Academy On The Cliffs Of Dover Money Woes… Again…

I’m pretty sure a lot of readers won’t get my tongue in cheek title to this article unless you happen to like the Righteous Brothers. And not just the song from “Ghost”. What is going on at Academy of Dover now? In their most recent board minutes, from 6/23/16, there were several items that raised red flags.  To a casual observer, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal.  But knowing their history, it spoke volumes.

There are financial issues going on. There was discussion about the settlement with Mosaica, their former management company.  Last year, the school was ordered to pay on a judgment by the Superior Court for an amount over a million dollars.  Along with some academic issues, this caused them to go under formal review with the Delaware Department of Education.  The eventual outcome was probation until 6/30/16.

Academy of Dover reached a $650,000 settlement with Mosaica, of which $500,000 has been verified as paid. The remaining $150,000 due to Mosaica was broken up in three payments of $50,000 due by the end of July for the next three years.  A payment of $50,000, based on the original settlement, was due to Mosaica by 7/31/16.  At their June board meeting though, there was discussion about settling again with Mosaica.  There was talk about “the monetary issues dealing with the Mosaica issue”. The board voted on a motion regarding this “monetary issue” with a bizarre footnote that one of their board members, Dr. Charles Fletcher, had voted no on the Mosaica settlement.

Further adding to the financial mystery, the board announced they had a silent auction for “items sitting in the shed for two years” on June 16th.  They didn’t reveal how much revenue they received from this endeavor nor why it was held.  There was talk during a board meeting some months ago about trying to sell items former Principal Noel Rodriguez purchased illegally with school funds.  Rodriguez returned many of the items to the school.

While not completely verified, the school is having some staffing issues.  Rumor has it they got rid of their entire special education staff and will have about nine new teachers this year.  While they showed increases in their Smarter Balanced scores across the board, that doesn’t always translate into more students.  They appear to be down in enrollment but not to the level where their charter would be affected.  But they are up for charter renewal this fall, so expect to hear a lot more about this.

Back to their finances, what is interesting is their final FY2016 budget.  It appears the school overestimated on a lot of their expenditures.  As a result, they will have to base their FY2017 budget on those final expenditure amounts based on Delaware state law.  This could be causing some of their financial issues as well.

I got the above part wrong folks!  Sorry about that!

And then there is always the looming shadow about Noel Rodriguez.  Will Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn ever press charges against him?  As always, we wait… and wait… and wait…

 

Academy of Dover State Audit Report Released! State Board of Education & Murphy Should Revoke Their Charter!!!

“A clear and consistent message is needed from all state agencies about fiscal accountability over all charter school funds including local funds.”

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office released their report on Academy of Dover, and it is much worse than anyone thought.  Here are the highlights:

-Academy of Dover has no contract with their financial management organization, Innovative Schools, which could set up another legal situation for them…

-For three years, Rodriguez used $127,866 in school funds for personal use, the state was unable to determine if ANOTHER $129,458 was for school or personal use…

-The school had a sexual harassment lawsuit in which they settled, costing the school out-of-pocket over $36,000 in legal fees and over $97,000 in insurance funds.  This was due to Noel Rodriguez, the former principal…

-Academy of Dover kept allowing Rodriguez to use his cell phone until March 2015 even though he resigned in October 2014, added an additional $1,696 in charges…

-Academy of Dover’s average class size is 19 to 1, drastically lower than most traditional school districts, but the average student to adult ratio is 10 to 1…

-In trying to seek guidance on the overall purpose of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the organization did not respond to that request…

-During the three year spending spree, there was no oversight from any of the following organizations: Academy of Dover, their board, DOE, Charter School Accountability Committee, Division of Accounting, independent auditors or Innovative Schools…

-Rodriguez had a “special relationship”, according to the below report, with a music teacher. As well, he treated employees to Happy Hour numerous times, reimbursed them for alcohol purchases, and gave bonuses to teachers with NO board approval…

“Charter schools consistently receive instruction from DOE, Division of Accounting (DOA), and OMB that they may use their local funds as they deem appropriate, which is inconsistent with laws and regulations.”

The below document, produced by Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner, is a sickening and disgusting look at over three years of taxpayer funds going towards one man’s addiction to material items.  We know from last week’s House Education Committee meeting, seven Delaware charter schools are under review by the State Auditor.  It is time to wake up Delaware, and change this system of fraud and abuse.  Starting with the DOE, because based on what I’m seeing in this report, Academy of Dover needs to be shut down.  They had zero oversight over Rodriguez for over three years.  And they continued to give him special privileges with a cell phone after he “resigned”.  Their probation needs to be revoked and Rodriguez should be arrested for openly violating state law and regulation!

Why do we continue to allow organizations like the Delaware Charter Schools Network have any say on legislation that would protect our students and taxpayers from this sort of waste and abuse, but they refuse to answer questions about their very purpose to a state auditor’s office?

Hell Hath No Fury Like A State Rep Scorned! Seven Charter Schools Under Investigation By State Auditor!!!!!

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams is mad as hell, and she is making it known!  The reason for her anger?  Her Delaware charter school audit bill, House Bill 186, is facing some fierce opposition.  But why?  Find out here, from her State Rep. Facebook page:

PLEASE READ VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!! Our teachers are held accountable, students are held accountable, don’t you think our public tax dollars should also have accountability?

Academy of Dover since 2010-2011 has not met or fell far below the financial standards set forth by the Department of Education and the Charter School Accountability Committee. The charter school office reported to the State Board of Education yesterday that in early April they learned of serious allegations of financial management by a former Academy of Dover school leader. Their financial framework for the last three years have shown there have been financial issues. I brought a bill forward which would require all charter schools to be audited through the Auditor’s Office, currently all public schools are audited through this office except for charter schools, and the House republicans sitting on the House Education Committee voted against the bill that I sponsored; House Bill 186. Family Foundation this year had issues with two former co-directors misusing the public’s money, over $90,0000, and now we have Academy of Dover who is now under investigation by the Auditor’s Office for misuse of public funds. The Delaware Charter Schools Network were there on Wednesday lobbying legislators hard not to support my bill. This is a great bill and it should be released from Committee. I have eight Democrats who are willing to sign the bill backer. During the State Board of Education meeting you hear one board member stating that the Financial Framework would not have caught this. Another board member stated this is happening a lot. DOE Charter School Office stated that Academy of Dover has been working for years on a payment plan, so does that mean folks knew for years this was going on. House Bill 186 needs to be released and voted on the House floor.

If you have never met Kim Williams, she doesn’t seem the type to get mad.  However, once she is, you know it pretty fast.  I’ve seen her and she isn’t the yelling and screaming type, but she is very direct and firm.  I can completely understand why she is so upset about this bill.  Charters, many of them, have been pilfering taxpayer funds for a long time now.  At the House Education Committee on Wednesday, a representative from the State Auditor’s office confirmed seven charter schools are under investigation in their office and no traditional school districts are at all (which squashes the rumors I heard about two school districts in our state being investigated over there).  Three are known: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy.  Who are the other four?  That’s 31.8% of the charters in this state!

Patrick Heffernan with the Delaware State Board of Education raised a very good point the other day.  The settlement with Mosaica was $650,000.00.  Academy of Dover plopped down $200,000 right away, and has $150,000 due 7/3/15 and another payment of $150,000 by 7/31/15.  Then they will pay $50,000 once a year for 3 years after.  So that’s $500,000 they will pay by the end of July.  Where does all this money come from?  This is taxpayer money they have been tucking away somewhere waiting for this rainy day.  This is funding that should be going to students.  Now I understand why they were being so cheap about paying their paraprofessionals an extra buck or two an hour when they were asked to substitute teach!

Write you state representative today and demand accountability for charter schools!

Academy of Dover: Probation Recommendation By Charter School Accountability Committee

According to sources, Academy of Dover had a recommendation of probation by the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Their final report should be issued later today.  Apparently the school, under formal review, has reached a settlement with Mosaica, their former financial management company.  An unknown (will be talked about in the final report) down payment was or will be made, with payments over the next three years.  The other aspects were their academics and issues surrounding the former head of school and the state auditor’s report.  As well, the special education issue that surfaced with parent Sabine Neal became part of the formal review discussion.  Nothing new on that front.  Even though the CSAC recommends probation, the final decision is by Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education in their meeting on June 18th, starting at 1pm.

Once the final reports come up for all four of the charters under formal review, I will put them up!

Academy of Dover Confirms Teacher Struck Student And Did Not Call The Police or Attorney General Office

Today at the Charter School Accountability Committee meeting at the Delaware Department of Education, Academy of Dover confirmed the “incident” alluded to in the letter the DOE sent them last week. A teacher struck a student but no details were given about the nature of the assault. Academy of Dover Head of School Cheri Marshall did state the teacher was immediately suspended without pay, and then terminated with board approval. But then it was said the teacher resigned, so the details are a little fuzzy. This is the same school that insisted former Head of School Noel Rodriguez “resigned”, but it was confirmed today by board member Nancy Wagner that Rodriguez was physically removed from the building. This completely contradicts Marshall’s firm “he resigned” to me when I called the school for confirmation on Rodriguez’s termination last fall. I guess when an employee is terminated at the school, the official stance is “they resigned”.

Marshall did say it was a student they had issues with all year long and numerous calls were made to the child’s mother. The mother was immediately called when the incident happened. The mother declined to press charges. However, there was no mention by Marshall or any member of the board about contacting either the police or the Attorney General’s office to report the crime. It is required by Delaware state law to report all incidents of this nature. When asked again if there was any other part of this investigation, Marshall said no. The DOE informed Academy of Dover the mother contacted them about the incident.

In regards to Noel Rodriguez, it was confirmed by Wagner that Rodriguez and several staff members had tumultuous encounters. But this did not come out until after Rodriguez left, as Wagner stated staff were too scared to come to the board. The suspicious purchase card transactions were described as a very stealth-like operation by Rodriguez in setting up different accounts. The board were not even aware of these many purchases until last fall when their annual auditor notified them of several red flags coming up. Wagner also reported the former board members all had very close ties with Rodriguez, much like Family Foundations Academy’s former board was set up during the Moore/Brewington era.

The Mosaica $2 million judgment came up, and the school stated they were not ignoring the judgment and tried for many years to work things out with Mosaica. It surprised the school when the court overruled on a previous ruling and the judgment was enforced last month. The judge involved in that ruling will be hearing arguments against his ruling on June 22nd. The State Board of Education and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy will make their decision on June 18th. Academy of Dover’s attorney did state an agreement could be worked out between the two parties prior to that court date, but nothing is firm or in writing. When asked how long the new court ruling could take, their attorney said it could be the same day or it could take weeks.

In my opinion, even with all the changes the board may have made, it is obvious there were and continue to be serious issues with the school’s ability to effectively educate its 300 students. With financial judgments and past mismanagement, employee theft of state funds, a teacher striking a student, and the board’s inability to realize what is going on until after the fact, I fear for the students at this school. If I were their parents, I know what my choice would be. A board should be more aware of what is going on at a school, and the fact the teachers and staff were afraid of the head of school speaks volumes about the board’s decision making ability.

Academy of Dover’s Formal Review Documents & Timeline

There are two things that are officially confirmed with this letter.  Someone at the school was using purchase cards unethically since July of 2012.  The second thing is the lawsuit between Academy of Dover and Mosaica is finally talked about by the Delaware DOE.