State Board of Education Unanimously Votes To Put Odyssey Charter School On Probation

In a unanimous vote, the Delaware State Board of Education placed Odyssey Charter School on probation until June 30th, 2020.  The main takeaway of their probation conditions is removing AHEPA control of their Board of Directors.  This includes all organizations associated with AHEPA as outlined in the below Delaware Department of Education press release based on Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting’s recommendations.

State Board of Education Vice-President Dr. Audrey Noble gave an impassioned speech prior to the vote urging the entire Odyssey Community, including AHEPA, to come together and become unified for the benefit of the school.  She also said she read every single public comment and urged those who supported AHEPAn control of the board to realize their voice was heard but wants the community to come together whether AHEPA has control or not.

Head of School Denise Parks and Board President Josiah Wolcott gave public comment after the vote expressing their thoughts on what a fantastic school Odyssey is.  Wolcott said their board will put together a committee to review the probation clauses.  But the public comment by board member Tami Soltow expressed immense gratitude to the State Board for their decision.  She thanked the board for holding the board accountable and said the students of Odyssey are the most important.

Secretary of Education Susan Bunting today placed Odyssey Charter School on probation until June 30, 2020, allowing the school to remain open only if the school’s board makes changes and recovers funds spent inappropriately, among other changes.

Last month the Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) recommended placing Odyssey Charter School on probation, requiring conditions be met for the school to retain its charter. Bunting reviewed the committee’s reports, the school’s responses, transcripts of two public hearings and the submitted public comments before making her decision. The State Board of Education assented to her decision in a unanimous vote.

The school has until December to make substantial progress on the conditions, a timeline that is in line with the school’s charter renewal application that begins this fall. Conditions may be included as part of a charter renewal.

Odyssey Charter School was placed on formal review this spring due to governance issues. Tonight, Bunting placed the school’s charter on probation with the following conditions:

-Odyssey’s board revise its bylaws such that

o The majority of members are not members of the AHEPA Family organizations.

o A nominating committee consisting of only the non-AHEPA Family board members nominates potential future non-AHEPA Family board members for the non-AHEPA Family board member vacancies and appoints them through a fair and transparent nomination/selection process.

o AHEPA Family may select its members in its own process that may or may not be open to the public and may or may not include individuals who are not members of AHEPA Family organizations, but AHEPA Family members must be appointed by the AHEPA Family in a manner that provides gender balance among AHEPA Family members.

o Odyssey board officer positions will be annually nominated from the floor; any Odyssey board member will be eligible to be an officer, and each board member has the equal right to nominate and vote for officers unless recused due to conflict of interest.

o A process will be established to nominate and elect from the board each year a vice-president/president-elect who serves one year and serves automatically as president the next.

o The office of president will annually rotate between AHEPA Family and non-AHEPA Family.

o Committee members and committee chairs will be selected and approved by the board in a fair and transparent process, and members/chairs will be reconfirmed at least annually by the board.

o Any authority previously granted under current Article V (Contracts, Checks, Deposits and Funds) Section 1 (Contracts) will be revoked/nullified, and the reconstituted board may grant new authorization if needed.

o The procedure to amend the bylaws will contain a provision to introduce the amendment and vote on the amendment in two separate meetings of the board on different days at least 14 calendar days apart.

o Proposed amendments will be publicized among the Odyssey board, staff and families in writing at least seven days prior to introduction or voting.

o Out-of-state travel funded fully or partially using Odyssey funds, whether directly paid by Odyssey or reimbursed with funds under Odyssey control, will be approved by the board prior to travel.

o As a result of the conflict of interest provisions, AHEPA Family members will be explicitly required to recuse themselves from matters directly impacting AHEPA Family organizations.

-Odyssey Charter School shall recover the following sums spent in a manner inconsistent with the charter:

o $1,597.59 for the AHEPA Conference in Atlantic City, NJ paid out of Odyssey funds

o $91,487.69 used to establish and operate the Ithaka corporation from Odyssey funds

-Odyssey will undergo an investigatory audit with scope of work approved by the Delaware Department of Education and the Auditor of Accounts Office at Odyssey’s expense with any findings to be repaid as recommended by the Auditor of Accounts. The firm must be independent of the auditing firm that does the annual audit of the school and the audit must be complete by January 1, 2020.

-Odyssey will develop a plan for how to improve communication and trust between the board and the Odyssey community, including staff and families.

– Odyssey will develop a plan to strengthen the capacity of its Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee and increase its access to information.

-Odyssey board representatives and DOE representatives will meet at least once a month to discuss
and evaluate progress toward meeting these conditions with jointly written reports sent to the Secretary and State Board.

Odyssey Charter School is a 1,800-student school that serves students in elementary through high school. It is located on Lancaster Pike in Wilmington.

Find more information, including all related documents, on Odyssey’s formal review here.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

**UPDATED**DAPSS In Crisis Mode As Parents Are Invited To “Special” Meeting

Updated, 3:15pm: The meeting at 7pm tonight is a regular meeting for parents.  But the DAPSS’ board is meeting from 5-7pm where they are expected to go into executive session.  Here is the deal though- if more than half of those board members stick around for the parent meeting, it MUST be declared a public meeting and they MUST put up an agenda for it.  Circumstances do allow for special or emergency board meetings, but they have to call it such and follow the appropriate steps.

Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security is holding a special board meeting tonight.  They are inviting all parents and students to attend.  That isn’t normal.  What is the crisis at the charter school now? Continue reading

Delaware DOE Employee Gets Off Easy On Theft Of Education Funds

In yet another pathetic sentencing, a Delaware state employee got off very easy for stealing in what should have been a harsher sentence.  When did our Delaware Department of Justice get so soft? Continue reading

A Christina Administrator Is The New Board President Of DE Academy Of Public Safety & Security

The Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security Board of Directors chose their new board President last evening.  This board member was not on their board before last evening and he serves on another charter school board. Continue reading

Margie Lopez-Waite New Head Of School At DAPSS But Is Colonial Backing Out? Conflicts Of Interest All Over The Place!

After waiting an extra ten days to put up the audio of their June board meeting, the future of the Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security is once again in doubt.  Immediately into their board meeting, Margie Lopez-Waite resigned as President of their board and was than voted into the new Head of School position. Continue reading

Will The State Auditor, Treasurer, Div. of Accounting, Delaware DOE or Attorney General Act On Petty Cash Abuse? And What Happens To DAPSS?

A few days ago I put an article up about petty cash abuse in our districts and charter schools.  No state agency has yet to give an official response even though they are all well aware of the article at this point.  I’m fairly sure if there were an investigation that came out of this the last person they would tell is me.

The interesting snafu in all this is Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  They are already on probation from their formal review.  While not using a petty cash for fun time at the school is not a condition of their probation, the fact that money was used for fun time and who knows what else is a concern.  I’ve heard lots of tales about how that money was used.  An auditor would have a field day with this.

Like I said, I’m not too concerned with the folks who did it once or twice.  Those can be explained.  In fact, one school district made it a point to contact me.  It is the chronic offenders I take issue with.  Most especially the two that got a letter from Tom Wagner less than two years ago saying “Don’t do it”.  No one should be doing it to begin with but when you get a letter like that and essentially flip the bird and do the same thing all over again, I have ZERO respect for you.  Sounds like Sam Paoli has more on his plate than just CSW teachers joining the union!

I was really hoping Margie Lopez Waite and the board at DAPSS would act on this immediately.  But no, when I go to the DAPSS website I see the SAME person on there who was behind the school’s petty cash splurging.  On the taxpayer’s dime.  I don’t mind paying taxes so kids can get an education.  But I take a very serious affront to school leaders who want to break the rules and treat state money like it is their own piggy bank to play with.  Yes, I’m talking about you Herb Sheldon.  Margie acted lightning fast last Winter in getting someone off the school website.  But I guess playing with school funding is an okay.  Gotcha!  I understand now!

Will anyone in the state actually do more on this issue than send more letters saying “Don’t do this”?  When does REAL accountability start happening?

 

What Is Margie Lopez Waite Doing Now? And Is A 3rd Charter In The Mix With Her Plans For DAPSS & ASPIRA?

Will a Wilmington charter school become embroiled in the ongoing saga of Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security and Las Americas ASPIRA Academy?  Many are saying yes. Continue reading

DE Academy Of Public Safety & Security Get 200 Students To Save Themselves From Shutdown

Talk about the last minute!  If the Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security did not have a student enrollment of 200 students by tomorrow, their charter would have been revoked.  They hit that number so they have met their first condition of their probation.  Under 200 students would have meant the school would not have been financially viable as a non-profit public school.  This is “unofficial” but I am hearing this from excellent sources so I don’t doubt the viability of this claim at all.

I don’t ever wish to see any school closed unless there is some unbelievable egregious stuff going on there (case in point: Delaware Met).  I sincerely hope the school can meet the rest of their probation conditions over the coming year or so.  The whole point of any school is the success of the students.  I do wonder what schools won’t have these students next year.  Are they coming from districts or other charters or a combination of the two?  That is school choice for you and at the end of the day it is a parent’s decision!

CSAC Recommends DAPSS Stay Open For One Year With Conditions While Queen Margie Exerts Control

At the Delaware Department of Education building in Dover, the Charter School Accountability Committee recommended Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security stay open for another school year with very stringent conditions.  At that point, Colonial’s Board of Education could very well decide to take over their charter.  Queen Margie once again made it all about her.  But the discussion that reached this point was very intense.  Much more information here than you will find in the Delaware DOE press release. Continue reading

Rape At Least Two Students & Get Probation? Something Is Wrong With Our Justice System!

Karen Brooks, a former Smyrna Middle School Special Education Diagnostician, pled guilty to raping two underage students.  Her sentence? Probation!  They could have set a crystal-clear example with her and given her jail time, but no, they give her probation.

According to Craig Anderson with Delaware State News (who has hit grand slam home runs lately by the way), reported the following: Continue reading

Academy of Dover Is Not A 501c3 Corporation As Stated In Their Charter, DOE Needs To Revoke Their Charter Now

The Academy of Dover is not listed as a 501c3 corporation with the Internal Revenue Service.  The Academy of Dover’s charter, which firmly states they are a 501c3 non-profit corporation, is not real.  The Delaware Department of Education put the charter school under formal review last year.  This was their fourth formal review in 12 years.  This did not come up at all during that process.  As well, their auditor, Barbacane, Thornton, & Company LLP, wrote about this in the last three years of audits they did for the school.

AcademyofDoverIRSRevocation

For the past three years, their auditor made note of this in their yearly audit of the school.  Each year provides a link to the full audit:

2013

AoD13AuditPt1

AoD13AuditPt2

2014

AoD14Audit

2015

AoD15Audit

And yet, for all three years, it states the exact same thing.  Ironically, the link for their 2012 audit, which may have shed some light on this situation, comes up as a blank pdf file.

How has this never been publicly disclosed until now?  Actually, it was disclosed a few years ago but it was buried in a comment section on Kilroy’s Delaware.  It was during July of 2013, which as any blogger can tell you isn’t exactly a big audience at that time of the year.  Especially an education blog!  But a commenter wrote exactly what I am telling you now but no one picked up the baton and ran with it.

But this tells me this information has been out there for a while now.  I would have a very hard time believing nobody at the Delaware DOE knew this.  I’m sure they read the annual audits.  But the fact these audits say the exact same thing three years in a row is astonishing.  With the school involved in a $2 million dollar lawsuit as well as former Head of School Noel Rodriguez’ personal theft of school funds, how does this not come up at all?  Who is reading these audits at the DOE?

The oversight for Delaware DOE authorized charters falls on the DOE.  It was right in front of them the whole time and I have never seen it publicly questioned.  It never came up in their formal review meetings last spring.  I know this because I attended all the meetings.  Transparency and this school have never been the best of friends.  But this… the DOE needs to act.  Their 501c3 status was revoked over four years ago.  They have been operating in the dark for over four years.  Granted, they could be trying to work things out with the IRS.  But if they aren’t a 501c3, even though they are still listed as such with the Delaware Department of Corporations…

AoDcertofinc.

And if anyone is wondering why charters need more oversight, this is exactly why.  Avi at Newsworks wrote an excellent article today about more charters under investigation in Delaware, including ones that were already under past investigations.  I’m just going to come right out and say Senate Bill 171 would give us more of what we have: fraud, lies, and auditors copying and pasting the same information year after year.  House Bill 186 would allow information, like what I am writing now, the ability to be seen.  Who knows what other skeletons are buried out there in Delaware charters?

Title14Charter990

One last thought…charter schools are required by the State of Delaware, in Title 14, paragraph 509, that they must have their IRS Tax Form 990 on their website.  Academy of Dover has not had this on their website since at least 2008 since the IRS said they hadn’t posted a return the last three years in 2011.  So we have a law and nobody is making sure this even happens?  Hello Jack Markell… this is transparency calling… your DOE has a lot of explaining to do.  But let’s get Academy of Dover taken care of first.  They have been out of compliance with their approved charter for over four years.  It’s time the DOE and the non-elected State Board of Education make a real decision instead of “probation” four times…

 

Charter Update To State Board of Education Puts 8 Charters At “Tier 3” Status

The Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education will give a presentation to the State Board of Education on Thursday, November 19th.  Among other things, they have rated charters on a scale of 1-3.  These tiers will have 1 being good, 2 some issues, and 3…not so good.  The charters at the Tier 3 status are Academia Antonio Alonso, Academy of Dover, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Delaware College Prep, Family Foundations Academy, Gateway Lab School, Odyssey Charter School, and Prestige Academy.  This list does not include the charters that opened this year because there is nothing to compare their organizational and financial frameworks to.  But even though Delaware Met and Delaware Design Lab are not on this list this does not mean they aren’t in trouble.

Delaware Design Lab High School is on probation following their formal review last year for low enrollment before they opened.  The school did get their enrollment up, but according to this report the Charter School Office is reviewing their budget and enrollment and are on some type of corrective action.  Delaware Met is on formal review for pretty much everything not even three months after they opened.  One interesting observation was their final Charter School Accountability Committee meeting has been changed from November 30th to December 1st.  I would imagine this is because the DOE has to face the Joint Finance Committee over at Legislative Hall on the 30th.    It looks like the Charter School Office will be pushing more involvement with parents at the charters with Parent Teacher Organizations.  Parent involvement is never a bad thing!

So Which School Did Newark Charter Want To Join Their “Coalition”?

On Friday night, I put up a post about the Newark Charter School Coalition and how they met with an Assistant at a charter South of the Canal resulting in the firing of said employee.  As I wrote the other night, the principal was not privy to this conversation and was none too pleased when she found out about it.  Oh wait, I didn’t say she, did I?  So which charter was it?  There aren’t too many in Kent and Sussex. Continue reading

Rumors Swirling About Prestige Academy Closing In January 2016

I had heard a few rumors that Prestige Academy wouldn’t make it past this school year based on their academics and enrollment, but could it be even sooner than that?  Tonight, a commenter posted the following on my “Ask Dr. Godowsky a question post” from a few weeks ago:

Good evening sir, My son is in the eight grade at Prestige Academy and I look forward to him graduating from there. He’s been there since five grade. I feel if the State wants to close at school they should at least wait til the end of the school year instead of the middle. Think about the students that have worked hard to achieve their goals and look forward to graduating from a school they been at since 5th grade. This is the only all boy school in DE. Mr. Greenlea didn’t even get a chance to prove what he can do because of factors that have spread structured before he even came there. So as a parent that works with children as well, I say to you sir please look at the situation and over turn the matter of closing Prestige Academy at the end of year and give Prestige Academy the same time as Academy of Dover til next year. I welcome you and I thank you for listening.(REMEMBER ITS ABOUT THE CHILDREN)

I am very curious about this.  Will the next State Board of Education meeting have some type of announcement?  For their Smarter Balanced scores, the top proficiency ratings were both in 5th grade with 21% for ELA and 18% for math.  But the DOE has already stated they won’t judge schools based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores from the 2014-2015 school year.  So what could possibly cause them to shut down in January?  It could be their enrollment.  If the numbers are below 80% they will go on formal review very fast.  They are already on probation.  If they closed in the middle of the school year that would have to be a decision by the school board unless something very serious is going on there.

If anyone knows anything about this, or if any letter has gone home to parents, please let me know!  All the Delaware charters should have their performance frameworks coming out in the next couple weeks as well so perhaps something came up with that.  This school fell off my radar, but it looks like something could be going on there.

Delaware College Prep & Delaware Military Academy Also Up For Charter Renewal…Will Delaware College Prep Survive?

Charter Schools authorized by the Red Clay Consolidated School District go through charter renewals, modifications, and formal reviews through Red Clay, not the Delaware Department of Education.  Both Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep are up for charter renewal this year.  Delaware College Prep was in the news very recently when the State Auditor found some financial abuse going on by the school leader.  Kilroy’s Delaware has raised several red flags about this school in the past six months.  They are also on probation status based on their formal review last year for academic performance.  Here is their charter renewal application:

And the exhibits and other information that are mentioned in the application can be found here:

Interesting that they have no parent representative on their school board as of October 1st, but they are “actively looking”.  Here is the agenda for this portion of the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, 10/21/15:

Last year, we saw Moyer and Reach Academy close.  Two years before that, Pencader Business School closed.  Will we have two more Delaware charters close this  year?  Delaware College Prep and The Delaware Met?  And what will fill the void?  New charter applications in Wilmington have a moratorium until at least 2017.  What I can see is more charters submitting modification requests to increase their enrollment.  In the meantime, keep an eye out on Delaware College Prep.  Just because the DOE doesn’t cover this is not an indicator that Red Clay won’t hold them accountable.  I would love to see their reaction to the State Auditor report!

Campus Community School, Providence Creek Academy, & MOT Charter School: Charter Renewal Initial Reports

Last Tuesday, the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education held their initial charter renewal meetings with Campus Community School, Providence Creek Academy, and MOT Charter School.  Included below are the initial reports for each school.  The other day I wrote about Response To Intervention (RTI) and how it is frequently used for special education identification purposes.  Pay close attention to the following reports in regards to RTI and when it is used.

Organizationally and financially, Campus Community looks to be in good shape.  Academically, they clearly have some things to work on, based on DOE standards.  Especially with science, according to them.  I find it interesting they are moving to “standards-based” grading.

How can you have a meeting like this and not once mention the fact that you are being investigated by the state auditor?  Yes, they did the right thing with it, but I’m shocked no one at the DOE actually brought it up.  Something seemed really off with what PCA was saying in regards to their academics.  And what was Chuck Taylor talking about with the whole “we have a pond” thing at the end?  And make a mental note on when PCA said most students get an IEP and the fact that students from Kindergarten to 3rd grade do not get basic special education funding…

Like I said last Spring, MOT’s charter renewal looks to be a slam dunk.  The fact that they were investigated by the State Auditor and cleared of any wrongdoing will only support this.

My prediction with all three: all three will be renewed with PCA possibly going on probationary status because of the State Auditor thing, but I doubt that will happen.  Unless something comes out of the woodwork like Family Foundations Academy did last year, this will be an easy process.  Besides, DOE is going to have their hands full with The Delaware Met!

Family Foundations Academy Off Probation Status

Yesterday, at the State Board of Education meeting in Dover, it was announced Family Foundations Academy met the conditions of their six month probation and are now released from that status.  Jennifer Nagourney with the Delaware Charter School Office did tell the state board that “we continue to be concerned about all the things we need to be concerned about and we are taking a heightened look at board governance and financial management.”

Family Foundations Academy terminated their former heads of school last winter after it was revealed they embezzled funds from the schools through use of procurement cards and other cards in the school’s name.  As a result, the school went on formal review during their charter school renewal process.  In March, the State Board put the school on probation when they emerged out of formal review status.  Members of the board from EastSide Charter School joined the remaining FFA board, and EastSide’s Director, Dr. Lamont Browne, took over as school leader for FFA.

The school was approved for a major modification to move into the former Reach Academy for Girls building, and will transition their middle school to the other portion of those buildings next year.  They were also approved for an alternate educator evaluation system, separate from the DPAS-II system.  If I had to guess, I would assume they joined the Delaware Charter Collaborative, comprised of EastSide, Prestige Academy, Kuumba Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School.  But this has not been confirmed.

The last remaining business from the controversy caused by the former leaders will come in the form of the Delaware State Auditor’s report on the investigative audit that began last December.  The school’s forensic auditor determined Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington absconded approximately $90,000 in school funds, but what the State Auditor’s office finds is up in the air and until the report is released.

Family Foundations Academy: Where Is The Investigative Audit? Are They Still On Probation?

Family Foundations Academy, a Delaware charter school in New Castle, DE, formally requested an end to their six-month probation.  But their investigative audit may come out at the same time.  Last December, Delawareans were treated to a month long ordeal surrounding Family Foundations Academy.  During the school’s charter renewal, allegations came out against the co-leaders of the school for financial mismanagement.  It was also revealed the State Auditor’s office was going to investigate the school’s finances. By the end of the month, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington were out, and the board was radically changed in the first month of the year as members of EastSide Charter School took over.

The State Board renewed their charter but put FFA on formal review.  In March, the State Board put the school on probation for six months.  This will end later this month if the State Board agrees to it.  But in the meantime, while on probation, the school submitted and was approved for a major modification concerning the location of their elementary and middle schools.  And the Auditor’s report hasn’t even come out yet.  When can we expect this?  Given the timing for Academy of Dover’s similar situation, I would say sometime in the next month to month and a half.  It took the State Auditor’s office about ten months to complete their investigation on Academy of Dover, and that report came out on 6/24/15.  The State Auditor opened their investigation into FFA sometime in December, 2014, so we should expect the report this month or next month given the same trajectory.

Has FFA satisfied the terms of their probation?  That will be up to the State Board of Education to decide, but the school seems to think so if you read the below letter.  A frequent commenter on this blog raises a very serious question though about overall board membership at Delaware charter schools: Should board members reside in Delaware?  This is mandatory for traditional school boards since they go through the election process.  I would think it would be in our best interests to have the same for charter schools.

Say It Ain’t So! Academy of Dover Violating Probation Terms With DOE! **UPDATED**

In a shocking and unexpected announcement yesterday, the Academy of Dover is not meeting the terms of their probation!  Once again, it is all related to financial transparency!  Seems they can’t get their act together…

When will they ever learn?  And do I mean the DOE or Academy of Dover?  Both!  This school has been flaunting the rules for years now.  The DOE needs to shut them down.  If they aren’t following the terms of their probation (which I think they got off very easy with), they need to go back on formal review!

UPDATED, 8/21/15, 1:47PM: I reached out to DOE Public Information Officer Alison May to find out if the State Board of Education acted on the news Academy of Dover is in violation of their probation terms, and she indicated they did NOT take any formal decision on the violations.

They should have always had a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  The fact they can’t even get this group to meet regularly with the majority of members to actually show up is sending a clear message to citizens and parents of Delaware: we will do what we want and the DOE will let us.  Only the DOE can reverse this arrogant trend!

And the oddest part about this report? The last page entitled “Good News” with a blank page. This says it all!

Official: Probation Recommendations for Academy of Dover, Freire, Prestige Academy and DE Design Lab

The Charter School Accountability Committee recommended probation for all four of the Delaware charter schools currently under formal review.  The State Board of Education and Secretary Mark Murphy will make their final decision at the State Board of Education meeting on June 18th.

For Academy of Dover, their probation will be for a year, whereas the other three schools have until the end of this year to get out of probation.  Read the following documents for all four schools.  And I also want to thank the DOE’s Exceptional Children Resources Group for grilling these schools on special education issues!

I will be writing more as I digest all of these documents. The DOE certainly gives us bloggers lots to read!