Homeowners Set To Get Screwed With Governor Carney’s “Shared Sacrifice”

Yesterday, the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee (DEFAC) projected Delaware’s budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 to be $395 million dollars.  This is up ten million from the last time the committee met.  Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will discuss the impact on taxpayers.  Governor Carney is suggesting school boards raise what is known as the match tax (the portion the state matches certain funding) by having the district school boards levy the tax without a referendum.

Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, created an impact budget for how this increase would hit taxpayers.  In the below example, a home that just sold for $224,000 would see their property taxes raised $46.50 with the match tax scenario.  Keep in mind, this is based on the property assessment value of $63,700, which is almost a quarter of the home’s actual value based on the sale price.

This is not the only sting homeowners, as well as all Delaware citizens, will feel starting July 1st.  State taxes, collected from paychecks, will go up for most.  State employees will see higher insurance rates.  Salary raises for state employees will most likely disappear.  Services will be cut.  It is all rather bleak.  Our General Assembly has utilized every single benefit to state funding, such as the proceeds from the tobacco lawsuit, without realizing those perks were eventually going to disappear.  State revenue does not match state expenses.  Companies, such as DuPont and soon Barclays, left Delaware for the most part, causing a severe lack of revenue and jobs.  Delaware has, and will continue to, spend more than it makes.

With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, there was a request to raise property assessment values.  While Delaware’s assessment values are still far lower than most states, it also created an influx of senior citizens moving to The First State because of that.  But the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, already through the special education tuition tax and soon the match tax, could have a negative impact on the desire of the elderly to move to Delaware or even stay here.

Meanwhile, there has been no action on the Governor’s part to institute the basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced two bills in the last two General Assemblies to take care of this but neither bill has moved forward due to the state funding issues.  Oblivious to all the future costs by not having this essential funding in place, our state continues to bumble through special education with this very real omission to the foundation of special education students who are just beginning to manifest their disabilities.  The projected amount to fund what should have always been there is a little bit less than $13 million a year.  By not providing that funding, the state relies on the school districts or charter schools to pay for these services.  Either way, it has a negative effect.  If the school does provide those services, it results in more of a drain on local funding.  If the school doesn’t, they are not only breaking special education law if the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program, but they are also looking at higher costs for that student in the future by not providing that foundation.  So that $13 million a year mushrooms to much higher costs for these students down the road.

Just this morning, State Rep. Earl Jaques announced a new bill on Facebook creating a fund in the Delaware Dept. of Education budget for an Educational Support Professional of the Year award.  Delaware has 16 school districts, 3 vocational districts, and over 20 charter schools.  This bill would allow each district (20, which includes one award for all the charters) to give their winner an extra $1000.00.  The overall winner would get $1,500.00.  While $21,500 in the DOE budget doesn’t amount to much, it is symptomatic of the mindset of far too many of our legislators.  Instead of finding solutions, too many of them find ways to spend even more money.  If our state was swimming in money, I would be okay with this bill.  But not now.

Delaware’s legislature is going to have their hands full when they return from Spring Break next Tuesday.  This budget deficit is not the result of a national recession like what we faced in 2009.  This is Delaware created.  We spent our way out of the recession and now we are paying the piper.  Governor Carney looks like a deer running towards headlights with his reactions to this ever-increasing budget deficit.  I predict he will have a very tough time getting re-elected in 2020 if this trend continues.

The Bizarre Love Triangle Between Publius, Minnehan, and Clampitt **UPDATED**

All relationships have their ups and downs.  Such is the case between former Kilroy’s Delaware commenter Publius e decere and former Pencader board member and current Christina board member Harrie Ellen Minnehan.  Throw in a wild card like Henry Clampitt, former board member of Charter School of Wilmington, current board member at Gateway Lab School, and also a candidate for the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education, and you have what I like to call a bizarre love triangle (which just so happens to be an awesome tune by New Order).  But what I found this morning… that brings this triangle to a whole new level… Continue reading “The Bizarre Love Triangle Between Publius, Minnehan, and Clampitt **UPDATED**”

Colonial School District To Hold 2nd Referendum Of The Year On June 6th

A few weeks ago, the Colonial School District referendum failed to gain enough yes votes for it to pass.  So the district is holding another referendum on Tuesday, June 6th.  The district issued a press release today.

Colonial Schedules Second Referendum

New Castle, DE- The Colonial School Board of Education voted in favor of holding a second referendum on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Board agreed to the same operating amount sought in the February 28 referendum of 38 cents per $100 of assessed home value. With impending cuts to the state budget announced recently, the 38 cents will now meet operating and growth needs only, and not the expansion of other district initiatives.

The Board of Education agreed to remove the capital improvement request of 1.4 cents, the second part of the February referendum, which was also rejected by voters.

Due to the failed referendum, the Colonial School District has implemented an immediate hiring, spending, and travel freeze to preserve funds through the remainder of this fiscal year.

Should the June referendum also be defeated, Colonial is preparing to implement over $4 million in cuts for the 2017-2018 school year. Immediate implications include:
• Over 170 positions will be eliminated. All departments will be impacted.
• Class sizes will increase due to the reduction in staff.
• Middle school and freshman sports will be cancelled.
• Parents will be required to provide basic school supplies.
• Student travel and field trips will be cancelled or costs will be incurred by parents.
• Art Show, Band and Choral Festivals and STEAM Showcase will be cancelled.
• The annual Teacher of the Year and retirement dinners will be cancelled.
• Summer enrichment programs will be cancelled, including Middle School Institute and STEM, impacting over 700 students.
• Summer Credit Recovery Program for high school students will be cancelled.

“We realized that we didn’t communicate the impact that a failed referendum will have on our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey. While vowing to remain committed to providing students with a quality education Blakey said, “If we aren’t successful in June, we are preparing to make some very difficult choices that will impact our valued staff, and as a result, our students. When we are forced to make drastic cuts like this, we look to preserve our classrooms. However, staff cuts will mean larger class sizes and possibly the end of some popular academic programs. In addition, some sports and extracurricular activities will also be casualties.”

Gary Phillips, President of the Friends of Colonial, is meeting with parents and community members who want to see the referendum pass in June saying, “The Colonial School District has made tremendous strides over the last few years. We want to see that momentum continue for the sake our students, so we will work very hard to convince voters to support the district by voting for the June 6th referendum,” Phillips said.

Yes Majority In Indian River’s 2nd Referendum Attempt

The Indian River School District passed their referendum today.  According to The News Journal, voters passed the expense measure with 7,095 yes votes.  5,394 voted no.

The vote comes exactly 100 days after the district’s first attempt to pass a current expense referendum failed by a mere 30 votes back on Nov. 22, 2016.

The referendum came as a result of unprecedented growth within the district, interim superintendent Mark Steele said.

Earlier this week, voters in the Colonial School District did not pass their referendum measures.  Like Christina, Brandywine, and Indian River in the past couple of years, Colonial will assuredly take another stab at it.  For the Indian River, the district is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief after a contentious year which saw their Chief Financial Officer resign in controversy and a painful audit investigation which showed a great deal of financial issues in the district.

Colonial School District Referendum Measures Fail

The Colonial School District held a referendum today for voters of the district to vote on two measures.  Both failed to garner a majority of the vote according to the New Castle County Department of Elections:

For additional tax Against additional tax
Total 2,193 2,733

For authority to issue bonds
Building For the bond issue Against the bond issue
Total 2,067 2,961

Back to the drawing board for the district.  This happened with Brandywine last year.  Their first referendum failed but the second attempt passed.  Indian River will hold their second referendum in so many months on Thursday.  Last year, Christina passed a referendum on their 3rd attempt after two others failed the previous year.  And so it goes…

Delaware Auditor’s Office Issues Follow-Up Report To Indian River School District Audit Investigation

The Delaware State Auditor, Tom Wagner, released a follow-up today to the Indian River School District audit investigation.  The original report, released days before the district’s December referendum, showed very damning allegations against the district’s former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller.  Today’s memorandum from Wagner came out before another referendum the district will be holding on March 2nd.  While the follow-up shows significant improvement there are still some areas of concern as shown in the below report.

Capital School District’s VERY BOLD Long-Term Plans

The Capital School District has mighty plans for the district!  As part of their ongoing strategic plan, the district will discuss potential building and grade configurations at their board meeting this evening, beginning at 7pm.

While these plans are not set in stone, there is serious discussion about what the district will physically look like in the long run.  Referendum haters may want to relax because the plans I am about to discuss are long-term and could take twenty years to reach the finale.  But current plans call for sweeping building changes, grade configurations, and a new way of looking at middle school.  The district began earnestly looking at these changes last fall and held staff and community forums earlier this month after a facility master plan was presented to the board.

With the proposed changes, two current elementary schools would disappear and another would be renovated. Fairview and Town Pointe Elementary Schools would be demolished and Dover East would get a new building.  Both plans call for a potential expansion at Dover North.  Where things get very interesting are the plans for the existing middle schools, William Henry and Central Middle.  Central Middle would become an elementary school.  Since William Henry is connected to Kent County Community School, the plan is to use room in William Henry to house a growing high-needs special needs population.  This does not mean all special education students in the district would be going to this potential facility!

For the middle schools, they would be two separate schools but joined by a common area.  Potential plans would called for shared resources between the two such as a cafeteria and large gym.  But it would also allow the district to have Career-Technical education programs in one school and arts programs in another.  But since the schools would be in the same location, it would be difficult for diversity issues to come up since they are both there.  The district is looking at potential magnet programs in the future.  The proposed site for the new middle schools would be on the property of the old Dover High School.

Those are the major changes.  Other options call for an early childhood center attached to Dover East and potentially one next to Booker T. Washington Elementary School.  Both of the potential options would call for what is known as a “Main Campus” which would house the expanded Kent County Community School, Booker T. Washington (which holds the district Delaware Autism Program inclusion program) and the proposed early childhood center.  As well, other space in William Henry could house the Transition program for students with high needs between the ages of 18-21.  The district now leases space in a building across from the Department of Education in Dover.

In terms of grade configurations, the plan is to have the following: early childhood centers would hold Pre-K to Kindergarten, elementary schools would hold 1st-5th grade, middle schools would have 6th-8th, and high school would be 9th-12th grades.

So how much is all of this going to cost?  Probably millions and millions of dollars.  But not all at once.  The goal is to look at the projected growth of the district based on a capacity of 600 students in each elementary school, 750 in the middle schools, and 1,800 for the high school.  Keep in mind, this is a twenty year plan.  Things could very well change during the next two decades.  Projections are good but you never know when a huge business could come to Dover or Kent County which could change all the numbers.  But I like this plan.  I like the idea of sharing resources at the middle school level.  Having the “Main Campus” could also allow for that which could save the district tons of money.  Of course, any new construction or renovation costs tons of money but everything old must one day become new!

OPTION A

option-a

OPTION B

option-b

As the above diagrams show, Hartly Elementary School, Dover South Elementary School and Dover North Elementary School would have the least amount of changes.  The revamped district would actually have one less elementary school than present, but the populations in each school would change based on removing Kindergarten and adding 5th grade.  As a citizen of Dover, this will definitely be one to watch!  When the strategic plan process began last year I strongly advocated for changing the middle school grade configuration to what they are now proposing.  To hear the plans in more detail, come on out to the board meeting at the district office!

The Christina-Charter School Lawsuit Is Now Public!

That didn’t take long.  Three days ago, the Christina board agreed to the settlement.  Last night it went public.  Delaware Liberal has the whole thing in all its glory.  From what I’ve read, the district is off the hook for any back exclusions.  There will be a one-time payout for this year of $150,000 plus the per student allocation from a 2003 referendum that amounts to 10 cents for every $100 worth of assessed property value.  Christina will pay out the charter school payment part of the $5.5 million they received from the last fiscal year.   But going forward…

DOE will have to determine the exclusions and let the charters review them before the annual determination is made.  Tuition tax will now be a part of the local district payments to charter schools if the charter has comparable special education services to Christina.  Which explains why Newark Charter School took in a special needs child over the summer.  As the parent wrote in comments on this blog, this student was 17th on the wait list at NCS.  One day the parent got a call from the school and her child was in.  That would mean a student left and sixteen parents said no or left the school.  The parent did reach out to me to let me know NCS does not have a football team and that with students who may have moved played a factor.  As well, the parent states the school was not aware her daughter had special needs and had to scramble a week before school to make sure she got a one-on-one para.  They also said there are quite a few students at NCS with either Downs Syndrome or autism that have one-on-one paras.

The settlement also allows for both parties to claim or not claim exclusions from the Match tax.  Which means more headaches in the future.  I have to wonder how all the other school districts feel about part of their tuition tax now going to charter schools if the charters meet that “need”.  Is this why Appoquinimink hiked up their tuition tax last summer?  Did they know what the charters were planning back then?

This settlement releases the charter schools claims against Christina and their CFO, Robert Silber.  But they also filed against the Delaware Dept. of Education.  I don’t see language releasing the DOE.  Is their suit against the DOE still alive?

I would attach the Scribd document from Delaware Liberal, but the ink isn’t dry on the settlement yet.  Thirteen charters, the Christina board President, and Silber all signed.  That leaves two more charters.  Not a (legal) done deal yet.  But why aren’t all the signatures by the President of each charter board?   Some are.  Some are signed by the Head of School or a title similar to that.  But the board is the legal entity behind a charter school, not the Head of School.  I suppose it would depend on the ability of a Head of School to legally bind the corporation to this settlement.  I don’t have time right now to look through the bylaws of fifteen charter schools.  I would think an interim principal, like the one at Great Oaks, does not have that kind of authority.

Out of everything I’ve written about this whole Christina/charter school funding war, beginning at the end of August, as well as the countless other articles in Delaware media, one question still hasn’t been answered.  What made Greg Meece, Steve Dressel, and Joanne Schlossberg from NCS request a meeting with the Delaware DOE and Christina to discuss the local funding formula?  In other words, for 13 years, this 2003 referendum and the 10 cent thing was in play.  DOE signed off in it each year.  But Greg Meece found out about this earlier this year which prompted this whole thing.  Who told Meece about it?  Meece would have gone after this a long time ago had he known about it.  So who betrayed Christina?  It had to be someone with inside knowledge of the district’s finances.  Someone who knew a 13 year history of the finances.  Someone with a deep understanding of school finances.  Someone who had the motive and means and willingness to go after Christina.  Someone who didn’t care that this would affect tens of thousands of kids across the state.  Someone who didn’t care that telling Meece this would instantly cause him to bite the apple and unleash a lot of crap on the Delaware education world.  That is cold and unfeeling.  I am about 99.9% sure of who you are.  I’ve known for a long time.  I know how you like to play the long con.  I also know how you play people.  I know who your allies are and who your enemies are.  One day, your actions will come out.  And your justification for this does nothing.  Not when your sins will cause thousands of students who already had less to lose out even more.  You sold out the kids you claim to stand for.  It doesn’t balance any scales and it doesn’t even begin to absolve you.  You aren’t that crafty.  I saw you coming a mile away.

This is a shakedown no matter how you slice it.  The Delaware DOE, who approved the exclusions for all these years, gets the stiff penalty of having to do some more paperwork, something they thrive at already.  In the settlement, Secretary Godowsky escapes any blame by simply stating he wasn’t aware of the exclusions.  Which could very well be true since he wasn’t confirmed by the Delaware Senate until October, 2015.  But all the former Secretaries of Education would have known: Mark Murphy, Lillian Lowery, and Valarie Woodruff.  Why weren’t they named in the lawsuit if the charter schools had allegations going back to 2003?

I see this as just one more nail in the coffin of public education.  Now this opens the door for charter schools to get more funds from a referendum.  Funds earmarked for a district are now questionable.  Unless some shady deal went down at some point between 2003 and 2015, Christina is not to blame.  So why on earth would they settle?  I highly doubt their attorney fees would have climbed higher than the results of this settlement.  There is no possible way ninety minutes was enough time for their board to digest this settlement.  I read it last night and I still have many doubts.

The whole part about Christina paying $150,000 as a “one-time payment”?  That reeks of the amount Saul Ewing will charge the charter schools for their legal fees.  Wasn’t the Longwood Foundation going to pay for them?

This will be seen as a victory by many charter school parents, especially the ones at Newark Charter School.  They will point fingers at Christina and say “See, you settled, it was your fault.”  This is not a win for kids.

Indian River Loses Referendum, Many Voters Lack Confidence In Leadership

The News Journal is reporting Indian River lost their referendum by a mere 30 votes, with 3,321 for and 3,351 against.  It reminds me of a recent election in our country.  I have no doubt the district will roll the dice with a 2nd attempt in the next couple of months.  But the district has to own up to the audit investigation last week.  By stating the referendum has nothing to do with that report, they are shooting themselves in the foot.  I have a very hard time with Susan Bunting and her credibility at this point.  If Patrick Miller, the former CFO, was controlling everything with finances in the district then she let him do that.  She turned a blind eye to what was going on and that shows a clear lack of leadership.  As well, the Board has the capability of determining the district’s finances.

Bunting said issues need to be addressed across the board to ensure the referendum passes if it is held again. Although an audit was released late last week detailing financial issues over the past five years, Bunting said she won’t blame the audit for the failure for the referendum to pass.

If it was one year or possibly two that Miller played with school finances, that would be one thing.  But this went on a long time.  Even more frightening that it took tips to the Auditor’s office to get to the bottom of it.  Not only was Bunting and the Board asleep at the wheel, so was our state.  What happened in Indian River should give our legislators a wake-up call as well.  They should somehow get funding from somewhere and beef up the State Auditor of Accounts Office.  Every school district and charter school in this state needs a thorough audit.  We cannot continue like this.  Our children lose every single time.  All this talk of extra funding for schools… the funds are already there.  We just need to redefine the existing funding and find a system where those funds are used equitably for all students.  We can’t afford to stick with the status quo and then act shocked when we see reports like the Indian River one last week.

Delaware Audit Investigation Slams Indian River School District For Nepotism, Fraud, Conflict Of Interest, And Personal Spending

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Indian River School District Audit Investigation at 2pm today.  The numerous allegations in the report include using facsimile signatures for purchases, the Superintendent receiving gifts in the form of jewelry, the former CFO donating over $50,000 to non-profits where he served as the President of the boards, the business office lying to the auditor about a discrimination lawsuit against the former CFO, incorrect paychecks and salaries for teachers, not following the state rules for accounting, the CFO’s sister-in-law working in the business office, almost $160,000 in payment vouchers that had half for invalid purchases and the other half breaking rules all over the place, possible allegations of the district paying for a board member’s tuition at a Maryland school, many reimbursements to the CFO’s personal American Express Card, over $20,000 on in-state food purchases, the Superintendent buying White House Christmas ornaments, over 20% of certain scholarships given to relatives of board members, and much more.

Indian River has a referendum in five days, on November 22nd.  Do you support this referendum after reading this report?

Updated: 3:02pm, 11/17/16: The Dover Post is reporting the district will hold a press event tomorrow at 10am to discuss the Auditor’s report.  Newsflash, Bunting was mentioned in this report a lot.  She doesn’t get to just walk away and blame everything on Patrick Miller, the former CFO…

Indian River Has A Referendum In One Week. Where Is The Audit Investigation?

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner promised the citizens of Indian River School District the audit investigation his office is working on would be released before their referendum.  I assumed it would be released at least a week before the referendum to give the citizens in the district enough time to digest it.  I pray to God his office does not release it the day before to soften the blow.  We all know there will be some very serious stuff in there.  We know something happened in this district.  A chief financial officer with a checkered past in another district doesn’t get put on leave and then “resign” a month later unless something very serious went on.  When is Delaware going to stop playing this game?  When will full transparency actually happen in this state?  I feel citizens should have at least a week for this so perhaps the district should put in a request with the Delaware Dept. of Elections to postpone the referendum.

Indian River Goes On The Defense In Reaction To Anti-Referendum Ads

Indian River has a referendum coming on November 22nd.  Before that happens, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office will issue an audit inspection report.  A citizen in the district paid for ads in the Sussex County Post with allegations against the district and how they are spending money.  In response, Indian River Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting, Board President Charles Bireley and Board Vice-President Rodney Layfield submitted a letter to the editor at the Sussex County Post.

Many of the ads attacking the referendum and the response from the district center around the former Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Miller.  Miller resigned earlier this year without any public knowledge of the events which led to his resignation.  He was put on paid administrative leave the month prior.

As a result of the letter from the district, there is some clarity around the hiring of Miller in Indian River:

It should be noted that Mr. Miller was hired by the Indian River School District in September 1998, approximately six weeks before the state auditor’s office began its investigation of Brandywine’s finances. The final auditor’s report was not issued until September 2000 and Mr. Miller’s criminal case was not adjudicated until November 2000, more than two years after he was hired by IRSD.

As it turns out, the district is claiming they requested an audit, even though no prior audit report suggested a problem:

The public should know that the district requested the audit that is currently being conducted by the state auditor’s office. This request was made based upon information received in April by the administration and Board of Education. Therefore, any accusation of a “cover up” is unfounded, misleading and unfair.

One item in the letter puzzled me greatly.

The district is committed to being a good steward of our taxpayers’ dollars. This is evident in the property tax reductions implemented by our Board of Education during the past three years.

If the district knew they had all these future costs coming and a student population growing by leaps and bounds, why would they lower property taxes?  Were these for things like tuition tax or because prior referenda increases ran out?  For example, the capital costs for a school building do not last forever.  Eventually those increases end.  If that is the case with Indian River, it doesn’t show the board just deciding to lower taxes but rather they are following what was naturally supposed to happen.

While I have posted what amounts to rumors (although told to me by many different people not associated with each other) regarding Miller, I will wait to see what the audit investigation reports.  I believe that when taxpayer dollars are at stake in the operation of a school district which has over 10,000 students in it, the privacy of one employee should not be given greater weight than everyone else involved in the district.  There needs to be some type of legislation allowing a school district or board of education to release information when something happens that triggers an investigation from the auditor’s office.  When there is very little transparency surrounding serious issues, especially during a referendum campaign, the public needs to know exactly what is going on.  If this were a charter school, they would be forced to reveal what is going on through a formal review process.  We need that type of mechanism for our local school districts as well.

Appoquinimink Having a Holly Jolly December 20th Education Showcase… Wait, Isn’t That The Day Of…

Merry Christmas Appo Citizens!  Santa is not only bringing you a potential tax increase on December 20th, but while you are voting on the referendum, you can also go to the Education Showcase at ALL the Appo schools!  The timing on this couldn’t be more of a coincidence!  I am like, totally, for sure, sure some wires got crossed here.  A school district would NEVER plan events around a referendum.  That just doesn’t happen.

Education Showcase: December 20
Hands-on curriculum-based activities, performances, lessons and special programs showcasing innovative practices across the Appoquinimink School District.  Activities will vary by school.
Time, Location: Offered at all schools. Times vary.
Contact: Raymond.Gravuer@appo.k12.de.us

Appoquinimink Having A Holly Jolly December 20th Referendum

Merry Christmas Appo Citizens!  Santa might bring you a tax increase for the holidays!  Appoquinimink School District is holding a referendum for capital projects and operational increases on December 20th, from 10am to 8pm.  The State of Delaware approved their request.  I find December 20th to be a very odd date for a referendum.  People are getting ready for the holidays and celebrating.

The capital cost part of the referendum will call for the following:

A new High School and Middle School at the Fairview Campus

A new Elementary School at Whitehall

Renovating and expanding Silver Lake Elementary School

Rebuilding and expanding Everett Meredith Middle School

If the referendum passes, the state will pay 75% of the costs and Appoquinimink will pay 25% out of the referendum tax increase.  As well, they are also having a second part of the referendum to deal with operational costs in the following areas:

Enhancement and replacement of instructional technology

Staff recruitment and retention

Operating expenses associated with enrollment growth

The referendum would see taxpayers in the district paying an average of $17.36 more a month in school taxes based on an average assessed home price of $88,500.00.  Keep in mind, this is the assessed value of a home and not the actual value of the home. I find the new elementary school at Whitehall to be ironic given that the Delaware State Board of Education approved a charter school at that location but the Mapleton at Whitehall Charter School board decided to try their luck in Dover but then gave up unexpectedly and turned in their charter.

Ominous Media Advisory From State Auditor Does Not Bode Well For Indian River

This can’t be good at all!  Not sure how I missed this one.  But it is out there.  Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner publicly announced the Indian River audit inspection will be released before their referendum.  The November 22nd referendum could definitely swing one way or another based on this audit.  From what I’m hearing, it is NOT going to be pretty.  It could be a game-changer for the district with very bad things coming out.  Remember the whole Joey Wise thing up in Christina ten years ago?  Think along those lines.  Christina still gets bashed for that one even though it happened a decade ago.  This one will stick with Indian River for a long time.  And while everyone is playing the “Who will be the next Delaware Secretary of Education” game, I think Indian River Superintendent Susan Bunting will be off that list the second this audit comes out.  The last thing citizens of this district would want to happen is a referendum victory and then an audit inspection coming out that would have caused votes to shift to a no.

MEDIA ADVISORY

State Auditor’s Investigation into the Indian River School District

Posted On: Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dover, Del. – In response to media inquiries regarding the Auditor of Accounts’ (AOA) investigation into the Indian River School District, members of the media are advised that AOA intends to release its report in advance of the District’s referendum vote scheduled for Tuesday, November 22, 2016.

State Auditor R. Thomas Wagner, Jr. has authorized compensatory time for individuals working on this investigation in an effort to expedite the release of the report.

For more information, please contact John Fluharty at 302-857-3937. 

Big Issues In Indian River: Upcoming Referendum, Pending Audit Inspection, Federal Discrimination Lawsuit, and A Shrinking Budget

indian-river

The Indian River School District has seen better times.  While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to.  As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.

Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office.  But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details.  I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.

“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”

On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:

The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.

But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:

More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).

Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year.  In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review.  After that it will be released to the public.  Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum?  That could be important for many reasons.  If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no.  If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated.  As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.

The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:

If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.

But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district.  There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week.  On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River.  Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy.  According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:

The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.”  The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.

As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me.  Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts.  And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out.  While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.

It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.

 

15 Delaware Charters Suing Christina School District and Delaware DOE… Greedy Bastards!

The News Journal just reported that a group of Delaware charter schools are suing Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education over the charter school funding issue that I broke at the end of August.  This is unbelievable!  I can’t believe they have the unmitigated gall to go behind the districts’ backs all Spring, have the DOE issue “updated” funding formulas in August, and then sue Christina and the DOE after Secretary Godowsky reversed course on the plan.

And who does the News Journal have as a fresh picture, taken two days ago?  None other than Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  When Newark Charter School’s Head of School Greg Meece and Kendall Massett  get together, we should expect nothing but trouble.  For all of Massett’s talk about wanting district and charter collaboration, she sure has a funny way of showing it.

Fifteen charter schools have filed suit against the state Department of Education and Christina School District to get what they claim is their fair share of funding.  Christina has been withholding millions of dollars in local tax revenue from charter schools for years and the Department of Education has been complicit, according to the lawsuit.

Their fair share of funding is what they already get.  I actually can’t wait to see this go to court.  I will say it here and now… the charter schools will lose!  Who is paying for their attorney fees?

Under the adjusted formula, Christina School District would have had to pay about $3 million more this year than it had been planning.  For Newark Charter School, one of the chief beneficiaries of those funds, that would have meant an additional $1 million in revenue.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again… this amounts to Greg Meece going for an unprecedented money grab for Christina after they won their referendum last Spring.  And I also have a pretty good idea why he thinks the charters will win.  But I will hold that close to the vest for now.  But that one goes all the way to the top of Delaware, right Jack?  So how far back does this lawsuit go?  How about 2008!

The lawsuit aims at reinstating the adjustments made to the statewide formula and forcing Christina to pay back what it has withheld since 2008.

Newark Charter knows that if they win this would bankrupt Christina which I have no doubt is their overall plan.  And what then?  All of Christina goes back to the state and would most likely convert to charters.  Is Meece going to lead his long dreamed of Newark Charter School Network and take all those kids he didn’t want for the past 15 years?  I know what happened in 2008 when a former Christina Board member told Meece they would get additional funds from their referendum but the board member spoke out of turn.  Ever since, Meece has been gunning for Christina because of bad information.  I also have a pretty good idea of where Meece got certain information from that is making him think he has a case.  That will be the true revelation when all is revealed!

I would have to assume these fifteen charters are the ones that get funding from Christina School District, which is most likely every one in New Castle County.

 

 

Christina Legislative Briefing Q&A Transcription: Part 1

Yes, there will be two parts to this.  Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue.  If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning.  It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.

Welcome back to those who left.  Without further ado, here it is:

Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill?  Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?

Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.

State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?

Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”

Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.

Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?

Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.

Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?

Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.

Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?

Silber: For this year?

Doolittle: For their initial intent.

Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.

Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.

Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”

(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)

Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?

Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.

Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?

Silber: It’s not that simple. No.

Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…

Silber: Yes.

Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.

State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?

Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters.   And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.

Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…

Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.

Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning!  Stay tuned!

 

Breaking News: Secretary Godowsky Is Changing Funding Formula So Charter Schools Will Get More School District Money

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is about to set off an education war unlike any Delaware has ever seen.  If you thought the school district vs. charter school war was loud before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

In Title 14, the Delaware Secretary of Education has the authority to change the local cost per pupil.  When a student choices out of their feeder pattern, or their local school district, a portion of that school district’s local funds follows the student to the charter school.  To keep things in perspective, no Delaware Secretary of Education has touched this formula in the past 15-20 years.  There are slight increases each year based on inflation, but they are nominal in comparison to what Godowsky is about to do.

For big districts like Red Clay and Christina, this will hurt them… bad.  Any local school district that sends funds to charter schools will be affected by this decision.  Every school in Delaware already created their FY2017 budget months ago.  Each school district and charter set their budget on the expected number of students they anticipate having.  This was based on the same formula that has been in use for years and years.  When a district has a referendum, the funds generated from that referendum are earmarked for certain things.  Godowsky found a way to circumvent those funds to directly benefit charter schools in Delaware.

On August 8th, Secretary Godowsky sent all the Chief Financial Officers of each district a letter.  He asked them to list all of their restricted and unrestricted funds in their local budgets.  Restricted funds are not used in the calculation for money going to charter schools or other choice schools out of district.  These cover many things, like building maintenance, consultants, and food services as a few examples.  These are district expenses that only affect the district.  These aren’t services the student would bring to the new school.  The school the student choices to should already have those services.  Godowsky is moving budget allocations that were previously in restricted over to unrestricted.  By changing the way this is done, charter schools will get more money while districts will have less.  How much more?  It will differ between district and how much local money they have.  Even though Christina choices out more students, Red Clay has more money in their local share based on their tax base.  But the districts will bleed.  A lot of money.  From what I’m hearing it could be anywhere from 10-15% more money going to the charters, depending on the district.  Millions and millions of dollars.  This won’t just be a Red Clay and Christina thing.  Think Colonial, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smyrna, Capital, Caesar Rodney, Indian River… these districts will feel the pain as well.  Any district that sends dollars to charters will send more.

So when your kid comes home from school this year in school districts, don’t be shocked to see something cut that you thought they would have already had.  For charter school parents, they will be happy when their kid gets some new things they might not have had before.  In other words, charter schools will be getting more while districts will be getting less.  This will be in the double-digit millions.  I don’t have exact amounts yet.  But if your district pays a decent amount of money to charter schools, they will be paying a lot more.

Secretary Godowsky didn’t just wake up one day and say “I’m going to change the local cost per pupil formula this year!”  This wasn’t even his idea.  For this, we can thank the folks at Newark Charter School.  When Christina won their third attempt at a referendum last March, the school immediately pounced on Christina for more money.  Everyone wants more money, but Newark Charter School is relentless with their greed.  Immediately after the referendum, their board discussed a meeting that was about to take place:

NCSAprilBdMtg

This trio from the bastion of discrimination and cherry-picking in Delaware, good old Newark Charter School, is Head of School Greg Meece, Board President Steven Dressel, and their Chief Financial Officer, Joanne Schlossberg.  The Superintendent of the Christina School District, in an Acting Superintendent role, is Robert Andrzejewski.  The Associate Secretary of Education is David Blowman.  This was in April of this year, a month after Christina passed their referendum.  Ironically, Newark Charter School’s May board minutes seem to have disappeared.  I did read these board minutes when they came out, but I don’t recall specifics (I should have saved them).  I know there was a lot of discussion about the school refinancing their bonds.  In looking at Christina Board minutes and listening to their audio recordings, I did not see or hear any mention of “Bob A”, as their Superintendent is frequently referred to, and this strange group of people meeting.  I would like to publicly, right here, right now, ask Bob A what happened at this meeting and be prepared to discuss at their next Board of Education meeting on September 20th.  You don’t get a skate out of Christina free card Bob A.

Bob A did have a meeting with Newark Charter School earlier this year.  He asked Meece to support Christina’s upcoming referendum.  Meece flat-out refused.  Even though their charter school directly benefits from Christina School District with their five mile radius requirement for students.  Even Governor Markell and Senator David Sokola supported the referendum.  Which was a bit unusual.  But even that mystery will be cleared soon.

Meece, backed by the Delaware Charter Schools Network I’m sure, successfully lobbied the Secretary of Education to change the local cost per pupil formula.  By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education has up until September 1st of each year to do this.  But if this wasn’t the final straw, get ready, cause it gets worse.  Several sources are telling me this won’t just go into affect for this school year.  Godowsky wants districts to pay for last year based on the new formula.

Districts are at a loss.  They are in a frenzy and searching other possible remedies to address this education funding catastrophe.  When was this decision made?  I don’t have the answer to that one…yet…but I’m working on it.  It has been in play since April according to the Newark Charter School May Board minutes.  David Blowman, as the former Deputy Secretary of Education until earlier this year, oversaw the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE.  Since their Executive Director left in June, Blowman has been taking on the responsibilities as the authority figure in that area of the DOE until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney.

I have to imagine that Meece had other help with this as well.  Something this high up and controversial would have to fly by Governor Markell.  I have no doubt in my mind Meece’s legislative buddy Dave Sokola had a hand in this as well.  Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. I imagine the Delaware DOE will have to announce this by September 1st since this is the deadline for the Secretary to make these decisions.

This will create a war between school districts, charter schools, the DOE, the State Board of Education, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network unlike anything seen before.  If this change in the way districts pay charters goes through, expect a lot of hardship on districts.  Expect boons for charters.  You will have to pick a side.  You can’t sit there and stay neutral.  Every Delaware candidate for public office is going to face this question.  This isn’t going to be a situation where both sides can come to the table and stay neutral.  This move by Godowsky is the knife in the back that will cause outrage.

All because one little man hates the Christina School District so much, and he continually runs his “great” school.  The same school that continually benefits from the laws Delaware Senator David Sokola creates every single year.  And from what I’m hearing, Sokola isn’t the only candidate running for office that is getting support from Newark Charter School.  But the actions of this one little man will affect an entire state.  If you thought the funding issues for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan were rough before, get ready for this whole thing to take on a whole new level.

I wrote earlier today about this with cryptic words.  But make no mistake, Governor Jack Markell is leaving this in the lap of John Carney to deal with.  Markell doesn’t give a crap about Delaware education.  He has proven this time and time again.  This is just one more of his final revenge tactics before he leaves office (he will have more if Jack lives up to his true self).  Markell hates Christina.  Watching him in the video supporting the district for their referendum… he looked like he would rather have a root canal.  But it was very important their referendum passed.  Which was why Sokola also supported it.  If their referendum failed, Meece wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunity for his huge money grab.

This will affect every public school district student in the state.  For years, education reformers true goals have been to privatize education.  They found a very successful way to do it with charter schools.  They suck money out of local districts until they are gone in some cities.  But this time, I believe Meece overreached.   The reputation of charter schools as greedy, money-sucking vampires of local school districts is now set in stone.  All because of Meece.  Remember this moment.  Remember who started all of this.

District parents… I invite you all to attend the September State Board of Education meeting on September 15th.  The meeting begins at 1pm at the Townsend Building in Dover.  Bring picket signs protesting Godowsky’s actions.  Give public comment and demand the State Board of Education take action on this abuse of power.  Make your voice heard.  Go to your local school district board meetings and tell them to not send this money to the charter schools.  Go to the charter school board meetings and tell them they can’t get more while their children get less.  I have no doubt the charter side will make a lot of noise.  But only 10-12% of Delaware students go to charters.  We have the numbers.  We have the louder voice.  And we have more voting power.  Find out which legislators support the district side and which support the charter side.  If they tell you they support both, they are useless.  This war will demand strength in leadership.

When the dust settles on this, there will be casualties.  The question that remains is how much more students have to suffer because of stupid little men like Greg Meece.  We can’t tolerate this as a state any longer.  We can’t have a third of our state budget benefitting charter schools and allowing our kids in school districts to suffer because of them.  This has to change.  The war began a long time ago, but take a side.  And get ready to rumble!

I will be updating this story with new articles as they come out.  This is going to be a long Autumn.  With this action, Secretary Godowsky will replace Secretary Mark Murphy as the most reviled Delaware Secretary of Education in our entire history as a state.

 

Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!