Exclusive: Odyssey Parent’s Email To Board About Unethical Board Practices & Conflicts Of Interest

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

Teachers & Parents Are NOT Happy With Odyssey’s Lack Of Transparency With New Leadership

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

WEIC: What Happens Next & Separating Truth And Rumors

Yesterday, the State Board approved the WEIC plan with certain conditions.  What is real and what isn’t from this whole process?  This article has the answers to questions on the minds of many this morning.  Earlier today, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen sent a message to the members with their next step:

Yesterday, The Delaware State Board of Education voted to approve Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s Redistricting Plan with two conditions, http://delawarepublic.org/…/state-board-ed-narrowly-approve…

• The Christina Priority Schools plan be approved the Delaware Department of Education

• The Commission change the word “shall” to “may” in item #2 of the Redistricting Resolution of our plan; this is the item that outlines a suspension of the timetable if the “necessary and sufficient resources” are not provided to move forward with implementing the plan.

While today’s approval comes with conditions, the Commission remains resolute in our commitment to our objectives and to our plan for meeting those objectives. In that spirit, I will be calling an emergency meeting of the Commission next week to discuss the conditional approval and determine our path forward. As is our normal practice, that meeting will be open to the pubic and include public comment.

On a parallel track, this morning, the University of Delaware announced the UD Partnership for Public Education and the Fund for Urban Education. These are two more examples of the catalytic nature of the Commission’s efforts and a great show of support from Delaware’s flagship institution, http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2016/feb/partnership021816.html

– Tony

This is where things are going to get very tricky.  It is now incumbent on the school districts, mainly Red Clay and Christina, to decide if they even want to move forward without the guaranteed funding.  While the funding could certainly be there if the Delaware General Assembly adds a few tweaks to the Governor’s budget, the simple changing of the word “shall” to “may” changes the whole ballgame.

I am very interested in this new initiative of the University of Delaware.  Tony Allen, along with another alumnus, donated $100,000 to create this entity.

In terms of violations by the State Board of Education yesterday, many are assuming they had to pass the WEIC redistricting plan in its entirety.  This is not true.  The key to this is in the language of Senate Bill 122:

…the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of school districts in New Castle County in a manner consistent with some or all of the redistricting recommendations made by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee in the report issued March 31, 2015, provided that the General Assembly passes, and the Governor signs, a Joint Resolution supporting the proposed changes.

I can’t remember who first said it had to be approved as a whole, but everyone seems to have run with that ever since.  Based on the legislation, this is not true.  The addendums added by the State Board are completely within their scope to legally do so.  The key words are some or all which I bolded for emphasis.  However, that does not excuse the obvious other FOIA violations that happened yesterday or the intentional conflict the State Board created yesterday.

By going out of public session with their legal counsel without declaring an Executive Session (which they did in their January board meeting as well), the State Board violated FOIA and public meeting law.  Even worse, they may have further violated the law by allowing someone not on the State Board access to this meeting.  To complicate matters more, any citizen could have followed them into that meeting because it was still in public session.  However, the State Board denied a citizen’s right to do this by barring entrance with a locked door into the area they met.  You need a key card to go from the Cabinet room to the State Board offices.  So they intentionally blocked a citizen from being able to do this.  When the State Board came out of this illegal closed-door session, Tony Allen came out with them along with Secretary Godowsky.  I think Tony Allen, at the least, needs to publicly say, to the best of his recollection, exactly what transpired in this meeting.

What does Delaware state code say about this?

(a) Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed pursuant to subsections (b), (c), (d) and (h) of this section.

(b) A public body may call for an executive session closed to the public pursuant to subsections (c) and (e) of this section, but only for the following purposes:

(1) Discussion of an individual citizen’s qualifications to hold a job or pursue training unless the citizen requests that such a meeting be open. This provision shall not apply to the discussion by a licensing board or commission which is subject to the provisions of § 8735 of this title, of an individual citizen’s qualifications to pursue any profession or occupation for which a license must be issued by the public body in accordance with Delaware law;

(2) Preliminary discussions on site acquisitions for any publicly funded capital improvements, or sales or leases of real property;

(3) Activities of any law-enforcement agency in its efforts to collect information leading to criminal apprehension;

(4) Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body;

(5) Discussions which would disclose the identity of the contributor of a bona fide and lawful charitable contribution to the public body whenever public anonymity has been requested of the public body with respect to said contribution by the contributor;

(6) Discussion of the content of documents, excluded from the definition of “public record” in § 10002 of this title where such discussion may disclose the contents of such documents;

(7) The hearing of student disciplinary cases unless the student requests a public hearing;

(8) The hearing of employee disciplinary or dismissal cases unless the employee requests a public hearing;

(9) Personnel matters in which the names, competency and abilities of individual employees or students are discussed, unless the employee or student requests that such a meeting be open.

(c) A public body may hold an executive session closed to the public upon affirmative vote of a majority of members present at a meeting of the public body. The vote on the question of holding an executive session shall take place at a meeting of the public body which shall be open to the public, and the results of the vote shall be made public and shall be recorded in the minutes. The purpose of such executive sessions shall be set forth in the agenda and shall be limited to the purposes listed in subsection (b) of this section. Executive sessions may be held only for the discussion of public business, and all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.

(d) This section shall not prohibit the removal of any person from a public meeting who is willfully and seriously disruptive of the conduct of such meeting.

(e)(1) This subsection concerning notice of meetings shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to the General Assembly.

(2) All public bodies shall give public notice of their regular meetings and of their intent to hold an executive session closed to the public, at least 7 days in advance thereof. The notice shall include the agenda, if such has been determined at the time, and the dates, times and places of such meetings, including whether such meeting will be conducted by video-conferencing; however, the agenda shall be subject to change to include additional items including executive sessions or the deletion of items including executive sessions which arise at the time of the public body’s meeting.

(3) All public bodies shall give public notice of the type set forth in paragraph (e)(2) of this section of any special or rescheduled meeting as soon as reasonably possible, but in any event no later than 24 hours before such meeting. A special or rescheduled meeting shall be defined as one to be held less than 7 days after the scheduling decision is made. The public notice of a special or rescheduled meeting shall include an explanation as to why the notice required by paragraph (e)(2) of this section could not be given.

(4) Public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, conspicuous posting of said notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists at the place where meetings of the public body are regularly held, and making a reasonable number of such notices available. In addition, for all noncounty and nonmunicipal public bodies, public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, electronic posting on a designated State of Delaware website, approved by the Registrar of Regulations by May 1, 2013, which shall be accessible to the public. In addition, all public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post said notice to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State.

(5) When the agenda is not available as of the time of the initial posting of the public notice it shall be added to the notice at least 6 hours in advance of said meeting, and the reasons for the delay in posting shall be briefly set forth on the agenda.

(f) Each public body shall maintain minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, conducted pursuant to this section, and shall make such minutes available for public inspection and copying as a public record. Such minutes shall include a record of those members present and a record, by individual members (except where the public body is a town assembly where all citizens are entitled to vote), of each vote taken and action agreed upon. Such minutes or portions thereof, and any public records pertaining to executive sessions conducted pursuant to this section, may be withheld from public disclosure so long as public disclosure would defeat the lawful purpose for the executive session, but no longer. All public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter and meet 4 or fewer times per year shall electronically post draft minutes of open public meetings, identified as “draft minutes,” to the designated State website approved by the Secretary of State within 20 working days after the conclusion of the meeting. Prior to being posted, draft minutes may be distributed to members of the public body who were present at the open public meeting. Draft minutes may continue to be revised and corrected up until final minutes are approved by the public body at an open meeting. All public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post final approved minutes of open public meetings to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State within 5 working days of final approval of said minutes.

(g) Every regularly scheduled meeting of a public body shall be held within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body. All such other meetings shall be held as follows:

(1) A public body serving any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any city, town or school district, shall hold all such other meetings within its jurisdiction or the county in which its principal office is located, unless it is school board training that has been approved by the Secretary of Education as beneficial to school board development activities.

(2) For the purposes of this subsection, a “regularly scheduled meeting” shall mean any meeting of a public body held on a periodic basis.

(3) The provisions of this subsection, insofar as they are not practicable, shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to a meeting held by a public body outside of its jurisdiction which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public financial welfare.

(h) This section shall not apply to the proceedings of:

(1) Grand juries;

(2) Petit juries;

(3) Special juries;

(4) The deliberations of any court;

(5) The Board of Pardons and Parole;

(6) Public bodies having only 1 member;

(7) Public bodies within the legislative branch of the state government other than the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Joint Finance Committee, the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement, the Joint Sunset Committee, Legislative Council, committees, excluding ethics committees, specifically enumerated and created by Resolution of the House of Representatives and/or Senate or task forces specifically enumerated and created by Resolution of the House of Representatives and/or Senate;

The question here becomes if the State Board of Education is considered part of the legislative branch of the state government.  They do vote on regulations but I do not believe they are considered a legislative body.  The State Board did not call for an executive session yesterday and even if they didn’t, the board did not vote to convene with counsel.  This was not a collective bargaining situation nor was it pending litigation.  I’m sure the State Board will come up with some lame excuse for why they did this but I would strongly urge the Delaware Attorney General’s office to do more than a “don’t do it again” slap on the wrist.  This is two months in a row they have done this.

Many have asked where the “shall” that was changed by the State Board to “may” actually happens.  This can be found in the WEIC Addendum dated 2/11/16.

Shall

Basically, the State Board doesn’t want to stop the whole redistricting process if the funds aren’t available.  They obviously want improved educational outcomes (based on standardized high-stakes testing scores).  In essence, they don’t want to be the bad guy if funding snafus comes up and have the finger pointed at them if it all went down in flames based on funding or lack thereof.  The question now becomes if the State Board actually found a way to dance around the funding issue.  WEIC will assuredly consult with the affected districts and may very well come back and say “It’s over.”  The State Board could say “Well, we changed the word to ‘may’ so we aren’t bound by that so we are going to move forward.”  But now it is an unfunded mandate.  If the plan does pass the General Assembly and is signed by Governor Markell and funding stops from the state budget, the local districts would be on the hook to fund this initiative.  Christina and Red Clay can not afford that.  The State Board found a way to further weaken traditional school districts and further evaporate their finances.  They set themselves up in their own trap.  Granted, they could not do this until June 30th of this year, because that would be the completion of the approval stage and they can’t suspend the timetable until it reaches the conclusion of that stage.  From page 10 of the official redistricting plan.

shall2

As for the Christina priority school plans, their board did submit these to Secretary Godowsky a few months ago.  These are the same plans the district drew up last year as part of the brokered agreement between the Governor’s office and Christina based on the WEAC recommendations.  But in an article with the News Journal, Godowsky did not gave a 100% guarantee these plans would be approved:

The first condition attached is that the Department of Education approve a plan to provide extra resources to Christina School District.  That plan came out of the clash over priority schools in early 2015, and Secretary of Education Stephen Godowsky said he was optimistic it would be approved.

Godowsky was also optimistic the harsh participation rate penalties would not be included in the Delaware School Success Framework and two weeks later they were after he did a complete turnaround on his earlier announcement to the press.  It is my opinion Godowsky likes to soothe the moment and say what he thinks people want to hear but when the directive comes down from his boss, he is forced to change his stance.

While the whole redistricting plan has many moving parts, the State Board complicated matters even more yesterday.  Whether you agree or not with the plan, the onus was on the State Board to do the right thing.  They clearly did not and instead played political games and toyed with wording in a way that gives them a quick exit without looking like the bad guys.  However, there was a lot of media there and they came across looking like complete and utter idiots in my opinion.  With the exception of board members Dr. Terri Whittaker and Jorge Melendez, I have to wonder why we even need this State Board of Education in its current line-up.  They are not publicly elected and they cause more harm than good.

 

 

 

Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens Website Is A Hot Mess! Transparency Non-Existent!

The Delaware Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) website appears to be in severe disarray.  The last agenda for one of their meetings is for their March 17th, 2015 meeting.  The last minutes are from their June 2015 meeting.  When does this group meet?  On the Delaware Public Meetings Calendar it shows their last meeting was November 17th, 2015.  No agenda was on the calendar either.  Are they even meeting anymore?

I used to get emails from this group when I was on their distribution list.  But once I blasted them for their opposition of the parent opt-out legislation, House Bill 50, I was banned from this email list.  My guess, this is now an “inclusive club” in Delaware that doesn’t have to follow state law for public meetings or transparency.  As a group that is supposed to represent the disabled of Delaware, this is very disheartening to see.  I expect more out of any state agency or council, but I expect much more out of this group.  Is Wendy Strauss still the Executive Director?  Is Robert Overmiller still the Chair of GACEC?  When are their meetings?  They do have a calendar of their meetings for the year, but that isn’t saying much without the other necessary state law compliance in effect.

GACEC

Why does this group think they don’t have to be visible with their activities?

Delaware Atty General Office Invalidated Appoquinimink Superintendent Contract Due To FOIA Violations

Thanks to “Armpit” for sending this one to me!  Apparently, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office received a petition from a concerned citizen in the Appoquinimink School District due to an open meeting violation concerning their school board.  Superintendent Matthew Burrows contract was invalidated due to the FOIA violations!  You can read the legal opinion here but I will give the highlights:

We find that Executive Session and Public Meeting Agendas for the June 2014 Board Meeting violated FOIA and affected substantial public rights.  In a similar case, we determined that the school board violated substantial public rights “by deciding who to hire as the new [District] superintendent outside of public view.”  Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB17, 2002 WL 31031224, at *8 (Aug. 6, 2002).  In that case, the “specific rights at issue . . . were the rights of students, parents, teachers, and other concerned citizens in the District to be involved in the selection of a new superintendent.”  Id.  However, we declined to invalidate the school board’s approval of the new superintendent for equitable reasons.   See id., at *10.

Similarly, although we find that the Board’s June 2014 Meeting and related agendas violated FOIA, we decline to determine that the approval of the Contract is invalid for violation of the open meeting law.7  The record indicates that after Mr. Weller raised his concerns about the adequacy of the Board’s June 2014 meeting agendas, the Board placed the matter on its November agenda, engaged in a public discussion about the Contract at the November meeting, and voted on the Contract at the November meeting. The Board also completed FOIA training in a public session in November 2014 in order to gain additional understanding of FOIA’s public meetings laws.  Therefore, we find that the Board has already taken action to cure the June 2014 violations of the open meetings laws.  Under the circumstances, no additional remediation is required.

Even though the matter was fixed by the board, it still happened.  What would have happened if Mr. Weller never brought it to the Attorney General’s attention?  If I ever meet Mr. Weller I would like to shake his hand for his bravery and determination in this matter.  School boards are elected officials, and they need to follow the letter of the law!