seaford: $16,021.50

Smyrna: $8,676.00

Sussex Tech: $4,862.00

Woodbridge: $15,275.50

And the following two school districts, who aren’t even members, didn’t seem to mind paying DSBA in FY2016:

Appoquinimink: $5,400 (cost per student: $1.92)

Indian River (dropped DSBA in fall of 2016): $3,000.00

But the fun doesn’t stop there.  Because not only does DSBA bill school boards for dues, but also food, instructional supplies, and computer supplies.  And it doesn’t matter if it is paid out of the Delaware Special Fund or the Delaware General Fund.  Keep in mind all the below amounts are out of the overall totals listed above, but some of these categories are outlandish given the scope of what DSBA does.  Ones I colored in red are potential audit red flags (I know, stop laughing)!

Appoquinimink: Computer Supplies– $2,700.00

Cape Henlopen: Computer Supplies– $9,100.00

Colonial: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00

Colonial: Meals w/in State (Breakfast/Dinner)- $349.66

Lake Forest: Computer Supplies– $34.00

Lake Forest: Equipment Rental-$2,700.00

Lake Forest: Food- $173.00

Red Clay: Other Professional Service- $8,100.00

Seaford: Instructional Supplies– $8,100.00

Woodbridge: Other Professional Service- $421.50

Delaware Department of Education: Training- $208.50

I’m sorry, but in what kind of world does DSBA, which amounts to a lobbyist organization, provide computer and instructional supplies?  Did Lake Forest rent a crane or something from DSBA?  I didn’t see a school supply or rental tab on their website.  And why do districts code these expenses all over the map?  The food amounts would have been higher if other districts didn’t code it as association dues.  So we elect school board members who go to meetings at DSBA, which gets over $200,000 of taxpayer money with a staff of two, and those school board members charge their districts for food?  Are you frigging kidding me?  And why is Cape Henlopen, who has half the amount of students in their district as Appoquinimink or Cape Henlopen, paying DSBA the most out of all the districts?  And Woodbridge only has 2,466 students but DSBA gets over $18,000 from them?  There is something seriously funky going on with this.  Some of these districts are paying obscene amounts to this non-profit (who doesn’t file tax returns as a non-profit).

And don’t think for one minute it didn’t dawn on me that the Delaware Dept. of Education, who pretty much decides who sits on task forces and committees, and always seems to find room for someone from DSBA on them, pays a lobbyist organization who helps LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS over $13,000.00.  I see Mr. Marinucci at most of the meetings I attend these days when the DOE is involved, especially ones around the Every Student Succeeds Act.  I know, that is what lobbyists do!  But when I see school boards wasting time with legislative priorities that don’t even concern their school district, an obscene amount of taxpayer money going to a non-profit that doesn’t bother to file tax returns, school districts coding expenses for this non-profit under whatever category they want (probably to get funds from the state and not out of their local funds), and the same organization not filing tax returns as a non-profit for almost a decade, I have some pretty major beefs with this organization.

The Cape Gazette did an article on DSBA on July 31st, 2015, a month after Indian River voted not to rejoin.  They spoke with the First Vice-President, Jennifer Burton:

Cape Henlopen school board member Jen Burton serves as first vice chairman for the DSBA. She said membership is worth the $9,000 a year Cape pays, even though the association is going through some changes.

But when that membership becomes 3 1/2 times more than that $9,000 a year, what is the worth then Ms. Burton?  Apparently Indian River didn’t feel the same way:

Indian River School District Board of Education withdrew July 13 from the Delaware School Board Association, saying $13,000 the district would have paid in dues could be better spent elsewhere.

“The Board came to the conclusion that its DSBA membership was no longer productive and that continuing to pay thousands of dollars in dues to the organization was not a responsible use of taxpayers’ money,” Hudson said.

But I guess it is okay for Indian River to use this organization for FREE at the expense of other district’s taxpayer money, right?  Which means part of my school taxes, along with every other Capital School District resident, are going to pay for Indian River to rejoin something they felt wasn’t a responsible use of money?  I guess when it is free, that’s okay.  I don’t think so!  I don’t pay local school taxes for Indian River.  I pay them for Capital.  And if I were citizens in the other DSBA districts, I would be upset too.  I don’t elect school board members so they can help bail out other districts who don’t know how to spend their own money.  If they want a bail-out on their DSBA dues, go to the state.  That’s why I pay state taxes, not local taxes.  DSBA has a lot of nerve asking other districts to do this.  And yes, if you are not an employee of DSBA but serve as an elected official for your school district but serve on one of their boards or committees, you are acting as DSBA.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to Colonial’s Board of Education discuss this during their October 11th board meeting.  Go towards the bottom of the page on this link to hear it.

In a presentation on DSBA, it was announced that the board of DSBA voted to allow Indian River to rejoin DSBA with full voting rights for free because of their “financial distress”.  Yeah, distress caused by themselves.  Just wait until that audit comes out!  But let’s give them DSBA services for free!  Colonial board member Melodie Spotts, upon hearing that DSBA hasn’t filed their tax return for nine years, put forth a motion to remove their membership in DSBA.  The motion was defeated 4-3.  Spotts was concerned how it would look after their board just voted to go out for a referendum.  There was a lot of talk about promoting transparency around their refernedum and the appearance of paying membership fees to an organization that doesn’t appear to have financial transparency.

So DSBA, care to cough up nine years worth of tax returns and show the citizens of the state who elect school board members if they truly are getting their money’s worth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Action Reaction: Delaware Charter School Network Is Stopping Audit Bills, Email The House Now In Support of HB 186!

Now I have a new website to look at on a weekly basis.  Thanks for that Kendall Massett!  It turns out the Delaware Charter School Network has a portal set up on their website to automatically email legislators when they don’t like a pending bill that might affect charter schools.  That’s fair, I suggest folks email legislators all the time.  However, when the messages sent do not give accurate facts, I take issue with that.

For example, the current campaign is against House Bill 186.  In a nutshell, HB186 is as follows:

Currently, all school districts, including vocational schools, are subject to the Auditor of Accounts. Edits to the November 2010 Charter School Manual removed instructions for charter schools to go through Auditor of Accounts when contracting for audits. There is presently no legislative authority to require charter schools to submit to the Auditor of Accounts processes. This bill adds charter schools to the list of entities for audits through the Auditor of Accounts. The bill takes effect so that the Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits for the time periods starting on or after July 1, 2015. (source: http://legis.delaware.gov website)

This bill combines the now stricken House Bills 53 and 154, which were both sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams.  She watched as Family Foundations Academy almost got shut down due to financial mismanagement (fraud), and has seen this time and time again at many of our charter schools.

Now the Delaware Charter School Network is gunning for any legislation that would hold charter schools accountable for their finances through their Action Center  on their website.  I find the following facts they are using to stop this bill either outright lies or gross exaggerations.

This is the text of the introduction:

Our email campaign last week to stop HB 154 from being released from the House Education Committee was a success! Representative after Representative told us that they had heard from their constituents and that it was so helpful. NICE GOING!! Your action along with other circumstances led to the desired outcome, but the fight is not over. We have learned that the bill’s sponsor has introduced a new bill that combines HB 53 and HB 154 – House Bill 186. The new bill has been placed on the House Education Committee agenda for Wednesday, June 17 (TOMORROW). This means that we must re-launch our campaign, and this time we will be alerting all House members with the same message not just the committee members. We have altered the message slightly so even if you sent an email last week, it is okay to send again. Start by entering your email address and home zip code over to the right. When you complete the next screen, the email will be sent automatically based on your home address. The reasons to oppose the legislation are the same…

Gee Kendall, what were those “other circumstances”?  I know you were at Legislative Hall last Wednesday cause I saw you at the Senate Education Committee meeting.  Your organization are registered lobbyists down at Leg. Hall.  More concerning is the text in this email you are having people send to their elected officials.

“This bill will not stop fraud.”

It might not, but it will find it much quicker than anyone else has in the past.  All too often we hear the same sob story: “We had no idea this was going on for years and years.  Heavens to Betsy, they were so secretive about it.”  We don’t just hear this from the charter schools but from our own Department of Education.  It would help if these charters actually took the time to have their Citizens Budget Oversight Committee meetings.  I saw fraud flags all over the purchase card website Delaware has.  It’s called opening your eyes.

“…our schools already receive less funding on average than district schools ($3000 less on average).”

There are several reasons for that.  Traditional school districts, on average, have more special needs students that get more funding for special education, more low-income students, and more minorities in some cases.  As well, the LIE they get $3000 less on average is completely false.  As per the DOE’s School Profiles website, statewide school districts receive $12,901 on average student funding whereas charters receive $11,521.  That my lobbyist friend, is a different of $1,380, not $3000.  Nice try.  Charters may not receive capital funding, and you will never let us forget it.  However, they do get some extra perks to make up for that.  We have the Charter School Performance Fund whereby some charters may qualify for up to $250,000 a year from the DOE based on certain criteria.  We have the charter school transportation slush fund, where the charters get to keep any extra transportation funds they don’t use which last year alone was well over a million dollars for most of the charter schools collectively.  As well, they get tons of money from donors like the East Side Foundation, or the Longwood Foundation which pours millions of dollars into charter schools each year.  They gave Odyssey Charter $1.4 million in grant funds for their new school.  As well as numerous other corporate donors.  Traditional school districts aren’t allowed to get these extra perks and aren’t included in the funding calculations the DOE provides.  I would say on average, with all these other factors involved, charters get more funds per average student than traditional school districts.

“…a one size fits all RFP will not take that into consideration and a school could end up paying a significant amount of money for something that they do not need…”

Yet the charters in Delaware seem to be okay with a one size fits all standardized test in the form of Smarter Balanced that gives the illusion of helping vulnerable students but in actuality will further separate them from their peers.  And the charter schools DO need this.  As a state, we must protect our students from funds not reaching the classroom, and if fraud is going on, we are legally and morally responsible to find, fix and punish actions like this.  There are three publicly known charters in Delaware under investigation by the State Auditor’s office: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy.  Rumors suggest even more, and the auditor’s office confirmed they are looking at several but wouldn’t name any other schools.

“Charter schools support accountability.”

Then this bill should be a no-brainer.  But the reality is they don’t like getting investigated by anyone.  When they do, they often lie to protect themselves.  Because their board meetings are not recorded, and some charters rarely post their board minutes monthly, it is very difficult to know what goes on in these charter schools.  I am not saying this is all charters, but there are enough of them this bill is warranted.  And lest we forget, the Delaware Charter School Network is funded by non-profits, for-profits, and dues paid to them by the charter schools themselves.  If the DOE can’t hold charter schools fully accountable, perhaps we need even more legislation like this to hold their fat to the fire.

Please email the entire House of Representatives in support of House Bill 186.  I apologize for not having a fancy website portal that sends a one size fits all message to legislators, but I can offer your ability to send your own individual and unique message to legislators.  It’s called copy and paste!

Charles.Potter@state.de.us StephanieT.Bolden@state.de.us helene.keeley@state.de.us gerald.brady@state.de.us melanie.g.smith@state.de.us debra.heffernan@state.de.us Bryon.Short@state.de.us Quinton.Johnson@state.de.us Kevin.Hensley@state.de.us sean.matthews@state.de.us jeff.spiegelman@state.de.us Deborah.Hudson@state.de.us john.l.mitchell@state.de.us Peter.Schwartzkopf@state.de.us Valerie.Longhurst@state.de.us jj.johnson@state.de.us Michael.Mulrooney@state.de.us michael.barbieri@state.de.us kimberly.williams@state.de.us Steve.Smyk@state.de.us Michael.Ramone@state.de.us joseph.miro@state.de.us paul.baumbach@state.de.us Edward.Osienski@state.de.us john.kowalko@state.de.us John.Viola@state.de.us Earl.Jaques@state.de.us william.carson@state.de.us trey.paradee@state.de.us bobby.outten@state.de.us Sean.Lynn@state.de.us andria.bennett@state.de.us jack.peterman@state.de.us Lyndon.Yearick@state.de.us David.L.Wilson@state.de.us Harvey.Kenton@state.de.us Ruth.BriggsKing@state.de.us Ronald.Gray@state.de.us Daniel.Short@state.de.us Timothy.Dukes@state.de.us Richard.G.Collins@state.de.us