Greg Meece Letter To Newark Charter School Parents About Settlement Is Going To Stir Up Trouble

Greg Meece didn’t wait long.  We still don’t have verification that all the charter schools signed the settlement between the Christina School District and the 15 charter schools.  But Meece took his opportunity to brag and he did so with arrogance and a pompous attitude.  Yes, NCS parents, this is your not so humble leader.  I have no doubt this was Greg Meece’s favorite moment of the year.  But the big question surrounds the truth.  It was under the assumption the charter schools and their attorneys over at Saul Ewing offered the settlement.  Other sources have all parties working together over the Thanksgiving weekend to hammer it out.  But what Greg Meece states is something completely new.  And there is another downright dirty thing in this letter which was not written in the settlement the way Meece wrote it.  To me, that kind of negates the spirit of the settlement.  The settlement explicitly stated this was not a case of wrongdoing on Christina’s part, but Meece’s one sentence inclusion in here suggests otherwise.  That line is bolded for emphasis below.

As I was working on my article this weekend about Greg Meece and Newark Charter School, I went over a lot of articles pertaining to the lawsuit.  Why on earth would Christina offer to settle based on their own Legislative Briefing?  Furthermore, I don’t recall their board ever voting on action pertaining to the lawsuit.  I would imagine only the Christina board could direct their attorneys to negotiate a settlement.  The only vote they held about the lawsuit was the one regarding the actual settlement.  So someone is lying.  Is it Christina or Greg Meece?

Dear NCS Parents and Staff:

This regards the lawsuit that Newark Charter School, in conjunction with 14 other charter schools and four parents, filed against the Christina School District (CSD) and Delaware’s Department of Education (DDOE). The general idea of Delaware’s school finance law 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. In the case of CSD that was not being done. Charter and choice school students were not getting their fair share. The DDOE performed a detailed analysis of this past year’s funding between districts and charter schools. It concluded that CSD had excluded from charter schools more funds than it was allowed to exclude. Delaware law requires that the Secretary of Education make the final determination regarding the allowable exclusions from districts. In August, the Secretary of Education made his decision. This decision would have provided charter and choice students who live in the CSD approximately $450 more per student. In early September, over the charter schools’ objections, the Secretary reversed his own decision, due to outside pressures being made on him. This is when the 15 charter schools decided to sue both CSD and DDOE.

Both CSD and DDOE offered to settle the lawsuit before it went before the courts and the charter schools agreed to the terms of the settlement. Among the details of the settlement:

* The CSD now agrees that $5.5 million in revenue that had been excluded from the pool of funds shared among all students in the district, including those who attend our school, will now be shared with all charter and choice schools serving Christina students.

* The DDOE agrees to bring greater transparency to the process through which it determines each district’s Local Cost Per Student. DDOE is obliged to share information and seek input from charter schools as part of this process.

* We will be working with the CSD to examine whether opportunities exist to share resources to serve special needs students.

* Both CSD and DDOE agreed to cover the cost of the charter schools’ legal costs.

* In return, the charter schools agreed to relinquish claims on funds that may have been inappropriately withheld in past years.

As a result, the tax dollars that should follow your children to Newark Charter School will arrive for this school year and in future years. These funds will be put to good use here, where they belong and where they are needed.

I would like to thank you for your support as we worked through this legal process, and I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have. If you would like to see a full copy of the settlement, we will be glad to send you an electronic copy.

Sincerely,

Gregory Meece, School Director and the NCS Board of Directors

Excuse the hell out of me Greg Meece, but did you just write a letter to parents indicating that Christina broke the law even though the settlement you just signed clearly indicates otherwise?  I have to ask, what the hell is wrong with you?  You just violated your own settlement with this public letter.

Meanwhile, the Christina School District put out a press release on their own website today which doesn’t have a few of the things Meece mentioned in his letter:

Christina School District Signs Principled Settlement Agreement

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue.

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue. The charter schools filed the Civil Action asserting that the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), the Secretary of Education, the Christina School District, and the Christina School District’s Chief Financial Officer had breached Delaware law as a result of actions taken by the Department of Education in August and September. The agreement requires the approval of all 20 other parties to the suit, which states that settlement is made by December 2. The Christina Board of Education was required as part of the agreement to approve the agreement on or before December 1. The Christina Board voted to approve the agreement on November 30.
With the settlement, the Christina School District resolves the dispute over revenue generated by a 2003 Referendum passed by Christina taxpayers in a manner which honors the promise made to voters in 2003. In that Referendum, 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value was restricted for expenditures on: 1) Phase-in of full day kindergarten for academically at risk students; 2) Expansion of services for Gifted and Talented Program; 3) Expansion of services for Alternative Programs; 4) Technology replacement schedule. All parties in the civil suit have agreed that the 2003 Referendum revenue will be considered restricted, and may only be used to support these four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot. In addition, all parties further agreed that:
  • In the annual certification of Christina School District’s Local Cost Per Student pursuant to Section 509 (e), both the 2003 Referendum Revenue and CSD’s expenditures posted against those revenues will be ignored. In other words, such expenditures will be neither included in, nor excluded from, CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures. This is important because under the statutory formula for sharing local property tax revenue with charter schools, if such expenditures are included in CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures, the 2003 Referendum Revenue shared with the charter schools would not be subject to the restrictions imposed by the voters in 2003.
  • Beginning with Fiscal Year 17, the revenue generated by the 10 cent levy shall be divided by the total number of students residing in CSD and attending public schools in order to determine the per student share of the 2003 Referendum Revenue.
  • The parties agree that the dismissal shall include all claims that were brought or could have been brought, in the Lawsuit regarding FY’17 or any earlier fiscal year.
  • DOE will recommend a process to be used by the DOE in the future for determining Local Cost Per Student. In this process:
    • Districts will have the opportunity to request DOE approval for Exclusions from Total Local Operating Expenditures, with Districts providing justification for their request.
    • DOE will make a tentative determination responding to each requested Exclusion, together with DOE’s reasoning
    • Districts will have the opportunity to discuss with DOE its tentative determination before such determination is final and included within the annual certification
    • Prior to the annual certification, DOE will provide all charter schools with its tentative determinations, along with District justifications, and will afford the charter schools an opportunity to discuss such determination
    • DOE shall establish a schedule by which it proposes to meet each of the steps noted above.

 

The total amount of restricted funds generated by the 2003 Referendum is approximately $5.5 million. The agreement provides a mechanism for the appropriate portion of these funds to be applied to charter schools that educate Christina students, based on number of Christina students they serve. The portion of restricted funds for all Christina students attending charter schools is estimated to be $1.5 million. The Department of Education is required to establish a unique appropriation for these restricted funds, and is responsible for assuring that they are utilized only for the four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot.
For background information on this topic, please use this link to see the presentation made by the District at a Legislative Briefing for elected officials and the public held on September 7, 2016.
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In FY2015, $63.5 Million Went From Local Districts To Charter Schools In Delaware

I found something I’ve never seen before last week.  Ironically enough, I discovered these documents when I was doing my charter school inspection.  I was working on this article when I received a call about the the topic we have all been talking about for the past week: charter school payments from school districts.  Every year, around March, the Delaware Department of Education produces a report called the “Educational Statistics Report”.  This report shows district and charter revenue and expense totals for each calendar year.  It also shows information I’ve been looking for but haven’t seen until now: how much each charters get from local school districts for students who attend from those feeder patterns.  In FY2015, local school districts sent an astonishing $63.5 million dollars to charter schools.  This accounts for 38% of Delaware charter schools revenue.

According to this report, the charter school that gets the most local revenue is the charter school with the largest student population.  Newark Charter School, with the largest student population, received $7 million from local school districts in FY2015.  The State of Delaware provided over twice the amount to Newark Charter ($14.7 million) compared to the next largest charter school, MOT ($7.1 million).

But where things get really interesting is when you compare revenue and expenses with traditional school districts.

Charter Revenue FY2015

CharterRevenueFY2015

District Revenue FY2015

DistrictRevenueFY2015

Charter Expenses FY2015

CharterExpensesFY2015

District Expenses FY2015

DistrictExpensesFY2015

In FY2015, charter school students represented 9.3% of Delaware’s public schools.  With a total of 12,521 students, this represented less than 10% of students in the state who chose this option.  The total revenue they received was a little over $164 million dollars.  By contrast, districts received over $2.16 billion dollars in revenue.  This is a total of $2.32 billion dollars in revenue between district and charter schools.  In the interest of fairness and  all things being equal, charters should have received $215.8 million dollars at 9.3% student population.  Instead, they received $50 million less.  If we stopped looking at figures right now, the Delaware Charter Schools Network would be correct when they tell people charters get $3000 less per student than traditional school districts.  I’m not sure what  year they are basing those figures on, but it actually works out to about $4,137 less per student.  More meat for their argument.

But there are many other factors that go into this.  By their very nature, school districts are much larger than charter schools.  They have more buildings to take care of.  Their central administration has to be bigger to keep track of it all.  While some (and rightfully so in certain situations) complain about the sheer number of district administrators, I think we can all agree that districts need more administrators than charter schools because of the sheer volume involved.  Out of the total amount of expenses, charter schools spend 11.57% of their funds on administration.  Traditional school districts in Delaware spend 7.09% on administration.  Charter schools spend 14.36% on “plant operations maintenance”, which I assume includes rent, custodial duties, and expenses for the actual physical building(s).  Districts spend $9.66% in this category.  Percentage wise, districts do spend more on student transportation at 4.62% opposed to charter schools’ 2.88%.  But there is one factor that may not be included in these totals for the charters: does this include the surplus transportation funds they get to keep after what they spent?

The key figures in the above charter are the pie slices that show the percentage of funds districts and charters get from federal funding.  While some of these funds come from federal grant funds, the bulk of them are for Title I and IDEA-B funding.  Title I is funds for low-income schools while IDEA-B is for students with disabilities.  Note that districts have more than double the percentage of federal funds than charters.  This is because districts have more students in those two categories.  For some charters in Delaware, they have very high percentages of those populations.  But the ones that are on the opposite end bring that percentage way down.  Especially schools like Newark Charter School and Charter School of Wilmington.

I wasn’t going to publish this article after the whole district-charter funding war commenced a week ago.  But with everything that happened since, I feel it is important to get these numbers out there.  I do have further analysis based on this and how I intend to prove, that if Delaware were to go to a true weighted funding formula, charters schools would actually receive less local and state dollars as a collective whole than what they are receiving now.

 

Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!