There are always gems to be found when you comb through district and charter board minutes, agendas, and websites. I did that last night and found a ton of stuff! Instead of coming out with a dozen or more articles about it, I thought I would just combine all of it one fell swoop! There is A LOT of material in here so dig in! Continue reading
The Milford School District is one of the few districts in Delaware that lies in two different counties. For Milford, both Kent and Sussex County have parts of the district. As a result, their tax pool is different. A couple of years ago, Milford, like many other districts, had to raise their tuition tax. This is a portion of property taxes the public does not get a vote on. The money is for special education costs. Milford raised their tuition tax considerably and the public got sticker shock when they opened their tax bill. As a result, it forced the district to become very frugal with their spending. The district has the second lowest amount of administrators over $100,000 based on their student count. New Superintendent Kevin Dickerson inherited the previous Superintendent’s mess but is doing a decent job of putting the district back on solid ground. The district has 104 less students than they had four years ago and three less administrators making over $100,000. Continue reading
By Delaware state code, we should be seeing this report every single year. In any event, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Fiscal Year 2016 report today. Yes, a year and a half after that fiscal year ended. And guess what the overall finding was? We don’t know what districts are spending cause everyone codes their expenses differently in the state financial system. And this report states the state ALLOWS the districts to do this. They have discretion. What a crock of…
In an attempt to categorize spending items as instructional or non-instructional for further analysis, the Office of Auditor of Accounts (AOA) extracted all voucher and PCard expenditures made from State and local funds by each of the 19 school districts. However, the State’s financial system has over 11,000 active appropriations and over 1,500 active account codes available for use. As a result, we found inconsistencies in expenditure coding across the 19 school districts that prevented us from performing an in-depth analysis of expenditures.
They named nine areas that are either prohibited by accounting rules or were not used for a functional educational purpose. Some of these are sports lottery, florists, online games, and table games. Are you kidding me? And the report found over $98,000 was used for in-state meals. I can picture it now, Joe Superintendent says to himself “I feel like going to Friendly’s for lunch today”. This is absolutely ridiculous. The inspection found that many of these “inconsistencies” were due to human error. Uh-huh. Yes, I get that humans make errors. But how do you miscode sticky buns?
When it comes to food, it looks like Cape Henlopen and Lake Forest looooove to eat out! The report talks about WaWa purchases. I’m sorry, but since when is fast food or deli considered an in-state food purchase? Do what the rest of us do and pay from your own damn wallet. I don’t pay taxes so you can celebrate Hoagiefest all year long!
But this little bit about Lake Forest…wow!
In December 2015, the Lake Forest School District held a holiday dinner for board members, administrators, and their spouses at The Rookery Golf Club in Milford, Delaware, totaling $1,899.30. (This amount is included in the in-State meal transactions described above in the “Employee Recognition purposes” category since administrators were recognized.) A handwritten note on the invoice stated it was approved at a special board meeting in executive session on October 14, 2015.
Are you friggin’ kidding me? Sounds like higher-ups are feasting on the fatted calf called the Delaware accounting system. And with no oversight whatsoever, this is only scratching the iceberg.
And how in the name of God can you have in-state lodging for any school district in this state? You can drive up and down the state in less than two hours. And it looks like Red Clay was the biggest offender.
Not one look into all the vendors school districts use. Not one peak into the millions of dollars going to vendors who write reports and supply schools with cash-in-the-trash ideas. Not one bit. Disgusting. It’s no wonder none of the school districts want to consolidate. God forbid someone actually get a good hard look into how they spend money!
The best part about all this? They could have read my blog posts in July and August of 2016 to do this report. What the hell took them a year and a half to do a report that anyone with an excel file could figure out in three days? It is time for our elected legislators to get the hell off their collective asses and pass some laws indicating school districts and charter schools can NO LONGER use discretion when submitting their expenditures to the state. This is a third of their budget and they are given carte blanche to do pretty much whatever the hell they want. Sure, most of it is most likely legit but when your own state auditor can’t make heads or tails of where well over $1 billion dollars is going, I have some major issues with that. This is unacceptable and it will no longer be tolerated. I don’t care how much time I have to spend at Legislative Hall in 2018 to drum this into their heads. When education loses tons of money each year but we have wine and dine events at the local country club, that is absurd. This is EXACTLY what I wanted to talk to John Carney about after he was elected. But he had to go and blow me off. Big mistake. It’s not like I didn’t warn people this was going on. They just didn’t want to hear it. Carney just wanted to set up his self-destruct mechanisms for Delaware education, just like his predecessor. And as he sets off on his warped plan to charterize Wilmington schools, he could care less about where the money is going.
Delaware legislators: Cut the crap. I don’t want to hear your whining and complaining come next June about the budget and how you are doing everything you can. Change some laws. Make crap accountable and stop kissing asses all over the state. Do your job! The jig is up. I don’t necessarily blame the auditor’s office for all this. They inspect what they are able to. It is our General Assembly that needs to wake the hell up. You have allowed this scenario to happen. You have allowed this “discretion” that makes a Rubik’s Cube in a three-year-old’s hands look easy compared to the hot mess called First State Financials. No more excuses. Pass legislation demanding that every single expenditure be coded in a uniform way among ALL school districts and charter schools. And yes, charter schools should have been included in this report as well. But no way in hell would that happen because this report would have found a lot more “inconsistencies” and we all know it. But the General Assembly as a whole likes to protect and coddle them. Exactly what is wrong with Delaware education. If I sound pissed off, it’s cause I am. And every single taxpayer in this state should be ticked off as well.
To read this obscenity where money is unaccountable and untrackable and uncrackable and takes money away from where it is truly needed, please read below.
Ronald Evans won the five-way race in the Milford board seat contest this evening. Unofficial vote results give Evans 292, Michael McKain 124, Jason Miller 96, and Michael Firch 79 votes. Congrats to Ronald Evans! This was the board seat race with the most contestants in the state. I imagine there were a ton of signs in the district the past few weeks. I eagerly await to see what happens with Evans on the board down in Milford!
Now that all the surveys are up, it is time for endorsements! I’ve known who I was going to endorse in a few elections for some time. Some I changed my mind on. Some I have always known who I would NOT endorse. Some I wavered back and forth on. Some races won’t get an endorsement from me at all. I don’t always go with the “popular” candidate. I look, as best I can, at the issues facing education and which candidate is willing to stick their neck out and do what is best for students. The biggest thing is if the candidate knows what the issues are. Without further ado, here come the endorsements: Continue reading
Lake Forest and Milford School Districts in lower Delaware have big races for the 2017 School Board Election. In Lake Forest, there is a three-way race between Austin Auen, Phillip Thomas, and Stephanie Justiano Johnson. For Milford, an epic five-way race has Ronald Evans, Michael Firch, Jason Miller, Michael McKain, and Michael Wells vying for the At-Large seat. Milford has another open seat in Area D, but only Judith Purcell filed so she gets the board seat.
I reached out to the candidates in all the Delaware school districts. For Lake Forest, I received a response back from Austin Auen. For Milford, Ronald Evans and Michael McKain responded. I used the contact information on the Kent County Department of Elections website as well as combing through Facebook. I also gave “public notice” about the surveys on this blog if I did not have contact information. I want to thank those who did respond with great answers to tough questions. Don’t forget to vote on May 9th! Continue reading
As Christina and Newark Charter School head into a showdown of sorts, new information about Chartergate 2016 is coming to light. But first, a week in review with all the news from the first week of school in Delaware. And what a week it was!
It has been one hell of a week. Make that ten days! Hogging up the headlines was the (still) ongoing district-charter funding issue. Things got ugly with Newark Charter School parents and the News Journal articles. Sometimes you have to look to the past to figure out why this happened to begin with. Christina made an official announcement that became not so official hours later. I believe I figured it out in the end but new information will be revealed below.
But to me, the most important post I put up was the one about the Smarter Balanced Assessment and some schools not letting kids take AP classes over SBAC scores or if their parents opted their child out of the test. I should have added honors classes because that came up a bit too.
The Indian River financial mess (meltdown?) is going to get bigger. I felt it was important to let folks know there are some serious problems going on there. This won’t be good for the state for several reasons.
Doing the education interviews with three out of the four Governor candidates was awesome. I liked hearing their different views on education. I endorsed Scott Gesty for Congress. I’m still bummed Carney didn’t want to play. Milford School District is having tuition tax woes. Senator Sokola
plagiarized wrote a letter to the editor in the News Journal.
Governor Jack Markell had a busy week when he wasn’t riding around with Batman. He had an interesting weekly message (this was not an audition for U.S. Secretary of Education…that was the joke) and he got an honor. Jack signed an Executive Order for ESSA collaboration with stakeholders. An afterschool task force had a meeting in the morning. The Delaware DOE was called out for ignoring allegations of fraud at the College Board over the revamped SAT.
On Wednesday, at 7:30am, there will be a Legislative Briefing at the Eden Hill Center. This is open to the public, but not for public comment. In attendance will be Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski, CFO Bob Silber, State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach and Earl Jaques that I know of so far. Christina will present their side of the story to the legislators. This is NOT a done deal. Despite what you may have heard, that the local cost per pupil won’t change this year, that statement in and of itself is the misnomer not too many people have caught.
The Delaware DOE saying that means they were going to change the formula. This isn’t just about the exceptions that charter kids don’t get choice money for from the districts. The DOE was actually going to change the formula, without any input from anyone. The charters already sent out their bills to the districts. When Secretary Godowsky said he wasn’t going through with that, I assume that means those payments are on hold or they will revert back to what it always was. But from what I’m hearing, they aren’t budging with Christina and their exceptions. As I wrote on Friday, those exceptions were approved by the Delaware DOE. They can’t go back now and say they weren’t. That will be Christina’s case in all this, and I have to say I agree with them.
I also wrote that I wanted to know how Greg Meece all of a sudden came up with this brilliant idea of going after Christina for this. I have a few suspects with this. I will reserve names until I know for sure who did it. But rest assured, I will find out. They can ‘fess up to me now if they like, or I can write when I know for sure. Your choice (see, I do support choice).
One thing that did bother me over the weekend was a State Representative’s Facebook page. This rep wanted to call me out for saying I will have to apologize to Newark Charter School if it turns out they were in the right. It’s called sarcasm, but the state rep obviously didn’t get that. This rep went a step further to admonish blogs and not to believe everything you read. Sorry, what did I get wrong so far? I clearly stated in the original article I didn’t have specifics or that I knew what the exact items were that will be taken away from the district’s restricted funding part of their local funds. Perhaps that part didn’t dawn on the State Rep. But I gave enough information for that rep and several others to make frantic calls and emails to Secretary Godowsky. And it changed the course of their original intention, which was to change the formula. So while this state rep wants to call me out as a blogger, I feel it is necessary to remind this state rep they had no clue about any of this until I wrote about it. By telling people on one hand the DOE isn’t going to take any action only to find out a few days later they will take some sort of action against Christina, who isn’t really sure about their information?
What concerned me even more was a post about the legislative briefing on Wednesday. This same state rep told people it was a legislative briefing and wouldn’t be open to the public. Even though the Christina School District wrote a letter publicly announcing this meeting. The President of the Christina Board, Elizabeth Paige, pointed out that the district was making it open to the public. I commented that closed-door meetings were what started this mess to begin with. The state rep never responded to this. I find it ironic that this state rep would want this meeting to be a closed-door meeting. In other posts the rep put up they mention working with the DOE and getting it all sorted out. If I have learned one thing in Delaware, the DOE does what the DOE wants. There isn’t any compromise unless those are things the DOE throw out as bait to get what they want all along. We all know who runs the DOE, and it is NOT Secretary Godowsky. Remember, he serves at the pleasure of the Governor.
There was one final thing the state rep did that ticked me off. The rep wrote about my articles a few times over the week. The rep kept referring to me as “the blogger” as if we had never met before. I’ve talked to this state rep several times. We are on a first-name basis when we see each other. But somewhere along the way I must have become “toxic” to this state rep if he can’t address me in a public post by my name. I suppose the state rep is upset with me about a few things lately. The rep is more than welcome to engage in an actual conversation with me without resorting to passive-aggressive potshots at me on social media. But I can promise the rep one thing: I will blog as I please and you can either deal with it or not. I truly don’t care. I’m sure I could write the “correct way” about a few things pertaining to this state rep, but I’m taking the high road here.
Speaking of closed-door meetings, what many of you may not know is that district Superintendents attended a meeting at the DOE last week. And there was a swap-out so to speak of different exclusions. It worked out so that it would basically be a draw for the districts. Well, almost all of them. Not so for Christina. By the DOE doing this, they have effectively targeted Christina with all this and pitted the other fifteen districts against them. And the charters? I hear there was a meeting with Secretary Godowsky as well at Newark Charter School (such an impartial place to have this kind of meeting). The charter leaders were told the formula change wasn’t going to happen this year.
So this boils down to Newark Charter School (and other charters Christina gives local funding to) versus Christina School District in the immediate future. They are going after Christina money in what I suspect will wind up being an illegal move. I also predict Christina will take legal action if they push this. This is not an area for compromise. It is petty. What remains to be seen is what the original plan looked like. Remember, Godowsky found out about this after the charter bills went out to the districts. So how can the DOE do anything like this without the Secretary’s approval? That is the burning question every one should be asking. Whoever our new Governor is, he or she is going to have one royal mess on their hands!
Imagine getting your tax bill in the mail and it goes up by $500.00 for the year. For citizens in the Milford School District in Delaware, this was the new reality they faced last week. Much of the controversy surrounds their referendum which passed last year. A referendum and tuition tax are two very different things. With a referendum, that is asking citizens to support increased taxes for operating expenses or capital costs. A Delaware school board can’t just raise those taxes on their own. The people need to vote on it. But for tuition tax, as well as what is called a match tax, the school board can vote on an increase for that.
For newer readers, tuition tax is based on special education costs that exceed the funding provided by the state, the feds, and what the local school district appropriated for these costs. This could mean increased funds for teachers and staff to accommodate students with disabilities or it pays for out of district placements for more complex needs of students. Delaware has seen a dramatic increase in students sent to either day treatment centers or residential treatment centers. Some of these treatment centers are out of state which causes the costs to increase even more. It seems to have risen dramatically in the last year, and I’m beginning to really wonder why this is going on.
What happened in Milford was their board passed on raising the tuition tax for a number of years. Meanwhile, they passed their referendum which would give the average citizen in the district an increase of $120 in their tax bill. But in June, the board passed a tuition tax increase. This double whammy dramatically changed how much of an increase citizens saw in their new tax bill.
Milford Live covered this increase on August 23rd. A big issue surrounding the tax increase at the June board meeting dealt with transparency:
A review of the addendum for the June 20 meeting that is posted online did not indicate that there would be discussion about a tax increase at the school board meeting. However, when visitors arrived at the meeting, there was an addendum to the agenda with the presentation included, something that is common at Milford School Board meetings.
Milford has its fair share of senior citizens, and the sticker shock caused them to speak out in large numbers. One commenter on the Milford Live article stated that when their annual income is $6,000-$7,500, an annual increase like this really puts a dent in their wallet. What makes Milford unique, along with three other school districts in Delaware, is that they are located in two counties. This means residents of both Sussex and Kent County have two different amounts based on property assessments in each county. For Sussex residents, their new tax bill went up to $5.39 for every $100 of their assessed property value. Previously, it had been $3.56. For Kent County residents, the burden wasn’t as large as it went from $1.26 to $1.90.
Back in July, I questioned Appoquinimink on their huge tuition tax increase. While the information they gave to the press indicated one thing, the reality was very different. Appo said the rise in special education costs was dramatic last year and put a large emphasis on out of district placements. But the increase in out of district placements was not a large percentage of their increase. It was mainly for in-district special education services.
In Milford, their budgeted amount for their tuition tax was $2,100,000 as of July 2015. That would include both their out of district placements and in-district special education services that are in excess of state and federal funding. What they spent in FY2016 was $2,676,902 for these placements. While I can’t see the difference between what they budgeted for out of district placements and in-district special education services because their FY2016 budget is not posted on their website, the amount they paid in out of district placements is more than they budgeted for the entire category. As a side-note, their website does not have their monthly financial statements for either June or July of 2016 which puts them out of compliance with state law.
It really worries me that all these students with disabilities are being sent to places outside of school districts, in rapidly growing numbers. I hear a lot of people blame parents for student behavior. While that could certainly play a factor, how come no one is talking about education itself. Since Common Core came out, I am seeing a rapid rise in these placements. And it seems to have really gone up in the last school year. I would be very curious how these students scored on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in the 2014-2015 school year. I hate to go there, but does it become easier to send a student out of district if they were not proficient on this test? Is the “rigor” and “grit” having a bigger psychological impact than we think?
The price for these students may wind up being higher than the rise in tuition taxes across the state. And I’m not talking financially…
Three Delaware Due Process Hearing and two Administrative Complaint decisions were put on the Delaware Department of Education website with varied results. The Due Process cases involved the Colonial School District, Brandywine School District, and a combined case against Delaware College Prep and the Delaware DOE. As well, an Administrative Complaint decision involving the Red Clay Consolidated School District prevailed for the district where another Administrative Complaint involving the Milford School District prevailed for the student.
In most of these cases, there were complaints around Independent Educational Evaluations in terms of the costs and the timing of them. Other cases involved residential treatment center costs, a school making sure IEP accommodations were followed, and statute of limitations. These are important decisions to read. Parents can avoid many pitfalls by reading these and seeing what they shouldn’t do. Special education is complicated enough but even a careless error on a parent’s part can lead to future ramifications. All schools, districts, and teachers should read these as well. Special education will never get better unless the players are informed of their rights in all sides of the issues. Many of these cases involve timing, on either the school or the parent’s part. The Brandywine case is very interesting.
Many schools in Delaware start up again in two weeks. Many parents will be requesting IEPs or updates to existing ones. Now is the time to see what cases are setting precedence!
Due Process Hearing: Colonial School District Vs. Student
Due Process Hearing: Student Vs. Brandywine School District
Due Process Hearing: Student vs. Delaware College Prep and Delaware Department of Education
Administrative Complaint: Student Vs. Red Clay Consolidated School District
Administrative Complaint: Student Vs. Milford School District
This is an important message for ALL Milford School District parents: You need to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. If they started already, do not let them take one more second of this test. Refuse The Test! The Network of Public Education is calling for a National Opt Out of these high-stakes tests. They aren’t effective at all, and everyone knows it. These tests are being used for nefarious purposes. Do not believe the lies coming out of Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education. They care more about corporate profit than your child. It doesn’t matter if your kid is smart. It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican. What matters is your child, and their education. This is not education. It is a mockery of education.
Please give the principal of your child’s school a letter on Monday morning indicating you are opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Let the school know you want your child to receive academic instruction while the other kids are taking the test. If they tell you that you can’t opt your child out, look them in the eye and say “Yes I can, and if you make my child take this test I will call the police.” To get support from other parents, please join the Opt Out Milford Facebook page.
I was asked to share the following letter to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn about referendums in Delaware. There are many districts gearing up for their own referendums: Brandywine, Christina, Appoquinimink and I’m sure there are others. What do you think? Should referendums stop being a social gathering?
Letter to Attorney General Matt Denn
After making inquiries to the Board of Elections I was advised to
contact your office for further help.
The recent decision by Chancery Court to proceed with the Lawsuit
against the Red Clay school district exposes the unethical and
blatantly dishonest tactics used by School Boards in their desperate
attempts to win referendums. It is essential you investigate these
abuses so that voting Citizens are not subjected to this constant
badgering which has eroded public confidence in the voting process.
Another case in point is the Milford School board, which held its 3rd
referendum in just 18 months. While permitted, this relentless use of
referendum to raise taxes that had failed twice before has resulted in
voter fatigue and charges of Voter fraud.
School Boards have a saying “just try again”. Milford has said “we
did” and when that didn’t work they cheated, bullied and lied.
Delaware Law guarantees all elections shall have Free and Equal access
however the Superintendent and Milford School Board have colluded to
deny those in opposition from this fundamental right.
Cheated; they checked the Board of Elections and saw that there were
250 more No votes at LuLu Ross Elementary in the May 2015 referendum.
So they eliminated LuLu Ross as a polling location thwarting the
people in that community their right to vote. They replaced it with
the High School where Senior students were enticed to cut class to
vote yes. In the previous referendum the Seniors were transported by
bus to Banneker Elementary to vote. The bus was supposedly paid for by
a quasi- official lobbying group which was initially headquartered at
the Superintendent’s office. Students were essentially pressured to
vote yes because of the constant threats that all sports and numerous
personnel would be eliminated.
Bullied; they scheduled a non-essential family night at Banneker which
was another polling site the very same night the polls were open to
voters. This activity could have been rescheduled but instead the
parking lot was full of cars and the hallways were full of young
students. This was a deliberate attempt by the Board to fill the
parking lot with families and vehicles to discourage the Handicapped
and Elderly who traditionally vote no from exercising their legal
right to “Free and Equal Access”.
Lied to; the School Board, along with the Superintendent and CFO told
the public they had slashed the budget, fired personnel and eliminated
many programs. Only problem with this was the truth; the actual 2015
budget was $51,006.000 whereas the 2016 projected budget was
$49,961,000. A reduction of only $45,000. Are these the deceptive
tactics and legacy the Superintendent and Board want to set as
acceptable behavior to our students and citizens?
Questions that need to be answered in by your office;
Did anyone within the Milford School system or its lobby organization
known as Buccaneer Tomorrow use any means of communication, written or
verbal to “encourage H.S. students to vote? Did this constitute a
violation of Delaware law governing electioneering within the
designated voting area?
Did anyone within the school system contact parents of students asking
them to vote for the referendum using school resources and was this a
violation of Delaware law?
Why were voting booths eliminated at LuLu Ross?
Why was the non-essential family math night at Banneker not
rescheduled so as to not interfere with the People’s right to Vote?
Was there a Quid Pro Quo made with the Teachers Union regarding Raises?
10284 Webb Farm Rd
Lincoln, De 19960
Sussex Academy, the only Delaware charter school in Sussex County, was one of the best Smarter Balanced scoring schools in the entire county. This is not an accident, nor is it an indication they are the “best” school in the county. Like the Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy was named in the ACLU lawsuit against the State of Delaware last December for discrimination against minority and special needs students. Or what the blogosphere collectively calls “cherry-picking”. The school is smack dab in the middle of Sussex County.
On the Delaware Department of Education school profiles part of their website, it shows the school’s demographics. Sussex County has a very large population of Hispanics. Western Sussex County is considered one of the poorest sections of the state and that trend is expected to increase over time.
In previous articles, this blog and Delaware Liberal have focused on New Castle County, Capital School District, and all the Delaware charters. Our graphs have shown the effect low-income and poverty has on Smarter Balanced performance. Unfortunately, this trend continues in Sussex County as seen below. Since Sussex Academy is primarily a middle school (although their high school is increasing, with 9th grade added two years ago, 10th grade last year, and 11th grade this year), I ran the graph with just the middle schools surrounding the school. Sussex Academy appears to be siphoning away the “better” students from their surrounding districts.
To put this in perspective, Laurel Intermediate School is currently a Priority School in Delaware, which slipped under the radar of most bloggers until recently. Meanwhile, Sussex Academy is praised by Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE as a great success. All schools would be considered awesome if they were allowed to do what Sussex Academy does with their application process and mythical “lottery”. Like Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter School to some extent, the veil has been lifted and these schools are not superior schools. They have merely placed themselves on that stage by picking who they want, and more importantly, who they don’t want.
While their Hispanic population seems high, 9.6%, compared to many of the other schools, it is very low. Sussex Academy is in Georgetown, the same as Georgetown Middle School. Watch what happens…
In theory then, does the same hold true for the percentage of English Language Learners in Sussex County? Not exactly. Even though a few schools have less Hispanic students, Sussex Academy has the lowest percentage of English Language Learners.
How does Sussex Academy compare to the other schools with special education? I’m sure you know the answer already, but there is a very wide margin between the school and the others.
In fact, they are in the low single-digits compared to the schools surrounding them. When I see this, it always reminds me of the scene in Forrest Gump, when young Forrest tries to find a seat on the bus and the one kids says to him “Can’t sit here.” This is what Sussex Academy does with their blatant discrimination against low-income students, Hispanics, and students with disabilities. But I’m sure they will be recognized as a “reward” or “recognition” school for their exemplary performance…