The Odyssey Charter School Education Association declared a vote of no confidence in the school’s Board of Directors. As well, they asked four members of the board to resign. Continue reading
After the beat down and humiliation they received from the Red Clay Board of Education last night, the Charter School of Wilmington is very angry. They were called out as a racist school while their charter was renewed for 5 years instead of 10. Are they going to do something about it? Continue reading
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
I am more convinced than ever that there are people in Delaware who are hell-bent on demolishing the Delaware State Education Association. The resignation of Mike Matthews over old blog posts was just the opening salvo. This is an all-out war on the teachers union in Delaware.
Yesterday, I received a letter in the mail. The envelope was hand-written and the actual letter was typed. The bottom part of the page was cut off. There was no return address, just a Wilmington postmark. I do not know who sent it but it feels and smells like a campaign to go after DSEA. This is what the letter said: Continue reading
Odyssey Charter School teachers and staff voted and an overwhelming majority decided to join the Delaware State Education Association. This is the second charter school in Delaware to do so in 2018. Last Spring, the Charter School of Wilmington also voted to join DSEA. In 1997, Positive Outcomes joined DSEA but opted out in 2000. Delaware College Prep joined in 2012 but closed a few years later due to low enrollment.
With 131 for and 16 against, over 89% of the educators in the school decided a teachers union was the best option for them. Prior to 2018, it was virtually unheard of for Delaware charters to unionize. What turned the tide?
For Odyssey, the decision was clear- they did not like decisions the board was making and felt their voices were not being heard. When former leader Nick Manolakos did not have his contract renewed, the school hired two to take his place. But the tipping point was when their former Board President, who had just resigned, became a leading contender for a third highly paid administrator.
Over the summer this led to those teachers and parents questioning the board about decisions that would affect the school. Parents saw fundraiser after fundraiser to get more money for the school but didn’t feel the money was going towards what the school promised. But they had money for all these administrators.
Congratulations to Odyssey Charter School for joining DSEA. With two joining this year, will more Delaware charters follow? Even with forces joining together to muffle DSEA it has become more apparent than ever that teachers want respect and to have their voice heard. They are the second most important part of a school after the students. They have rights and deserve to organize and fight for what is theirs. They deserve due process and the right to air grievances.
Parents of students at Odyssey Charter School received the following email tonight from the Head of School, Denise Parks. If Odyssey teachers and staff do vote to unionize they would become the second Delaware charter school to do this. In May, Charter School of Wilmington voted in the majority for joining the Delaware State Education Association.
Good evening, OCS Families–
Our new leadership team continues to work to improve communications and also to promote transparency in school developments. To reinforce these efforts, I want to make you aware that OCS has received notice from the State of Delaware, Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that the Odyssey Charter School Education Association (“OCSEA”) has filed a petition to represent certain academic and facilities employees here at OCS. This process ultimately will lead to an election to determine whether OCSEA, as the union, will represent this group of employees in collective bargaining negotiations. I want you to know that the leadership team strongly believes that remaining union-free is the right thing for both OCS and for the staff involved. I will endeavor to keep you informed of key developments as they occur in this process. Please contact me if you have any questions. Whatever the outcome of this vote, I look forward to a productive year for our school.
Yours in education, Denise Parks Head of School
No sooner do I post an article about Odyssey than an email comes in from an Odyssey parent who is fed up with their Board! While this email has been circulating among Odyssey parents on social media today, this is the first time it has been open to the public like this. The parent gave me full permission to post this and considers it a public document! Continue reading
Events at Odyssey Charter School have been bubbling for some time now but they are coming to a boil in recent weeks. When the Odyssey Board of Directors chose not to renew Headmaster Nick Manolakos’ contract, they put forth Riccardo Stoeckicht as their new “Campus Operations Officer” and Denise Parks as their Head of School. Between these two hirings, the school is looking at over $300,000.00 for these two positions alone. But the shenanigans don’t stop there. Continue reading
Last week, a parent of a student at Odyssey Charter School received a response to an opt out letter she sent the school back in February. The letter said they were unable to offer any discretion in the matter since Delaware doesn’t have any official opt out laws. The school does have discretion. It’s called the parent opted their kid out and Odyssey needs to suck it up and take it on the chin.
The parent is concerned about any punitive action the Wilmington charter could take against her child. I have yet to hear of any punishment issued to a student over a parent opting them out. So this would be the first to my recollection. The powers that be know there is nothing they can do to prevent opt out. They just don’t want any school dipping below that 95% participation rate threshold. Which (sadly) didn’t happen in any school last year. I find it frustrating that so many parents think this test is perfectly okay. It isn’t.
What many parents don’t realize is something schools won’t tell them which is the actual language in federal law. That states schools must administer the state assessment to students. It says nothing about the student actually taking the test. A school is not allowed to deny a student the ability to take the test. That is a far cry from a parent saying they don’t want their kid taking it. And there have been enough U.S. Supreme Court cases involving parental rights in education to justify opt out.
The response from the school to the parent talked about only medical reasons being a valid exemption based on the law. Which is true, but only for the school not to administer the test and NOT have it count against their participation rate. But what Odyssey did was quote the federal law and then add their own part about ESEA (now ESSA) not allowing parents to opt their child out of the state assessment. Which is absolute malarkey because it doesn’t say you can either. It doesn’t even address opt out. In fact, ESSA as it is written actually gives states the ability to come up with their own policies and laws on opt out. But in good old Delaware, we had a chance to honor and codify a parent’s right to opt out but our Governor Markell vetoed the bill when our General Assembly overwhelmingly passed it. And then too many of our chicken little legislators kissed the Markell ring when there was a shot to override that veto.
Currently, another opt out bill is awaiting consideration in the House Education Committee. It was heard in committee last year but shenanigans ensued over the vote so it is still in “pending” status where it will most likely remain until the end of this legislative session on June 30th. I don’t think Governor Carney has ever muttered the words “opt out” since he has been Governor of Delaware.
Nothing helps the opt out movement more than a school giving a parent a rough time or sending the Delaware Department of Education template letter to a parent. Parents, if you want to opt your kid out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, just do it. I guarantee you if they give you a rough time or try to punish your kid I will give them holy hell for it. That is my promise to you! And if it is in Capital, Red Clay, or Christina, their boards passed resolutions or policies honoring that parental right so none of the schools in those districts should be even addressing it!
These five charter schools are very distinctive in one area: they all have low populations of special education students compared to their surrounding districts. But those aren’t the only comparisons among them. Two of them have school leaders that received salary bumps over $50,000 and then resigned or are set to retire. Pension law in Delaware sets your pension based on your three highest years of salary. Intentional? You be the judge.
These five charters range from near the top of Delaware in New Castle County all the way to the heart of Sussex County with one right near the middle in Kent. All of these charters have significant student enrollment and have taken many students from their surrounding school districts. They are also in very populous, and in some cases, fast growing areas of the state.
Dr. Nick Manolakos, the long-time Headmaster of Odyssey Charter School is no longer serving in that capacity. What he does next may not be what many folks expected to happen. Continue reading
The Greek-themed Delaware charter school, Odyssey, sent out a letter to parents in their area advising them they are still accepting students. As most involved in Delaware education know, schools get their funding based on the September 30th student count. Odyssey is trying to beef up those numbers to get more money.
This is a bad idea in very bad taste. The window for school choice in Delaware closes in mid-January. As in eight months ago. While charters are certainly free to accept students after those dates if they have room, actively
soliciting students after the school year has already started is lousy judgment. It is poaching, pure and simple. It is money driven, not student driven. But what many forget is that some charters tend to kick out high-risk students after September 30th. And guess what? Some keep the funding they received.
On DSEA President Mike Matthews Facebook page, he brought this up yesterday. While he didn’t name the school, State Rep. Kim Williams said she is aware of it and did notify the Delaware Dept. of Education. Will the charter-friendly DOE actually address the situation or just play along to go along?
As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with actual charter schools and the reason for their existence. But I do take issue with situations like this, when profit and money result in grown-ups making poor decisions. There are good charters out there but unfortunately when certain charters keep coming up in events like this it is hard to not view the charter problem as a whole. Whether it is discrimination, poor special education, cherry-picking students, or using lobbying power to get more money at the expense of districts, the Delaware tends to side with the charters. Even worse, they tend to turn a blind eye to recurring issues such as the ongoing financial cesspool that is Providence Creek Academy, the enrollment preferences at Charter School of Wilmington, or the discrimination factory we call Newark Charter School. Odyssey should not be attempting to get students from districts this far into the school year.
Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting put the hammer down on Odyssey or will she allow this poaching journey to continue? And what is your take on this bad education practice?
Delaware is missing one of the key players in transparency thanks to a deliberate campaign orchestrated by one or many. Because of this, it may have cleared the way for many charter schools to launch a lawsuit in Delaware.
Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams exclusively released the letters sent to five Delaware charter schools about their petty cash practices last night. They showed some very extreme violations of state code. As well, letters were sent to four other state agencies. These letters were sent by Tom Wagner, the publicly elected Delaware State Auditor, on June 21st to the following charter schools: Odyssey Charter School, Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy, and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security. The state agencies Wagner sent letters to addressing the petty cash violations of state code were the following: Department of Education (Secretary Godowsky), Department of Finance (Secretary Tom Cook), Division of Accounting (Director Kristopher Knight), and the State Treasurer (Ken Simpler). These letters were never publicly released from Tom Wagner or the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Originally, this was an audit inspection and that report would have been released. But before that happened, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts top official, Kathleen Davies, was put on leave last spring. Now we can clearly see why.
Before I get into the results of the letters to the five charter schools, we need to look at motive. The key to any mystery is “Who benefits”? That benefit could be the ability to keep something hidden or being able to reap some type of positive outcome from the situation.
We have so many who could have done it: Ann Visalli, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Kendall Massett, Senator David Sokola, Charlie Copeland, Nick Manolakos, and others as well. We can’t forget the potential role Greg Meece may have contributed either. State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett are very tight and the DOE is in the same building as the Auditor of Accounts Office. It could be a combination of any of these people. It could have even come down from the very top, Governor Markell himself.
Out of all these entities, one of them leads the pack in Delaware when it comes to offering charter schools advice and protection. That would be the Delaware Charter Schools Network, led by Executive Director Kendall Massett. When it comes to charter schools, I have no doubt Kendall is in a key position to communicate issues to charter school leaders. Some charter schools are run by ex-legislators in some sort of capacity. Former State Rep. Nick Manolakos is the Head of School for Odyssey Charter School. Delaware GOP Chair Charlie Copeland is the President of the Board of Directors for Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security. Both are prominent Republicans in Delaware. Many on the Sussex Academy Board of Directors are also Republican. Odyssey Charter School and Delaware Military Academy clearly had the most egregious of petty cash violations out of the five charters. I can imagine the pressure on Tom Wagner from all sides could easily have prompted his decision to make Kathleen Davies go away.
Odyssey Charter School:
- petty cash fund not approved by State Treasurer and checking account used for petty cash not approved by State Treasurer
- 53 petty cash checks over state limit of $500.00, totaled $303,451.65
- 57 debit transactions from petty cash account over state limit of $500.00, totaled $326,574.05
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $88,979.83
Delaware Military Academy:
- had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
- never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian
- checks signed with two signatures but each check signed by Account Custodian who can’t sign checks
- 30 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $114,111.08
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $20,589.31
- failed to provide receipts or invoices for check of $1000.00 for “lunch start-up costs”
Charter School of Wilmington:
- had no written polices and procedures for petty cash
- never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian, was performed by Chief Financial Officer who was not the Account Custodian
- no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
- 13 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $11,228.90
- had debit transaction from petty cash account for $4,000, well over the $500 limit, which was transferred to another CSW account
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $6,174.10
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security:
- had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
- never had account reconciliation done by anyone, including the Account Custodian
- no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
- 8 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $6,440.11
- 5 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $16,377.05
- maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $26,689.95
So let me get this straight. Kathleen Davies was working on finalizing this report, showing five Delaware charter schools breaking the law, but she got put out to pasture? And all the charters got was these “don’t do it again” letters? That were NEVER released to the public, until now? And look at the cc: on the letter to Godowsky. All charter school leaders and board presidents. My theory that Kathleen Davies was put on leave for bogus purposes is actually proven in the letters to the charter schools. As the News Journal wrote, Ann Visalli with the Office of Management and Budget followed up on a complaint by unnamed individuals at the Auditor of Accounts Office. As a result, Davies was placed on leave (six months after the tip was submitted to OMB) because she failed to use a procurement card for travel purposes and went through the also-existing state reimbursement program. But in the letters to the charters, that standard doesn’t seem to exist because Wagner writes:
We also recommend using a State-issued procurement card (PCard) or direct claim through First State Financials when possible. Regardless of the method of payment, supporting documentation must be maintained for all transactions.
So by Wagner’s own advice to the charters, what Kathleen Davies did is perfectly acceptable. She followed the procedure. Maybe not a preferred procedure, but a procedure nonetheless. Which makes Ann Visali’s actions a complete and utter crock. A complete and utter lie meant to disgrace the one person at the Auditor of Accounts office who was doing their job, and doing it well. But no, instead we get these non-transparent letters from Tom Wagner. And he has the gall to ask Godowsky to collaborate with him on “an event” to make sure all the charter schools know this, even though their leaders and board presidents were included in the letter to Godowsky? How much more special treatment and hand-holding do the charters need to understand the law? Do they need circle time to get this right State Auditor Wagner? This obvious fraud going on in our State Auditor’s office is completely out of control, matched only by that of the Department of Education.
This whole debacle comes down to this: someone or maybe even a group of individuals is protecting charter schools in Delaware. They have enough power and clout to make things disappear or just focus on other aspects surrounding it to cloud the issues. We are seeing this with the charter school lawsuit and I have to wonder if the petty cash information was not made public because of that looming timebomb. One can only assume the charters were given some type of direction in their process for having the DOE review exclusions districts submit for their local funding formulas. They clearly knew the results before the districts did as evidenced by the emails between the finance office of the DOE and charter school leaders. They also had to have known there would be some major blowback from the districts and advocates for the districts based on that. If not, they are complete and utter idiots who truly underestimate the will and resolve of people in Delaware traditional school districts.
This is my new working theory: the charters knew they would wind up filing suit on the local funding formula. I think they knew Godowsky was intentionally kept out of the loop on this and when the public found out about the new charter bills going out to the districts with very elevated amounts, Secretary Godowsky would be forced by public pressure to reverse course. As a result, they would be free to sue the Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education for something they wanted to happen in the first place- a big, fat, and juicy lawsuit. They knew the only thing that could happen for them to get more money would be to create the conditions for a lawsuit to happen. Which they did. Delaware is a very corrupt state. If people don’t see that in this day and age with everything I’ve written, along with many others, they need to get their eyes checked. There are good people, fighting the good fight, but they are overpowered and outnumbered by those who are either corrupt or lend their ears to those who are corrupt. If some cities get a moniker of “Sin City”, then Delaware clearly qualifies for the “Sin State”.
But the charters and their friends had to clear a very real obstacle in their road to the lawsuit. One Kathleen Davies. The same person who was doing the petty cash audit along with other charter school audit inspections. One of those inspections was a tip I sent to the auditor’s office on Newark Charter School and their failure to submit non-profit 990 tax forms to the IRS. While they met the criteria once upon a time for being exempt from filing their 990 tax returns, they knew the conditions which allowed for those exemptions no longer existed. Something the IRS issued very strongly worded guidance to all American charter schools that participate in these exemptions. NCS knew they could not look like a victim in a lawsuit against their feeder pattern district if that audit inspection came out. It had to disappear. We all know true compliance with properly making sure all our schools in Delaware are truly funding student needs is an exercise in futility, despite what the law already requires. But an audit inspection into NCS’ finances would be a much deeper probe. It could have offered a great deal of transparency with their money and what they are doing with it, far past the scope of their annual audit or what appears in their financial statements. But given the pull they seem to have, with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee (Delaware Senator David Sokola), to some extent the Chair of the House Education Committee (State Rep. Earl Jaques), other members of the Delaware General Asssembly, select members of the Delaware Dept. of Education, lobbyists, and companies within the Newark area, I could easily picture Greg Meece being able to rally enough force to make things happen in regards to Kathleen Davies. Once again, I stress, with utmost importance, this is only a working theory of mine and is not grounded in documented fact. I imagine a paper trail that could conceivably supporting this working theory would not materialize no matter how many FOIA requests I might ask for.
Lest we forget, as clearly documented in the above-linked News Journal article, Senator Sokola was the prime sponsor on a bill meant to give charter schools more authority over the choosing of their annual auditors as opposed to the State Auditor of Accounts office. This was in complete contrast with Rep. William’s original bill which would have had the auditor’s office doing the job.
She publicly supported Williams’s bill over an alternative proposal from Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, which would strengthen the rules charters have to follow in picking auditors but leave them with the authority to do so.
Eventually, Rep. Williams and Senator Sokola compromised on a charter school audit bill but the charters still get to pick their own auditor. What the new bill also accomplished was any charter school under investigation by the State Auditor of Accounts office would also be audited for that fiscal year by the Auditor of Accounts. By making the petty cash audit turn into letters instead of a full-blown inspection report, those five charter schools will not get a full financial audit by the Auditor of Accounts office this year. There are also other stipulations in which that office can do a full financial audit on a charter, including the following, based on the text from the signed House Bill 435.
Has failed to maintain a current status with the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filings, if said filings are required of that charter school.
All of this legislative language serves to expose charters who do not comply with the law. But discovery of something like an exemption of an IRS 990 filing not being practical based on the current conditions of the only Delaware charter school in the state to not file said return, would come from something like an audit inspection of the school. Something that is not happening from the Auditor’s office because they got rid of Kathleen Davies and my request to them seems to have vanished into the ether. Even though I provided clear documentation to John Fluharty about this. Granted, the Office of Management and Budget received a “tip” from other officials in the Auditor of Accounts office with the allegations of Davies “not following procedure” with travel expenses in November of 2015, the OMB did not act on this until the petty cash audit neared completion and the NCS 990 audit would have been under way. As well, there was the pulling of Davies’ September 30th Enrollment inspection which was reworked by Wagner and released in September. That report was released two weeks before Davies was put on leave.
At a bare minimum, the Auditor of Accounts office and the Office of Management and Budget must be made accountable for their actions regarding Davies. If she was put on leave for something as trivial as not following suggested procedure while charter schools run amok with their petty cash accounts and the results of which were not made public, even if it was switched from an inspection to non-transparent letters, we have a major conflict of interest going on here. This conflict of interest reaches to the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. As the charter authorizers of these five charter schools, they failed to even publicly broach the subject going on four months since the letters went to them, much less put the charter schools on formal review to address the financial violations of their charters, as they have the ability to do so under Title 14:
515 Oversight and revocation process.
(a) The approving authority shall be responsible for oversight of the charter schools it approves.
(b) In addition to the review required by § 514A(a) of this title, the approving authority may notify a charter school of potential violations of its charter and submit the charter to formal review to determine whether the charter school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures pursuant to subsection (f) of this section.
Both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Board President, Kenneth Rivera, were well aware of the situation because they were included in the letters sent from Tom Wagner. Bloggers like myself exist because of what amounts to severe issues with education in Delaware. Our state has, is, and will continue to fail the most important stakeholders in education, the students themselves, because they fail to adequately provide oversight to make sure our schools do the right thing. Instead, Delaware does its level best to cover up issues with no transparency and institutes polices and measures that have no basis in reality. They are what outside interests want. These “poverty pimps”, corporate education reformers, ed tech charlatans, and those hiding behind the cover of “non-profits” and “community organizations” should not be involved in education at all.
This is what I want to see: Kathleen Davies immediately reinstated, the original charter school petty cash audit inspection completed, and any other pending charter or district audits done with fidelity. As well, anyone else who played a role in this absolute cover-up and smear campaign against Davies needs to be named and held accountable for their parts in this. As State Rep. Kim Williams asked, who audits the auditors? I believe it is time to find out. It is past time the feds got involved in Delaware’s finances. Corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse are rampant in Delaware. If left unchecked, as it has been for some time now, the situation will only wind up costing the taxpayers of the state even more money than they have already doled out without even realizing it.
In the above picture, the people in the “Brady Bunch” format are as follows:
Top- Kendall Massett, David Sokola, Governor Markell
Middle- Tom Wagner, Kathleen Davies, Nick Manolakos
Bottom- Charlie Copeland, Secretary Godowsky, Ann Visalli
Yes, a group of Delaware charters are trying to strike gold over the charter funding issue. Which charters? Newark Charter School, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy, Academia Antonia Alonso, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, EastSide Charter School, Family Foundations Academy, First State Montessori Academy, Freire Charter School of Wilmington, Gateway Charter School, Great Oaks, Kuumba Academy, MOT Charter School, Odyssey Charter School, Providence Creek Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School. As well, there are a handful of parents suing on behalf of their minor children. Below are the complaints filed against Christina and the Delaware DOE. There is also a motion to expedite proceedings. I have not had time to fully read these, but I will after the ESSA Discussion Group meeting tonight. This is going to turn Delaware education on its ear!
Yes, you heard it right. The Olympics are coming to Delaware. Or, to be more specific, to Barley Mill Plaza! Odyssey Charter School, in celebration of their 10th Anniversary, is bringing the Olympic Torch to Delaware. I just have one question though… If this is to benefit Odyssey Charter School, why are folks asked to make checks out to the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and not directly to Odyssey Charter School? Does that mean the schools get all the money from these sponsorships for their 5k Run/Walk on September 24th? Awesome! But when I went to the website included in the press release (seen below) to register, it doesn’t give an online option to register. You can only mail checks to the AHEPA Wilmington Chapter. Wow! I can’t wait to see how much revenue they raise for the school!
The Board of Directors at Odyssey Charter School in Wilmington, DE clearly does not benefit from having their members publicly elected. Especially if you are a woman. Like something taken out of the late 19th Century, Odyssey seems to be very comfortable with discussing the downplaying of females on their board. There are nine members on Odyssey’s board but five are made of representation from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. Yes, they have the word Progressive in their title. But you wouldn’t know it based on the below conversation at their May 2016 board meeting. I really can’t wait to hear charter board meetings when the audio recording law takes effect at the start of this school year!
But the kicker is that this board can never be dominated by women. Why? Because of “The Brotherhood”…
How can you call yourself progressive but limit the role of women in a governing body? Has this board forgotten about civil rights and equality? Did they know very important rules passed in this country regarding women’s rights? It isn’t just women that are reduced on this board. We see a very clear disliking of their Parent Teacher Organization as well. Guess how many women joined their board the next month? A big fat zero! I’m not sure what their male: female ratio is on their board now. I know they had 3 out of 9 women on the board prior to this vote. I can’t wait to hear Odyssey’s board meetings. I’m assuming they don’t pay their bills with Susan B. Anthony coins…
The Delaware Department of Education continues their self-righteous Rodel led agendas. In their latest corporate education reform press release, Godowsky and the gang announced the nineteen members of the Delaware Teacher Leader Pilot program kicking off this year. I find it more than a coincidence that most of the districts who got these positions are very tight with the “Leader In Me” program. The only districts selected were Capital and Appoquinimink. Three charters are joining the bandwagon which are MOT, Kuumba Academy and Odyssey.
At their April board meeting, the Capital Board of Education tentatively approved going forward with this program. But they had deep concerns about setting up competitions in schools. They cited the very controversial Delaware Talent Co-op Program from a few years ago and how it caused many problems among teachers. As well, the board was concerned with the amount of time the selected Teacher Leaders would spend out of the classroom and how additional substitute teachers would need to take their place. The principals of these schools were very enthusiastic about the program. Both are “focus” schools, one of the latest “turnaround” labels thrown at schools over low state assessment scores. In a sense, I don’t blame these principals for doing what they can to get their schools out of these false labels put on them by the Delaware DOE. If you go to the Capital board audio recording from their April 20th board meeting, click on the second audio recording link, and the discussion begins around the 1:22:03 mark. When asked how much the program would cost, Superintendent Dan Shelton mentioned the stipend teachers would get but also that the training would take up the bulk of the costs. A figure of $50,000 was thrown around.
The only schools in Capital who are instituting this pilot program are Towne Point and East Dover Elementary. Towne Point is a huge advocate of the “Leader In Me” program. Fairview Elementary in Capital also has this program. Appoquinimink School District brought Leader In Me to Delaware. Payments for this program are made to a company called Franklin Covey. Many of the teachers at Towne Point who advocate for this program are also members of this Teacher Leader pilot program. One of them is also very involved with the Rodel Teacher Council. I have no doubt this teacher is an excellent teacher, but when you see one name associated with so many things I can not support, it is hard to draw the line between saying nothing and pointing it out. I fully welcome any discussion with this teacher about anything written in this article, especially the part I write about later on.
The Delaware General Assembly passed their budget bill in late June with an appropriation of $800,000 in state funds going to the recipient districts and charters towards the Teacher Leader program.
What I don’t understand is how the DOE can move forward with a program that is contingent on approval in the State Budget. The funds for this state grant weren’t approved until late June. But here we have the DOE sending out invitations to apply after Spring Break. For Capital school district, students came back after Spring Break on April 4th. They gave schools a very short time to apply for this program, a matter of 25 days. What was the insane rush behind this? I will touch on this later, but for now check out the press release from Alison May at the DOE:
First teacher leaders announced
Nineteen teachers have been selected to serve as teacher leaders in a pilot program launching this school year. The program is among the first of its kind in the nation to take place at the state level.
Providing this kind of teacher leadership opportunity was among the recommendations of the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. During his administration, Governor Jack Markell has championed the creation of a compensation system that makes Delaware educator salaries more competitive with neighboring states and rewards teachers for helping their peers to best support our students.
“Through this pilot, teacher leaders are provided a career pathway that both rewards educators for excellence and provides opportunities in formal leadership positions,” said Markell, who recommended funding for the pilot in his Fiscal Year 2017 budget that was approved by the General Assembly on June 30. “Through these roles, teacher leaders will use their skills to support schools where they need it most: helping other educators develop their practices and better prepare Delaware’s students for college and careers —all while allowing teacher leaders to maintain a foot in the classroom and earn additional compensation without needing to take on administrative roles.”
The Governor joined Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky today at Appoquinimink High School in Middletown to participate with members of the pilot in a discussion about the coming year.
The five teacher leader roles to launch this year will support educators in the following areas:
· Instructional practice leads will improve the instructional practice of fellow educators using a variety of high-impact support strategies focused on frequent, targeted feedback in educators’ development areas.
· Digital content leads will help educators build their instructional technology knowledge so more students have access to technology that helps improve their academic outcomes.
· Instructional strategy leads will introduce new instructional strategies into schools to help educators meet their learning needs and help schools meet their academic goals.
· Community partnership leads will help students gain access to services designed to improve their physical and mental health, giving them a greater chance at academic success.
· Instructional culture leads will help schools build a philosophy around culture, discipline and culturally responsive teaching.
Schools across Delaware were invited to participate in the teacher leader pilot. A nine-member committee representing educators, administrators and external partners selected eight schools and those schools created selection committees that designed a rigorous, multi-stage process to meet their schools’ needs and choose the 19 teacher leaders.
Each school is identifying a set of goals that teacher leaders will work toward. This summer, teacher leaders and school leaders came together to meet other pilot participants, plan pilot implementation for their schools, and learn more about teacher leadership to ensure a successful launch this fall.
“Being a novice teacher can be overwhelming at first, especially when it comes to lesson planning and classroom management. That’s why we want to use this new position to target support for our novice teachers in these areas,” said Kirsten Belair, who will work as an instructional practice lead at Odyssey Charter School.
The 2016-17 teacher leaders are:
· Amanda Alexander, instructional culture, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)
· Colleen Barrett, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Chelsea Baxter, instructional culture, Kuumba Academy (Charter)
· Kirsten Belair, instructional practice, Odyssey Charter School (Charter)
· Lindsay Bouvy, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Michelle Duke, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)
· Carrie Howe, community partnerships, MOT Charter School (Charter)
· Melanie Fauvelle, digital content, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Michele Johnson, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)
· Kris King, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)
· Heather Patricco, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)
· Heather Mann, instructional practice, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)
· Shana Noll, instructional practice, MOT Charter School (Charter)
· Crystal Samuels, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Katharine Sawyer, instructional practice, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Krista Seifert, instructional culture, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)
· John Tanner, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)
· Kady Taylor, instructional strategy (K-8 reading), Kuumba Academy (Charter)
· Tamara Walker, instructional strategy (K-8 math), Kuumba Academy (Charter)
How does a member of the Selection Committee manage to get selected for this program? Can you answer that for me Michele Johnson? Why do I constantly see the names of the aforementioned Michele Johnson, Robyn Howton and Jennifer Nauman attached to so much Rodel/Vision stuff and now this selection committee? Under whose authority did you allow schools to apply for this before any decision was made granting the authority by legislative decree to a public committee or before the funds were even appropriated for this program? Can you answer that for me Angeline Rivello? Or do you answer to Donna Johnson? Because there is a crystal clear reason she was cc’ed on this email. Who chose the selection committee for a program that, once again, wasn’t even approved? Your email said there was a chance to get a “wide diversity” of schools but we have only one Kent Country district, one New Castle County district, and three New Castle charters. How did that work out? What was the rubric for scoring applications? How many applications were received? Did the selection committee read every single application or what it divvied up among the selection committee?
I think it is past time the DOE fessed up on their sneakiness and manipulation. Secretary Godowsky PROMISED a greater degree of transparency and open communication coming from this Department, and all I see are more lies, secret agendas, emails to select individuals with no public awareness, funds committed to things before they are even approved, focus groups or special meetings with no public notice, no minutes provided for certain things, or even links to certain groups (hello Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition). Meanwhile, you allow charters and districts to allocate money wherever they want with no true oversight, browbeat the auditor’s office until a good woman is put on leave while charters get away with financial murder, manipulate the ESSA regulatory process by claiming to have true stakeholder input when it is really just school administrators and lobbyists, force a school report card scheme on our schools without any regulatory authority to impose it, and have our students take a test that judges everything and the students don’t even take the test. Secretary Godowsky, I don’t care what anyone says, you are a HORRIBLE Secretary of Education. This kind of crap makes even Mark Murphy look okay in comparison. The rot in YOUR Department still exists, more than ever. This happened under YOUR watch. I hope the pieces of silver from Rodel and Markell were worth it…
Angeline Rivello, when I announced Chris Ruszkowski was leaving the DOE, a lot of teachers in this state reached out to me and they expressed how they wanted to give you a chance and hoped the stink from the TLEU would disappear. It is stronger then ever.
Donna Johnson, this just once again proves what I have always known: you don’t believe in transparency and you are well aware of everything that goes on in the Townsend Building. Does your beloved State Board know what you know? How the hell are you even still employed there? All of you are liars, plain and simple. There is no other justification for your actions.
Governor Markell, you tricked us again. You are a mastermind at turning something that looks good on the surface into a tangled web of lies and deception. If I had my way, I would impeach you even though you have less than five months in office.
If those in Delaware thought maybe I would temper things down eventually, my commitment to exposure in this state has NEVER been stronger. Every single day I see the corruption and fraud going on in our state. This isn’t a democracy. We have the most corrupt and vile state government in the country. None of this is about our kids. It is about power, position, and money. You all need to start coming clean before I find out about it. Because if you think only a few Delaware teachers and parents read this blog, you are VERY wrong. You have no idea, no one does, who is watching all of you. Recording every single thing I come out with, just building a very large and thick file.
And I do have a final item to throw out there. How can three contracts, which I can only assume may play into the total of $800,000 for Section 362is program which answers some of my questions for the funds involved in this sham, be signed on the following dates: 4/19/16, 4/21/16, 4/26/16, 5/2/16, 5/4/16, 5/10/16, 5/11/16, and 5/23/16? If these are for this program, and the General Assembly had not approved the funds for this program, how can you have contracts starting before the Joint Finance Committee even released their budget? Or should I assume the Rodel Foundation will be the one training these teacher leaders? With funds from the Vision Coalition? Or should I say Schools That Lead? Because when I look up Schools That Lead’s IRS 990 tax forms, it comes up with 990s for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Since Schools That Lead wasn’t really around then, care to take a guess what company comes up? The Vision Network. And if this description of their purpose doesn’t fit the bill for this Teacher Leader Pilot, I don’t know what does:
When I first started digging into education stuff in Delaware, I remember reading an article on Kilroy’s where he wrote about talking with Jack Markell in 2008. Kilroy wanted to support him, and he asked Markell flat-out if he was going to stop the spread of Rodel into Delaware education to which Markell said he would. Jack lied Kilroy. He lied to all of us. Rodel runs the education show in Delaware. They have for 12 years. Every single decision made in Delaware education has been at the behest of the Rodel Foundation since Jack Markell took office. Together with their order-takers at the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Governor Markell’s office, and the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, they have single-handedly turned Delaware education into a billion dollar corporation. And our kids lose more and more every single day. Because their minions have infiltrated every charter, every district, every state agency, and even our General Assembly. We gave them this power. Now, it is time to take it all back.
The Delaware accounting system is a train wreck of epic proportions. I found 100% proof funds were switched around that benefit certain schools. We have one charter school that can’t even follow proper accounting procedures and another charter school that seems to think Student Body Activities are their personal playground.
For something like this chart, I would expect to see school districts firmly in the lead, but we don’t see that at all. Cape Henlopen is a bit of an oddity when it comes to Delaware school districts. They get a lot of money from school taxes and the residents in those areas don’t seem to mind paying them. But Newark Charter School, with $445,000 in student body activities? That is an excessively high amount. For a charter school with a student population of less than 14% of the neighboring Christina School District, they spend 17 times more on activities for students than Christina. Four districts and one charter don’t even have anything coded as “Student Body Activity” with the state: Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Delmar, Sussex Tech, and Sussex Academy. Do they not have any student body activities or do they just put it somewhere else in the Rubik’s Cube called the Delaware Financial System (DFS)?
So how does this even work? Are districts and charters paying out for field trips and fun activities and then reimbursing those costs as revenue generated from parents paying for them? Are these schools paying for them without collecting any money from students? Or is it a combination of both?
Do these activities affect the bottom line for the per student costs for each district and charter school?
Rocketing to number one with $108,000 in student body activity costs based on their number of students is Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security (DAPSS). That sure is a lot of field trips! We know they bought a fire truck for their students last winter, but those funds were generated from a collection by students. So what accounts for such a high amount based on their student population? I went on Delaware Online Checkbook and found that DAPPS is coding all their student transportation costs under student body activity. So that throws their numbers way off! We can clearly see the transportation costs as part of this category, with an amount totaling $84,236. Had they coded this correctly, under student transportation, their costs for student body activity would have been a little over $23,000.
For Newark Charter School’s student body activity expenses on Delaware Online Checkbook, there is no explanation for their very high amounts. While we do see transportation costs, they are not as high as DAPSS. They appear to be transportation costs associated with field trips. What is even more bizarre are the many payments going to certain individuals. As if they are parents or teachers. We see amounts going out to American Airlines for 26 purchases of what I assume to be airline tickets at $818 each and one for $875 totaling over $21,000 on 2/5/16 which were bought with the state procurement card on 1/15/16. I reviewed NCS board minutes and found no mention of any big field trips for students taking place that would warrant such high airline ticket prices. The state’s accounting manual is explicit that no state employee can purchase first class airline tickets. So where was this trip to that cost $818 for each ticket?
Cape Henlopen has an obscene amount of p-card activity associated with student body activities under student body activity. Like Newark Charter School, I see a lot of names associated with these charges.
Where this gets incredibly odd is when I went to look at examples of student body activity for different school districts and charters. A Delaware citizen submitted a FOIA request to the state and received the FOIA in early July. All of this citizen’s information was run by the Department of Finance on 7/2/16 for every single district and charter school’s expenses for Fiscal Year 2016. June 30th was the end of the fiscal year. All the charts and graphs I have made to date have been based on those figures. But upon review, amounts are changing in the state accounting system. The total expenditures for each district and charter are the same, but funds are moving around in the coding system. As an example, Odyssey Charter School showed over $35,000 in student body activity costs. But when I look now on Delaware Online Checkbook, the amount is over $153,000. This trend occurred with many districts and charters, some for nominal amounts and some for rather considerable amounts. And this is just under student body activity expenses.
In looking at Odyssey, it became clear something was up, so I was able to actually find the exact amount that was shifted over to student body activity.
In the above picture, we clearly see Odyssey Charter School, as of 21:06:44 on 07/02/16 had a total amount for FY2016 in Student Body Activity in the amount of $35,831.91.
In the above snapshot, taken from Delaware Online Checkbook today about ten minutes ago, we clearly see an amount showing $153,958.79. The difference between the two is $118,126.88. That is a rather steep increase for student body activities! In looking at their expenses for student body activity for Odyssey, I found two rather large amounts going to First Student Inc. This is the bus company Odyssey uses. As seen in the below picture, the two charges were for $69,486.40 and $48,640.48. If you add those up, you get $118,126.88. Now why would those funds be shifted from some other category to student body activity?
The two payments to First Student Inc. are listed in the below picture.
So if $118,126.88 was shifted to Student Body Activity, where did the funds come from? If Odyssey’s total expenditures didn’t change, what happened to the money? In the FOIA from 7/2/16, it clearly shows Odyssey’s Fleet Rental costs at $612,546.34.
Now watch what happens when I go on Delaware Online Checkbook to find out the current Fleet Rental amount for Odyssey Charter School…
Wait, it went down from $612,546.34 to $494,419.46. That is a difference of $118,126.88…
There is one thing charter schools get that traditional school districts don’t get. Some call it the transportation slush fund. Every year, in the epilogue to the state budget, there is a stipulation that allows charter schools to keep any difference between their budgeted amount for transportation and what they actually spend. For Odyssey, this is listed as “Transportation” in their budget. These costs go up each year. But how much did charter schools get to keep from these surplus funds. Surely it wasn’t that much. In the below pictures from FY2014 and FY2015, we see how much charters get back from this slush fund.
Odyssey has clearly benefitted from this arrangement with legislators that has continued for the past seven years in the epilogue of the state budget. I sincerely hope charters aren’t hiding any funds so they can actually get more from the Delaware Charter School Transportation Slush Fund then they already are!
What I am more curious about with these coding changes are 1) Why are they happening, 2) Who is making the changes, and 3) Are both the districts or charters and the state aware of these changes if only one of them are making the changes? Something to keep in mind is this simple fact: this is only for Student Body Activity. There are hundreds of codes in the Delaware Financial System. This is just what I could find for our schools in one code.
In the picture above, this is based on rounded off figures to the nearest dollar which is why the Odyssey number doesn’t match up with the $118,126.88 I mentioned a few times. I have not been able to look at the other schools to see where the money is going to. Odyssey was easy because of the high amounts involved. While some of these amounts are small, what other shifts are going on? Why are they going on for other areas if they are? We know districts and charters code things incorrectly but who monitors that? Does anyone? And how much does all this shifting of taxpayer dollars affect funding for the next fiscal year?
I would strongly recommend each district or charter school Chief Operating Officer or Business Manager proactively gets in touch with me and voluntarily lets me know of any changes being made to the Delaware Financial System, the justification for these changes, and how they are able to do it. If they aren’t aware of these changes, they need to let me know that as well. Because as I go through each of the different codes in the coming weeks, I will find more. I’ve already done a cursory glance at different (and major) categories and found excessive sums of money shifting around. If you don’t get in touch with me, don’t get upset when I blast the lack of transparency from your school or district in each article. We know this is happening. So the choice is simple: be held accountable or be honest. If there is funny business, you know I will expose it and call you out on it. And each time, I am submitting requests to the State Auditor’s office for each and every category. So you can ignore me all you want, but know that someone else will be knocking on your door. And if the State Auditor’s office ignores this, it is time to take steps at a Federal level. None of you who are manipulating funds will be allowed to do so anymore. If the Auditor won’t hold you accountable, I will. And I will make so much noise you won’t be able to hear above the outcries of the citizens in your district or charter school. This begins now. I don’t want to hear any crap about “I didn’t know” or “no one ever told me”. You are all subject to the rules of this state. Your excuses are exactly that: an excuse. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you won’t have anything to worry about. But someone has to shake all this up and see what settles at the bottom.
I sincerely hope I’m not spoiling anyone’s party and ruining a chance to get some extra money for themselves. The party’s over. Deal with it.
The Delaware State Board of Education approved all the major modifications that came across their table last Thursday. The charter schools involved either raised or lowered their enrollment numbers with their modification applications.
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security got rid of 8th grade and lowered their enrollment numbers to 330 for the 2016-2017 school year with increased enrollment of 375 by the 2020-2021 school year to keep them as a 9th to 12th grade school.
Delaware Design-Lab High School also lowered their enrollment, but they will be adding 11th grade next year as per their original charter application. Their growth is a bit more aggressive with 350 students in 9th-11th grade for 2016-2017, 475 for 2017-2018 when they add 12th grade, and up to 600 by 2019-2020.
First State Montessori Academy, who will be taking over the former Delaware Met building next door to them, was approved to add a middle school with students in 6th to 8th grade. Their enrollment for 2016-2017 must be 430 students in Kindergarten to 6th grade and by 2021-2022 they must have 654 students in K-8.
Prestige Academy is now a 6th to 8th grade school instead of a 5th to 8th middle school, and their enrollment has been lowered to 240 from the 2016-2017 school year and every year proceeding that.
Odyssey Charter School had a modification approved without the consent of the State Board of Education since it was considered a minor modifications. Their modification surrounded enrollment with increases less than 15%. Odyssey’s approved enrollment includes their high school which will make them a K-12 school by the 2019-2020 year. Both Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks Charter School had similar minor modifications approved in February by Secretary Godowsky with no grade level changes.
With the charter moratorium for Wilmington still in effect from House Bill 56, no new charter schools can apply for a Wilmington location. But that doesn’t seem to stop the existing schools from tweaking their numbers. Many First State Montessori parents wanted the change, but some folks submitted public comment around their enrollment preferences and were worried this could create more bias in the school. Prestige and Delaware Design-Lab were both on probation due to low enrollment figures last year. Their will still be many charter school enrollment changes next school year based on these approvals. More students in flux around Wilmington is not, in my opinion, a way to stabilize the situation with constant student movement in the city. If the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan is approved by the 148 General Assembly, it will create even more flux with students as Christina’s Wilmington schools become a part of the Red Clay Consolidated School District.
One of the three Delaware charter schools currently residing in the Community Education Building in Wilmington now wants out. Academia Antonia Alonso Academy, as of January 29th, submitted a major modification to change their school location from the CEB to the Barley Mill Plaza location currently owned by Odyssey Charter School. Should their modification gain approval, the plan is to lease one of the buildings from Odyssey. So why would they want to move from the lauded CEB?
After reviewing options of other potential locations, it was determined that a location that can be conveniently accessed by families, can be managed directly by the school, and also provides green space and playground facilities would be preferable to the current location in enabling the school to deliver the educational outcomes that it is striving to achieve.
Now this is some logic I can get behind! Looking out for students, recess, and families is crucial to school success nowadays. It is underestimated by our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell.
Given that 61% of La Academia’s students live in the City of Wilmington zip codes of 19801, 19802 and 19805, the majority of the school’s students live in neighborhoods where they may be regularly exposed to violence and crime, and where their families do not feel safe having their children play outside. This makes it even more important that the school be able to offer the opportunity for these children to be able to have safe play spaces. Non-structured play time has a positive impact on social development and general well-being and allows children the opportunity to practice essential social skills, which in turn improves learning and school climate.
Thank you! While some schools have reduced or gotten rid of recess, this school is actually celebrating it!
Our school has students in grades K-2 who are young and small, and during transitions they have to either navigate 2 to 6 flights of stairs or wait on elevators that require the school to make multiple trips to transport everyone, depending on the location of their next activity. We have had one incident of an elevator full of students getting stuck for over 20 minutes. A second incident occurred with Kuumba Academy students and staff. This has caused some of our students to be afraid of the elevators. Some of our younger students have tripped on the stairs, and now are afraid of using them.
Sounds like a health inspector needs to get in there as soon as possible!
In order to get our students to the outdoor fenced parking lot that is their recess area, our teachers go down the elevators (or six flights of steps), walk down a full city block, cross a dangerous intersection where accidents have happened right in front of our students, down another half of a city block and into the Wilson Street lot. This typically takes 15 minutes. Adding another 15 minutes for the return trip the students lose precious recess time. Developmentally, it is critical that 5, 6, & 7 year olds are able to have time for recess and play.
Wow! How much thought went into student safety for this building?
The Wilson Street Parking Lot, our recess area, has a number of issues relating to safety and supervision. Several areas in the fence are a concern to the school, as well as there being no barrier (mesh fence or other) to prevent students from going behind the storage unit where teachers have no line of sight. This recess area is not fully secure from the public after hours and dangerous items such as broken glass, syringes and other items are routinely found by both teachers and students. There is no typical playground equipment for the students to use such as swings, slides etc.
So what happens if a student accidentally pokes another student or themselves with a syringe? Who is responsible for the potential of a student getting HIV or some other disease from a dirty needle? I would get the hell out of this location too! I’m guessing Governor Markell and Acting US Secretary of Education John King didn’t go out with the kids to recess during King’s visit last month to the Community Education Building…
To see the full major modification request, please see below. For the next few months, the school will go through the charter school accountability committee and public hearings. A final decision will be made by the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education at their April 21st meeting.
Now the big question becomes which charter school will now submit a major modification request to get into the Community Education Building? I hope no elementary schools based on what I’m hearing!