Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week

The Christina Board of Education voted last week to accept the settlement concerning the lawsuit filed by 15 charters against them and the Delaware DOE.  Next week, an action item submitted by a board member could cause a tsunami of controversy.  As well, there is another action item that will certainly cause another ordeal just by being there. Continue reading

Greg Meece Letter To Newark Charter School Parents About Settlement Is Going To Stir Up Trouble

Greg Meece didn’t wait long.  We still don’t have verification that all the charter schools signed the settlement between the Christina School District and the 15 charter schools.  But Meece took his opportunity to brag and he did so with arrogance and a pompous attitude.  Yes, NCS parents, this is your not so humble leader.  I have no doubt this was Greg Meece’s favorite moment of the year.  But the big question surrounds the truth.  It was under the assumption the charter schools and their attorneys over at Saul Ewing offered the settlement.  Other sources have all parties working together over the Thanksgiving weekend to hammer it out.  But what Greg Meece states is something completely new.  And there is another downright dirty thing in this letter which was not written in the settlement the way Meece wrote it.  To me, that kind of negates the spirit of the settlement.  The settlement explicitly stated this was not a case of wrongdoing on Christina’s part, but Meece’s one sentence inclusion in here suggests otherwise.  That line is bolded for emphasis below.

As I was working on my article this weekend about Greg Meece and Newark Charter School, I went over a lot of articles pertaining to the lawsuit.  Why on earth would Christina offer to settle based on their own Legislative Briefing?  Furthermore, I don’t recall their board ever voting on action pertaining to the lawsuit.  I would imagine only the Christina board could direct their attorneys to negotiate a settlement.  The only vote they held about the lawsuit was the one regarding the actual settlement.  So someone is lying.  Is it Christina or Greg Meece?

Dear NCS Parents and Staff:

This regards the lawsuit that Newark Charter School, in conjunction with 14 other charter schools and four parents, filed against the Christina School District (CSD) and Delaware’s Department of Education (DDOE). The general idea of Delaware’s school finance law is that the property taxes paid by residents, which are initially held by the local school districts, should follow the child when families choose to enroll their children to a public charter or choice school in Delaware. In the case of CSD that was not being done. Charter and choice school students were not getting their fair share. The DDOE performed a detailed analysis of this past year’s funding between districts and charter schools. It concluded that CSD had excluded from charter schools more funds than it was allowed to exclude. Delaware law requires that the Secretary of Education make the final determination regarding the allowable exclusions from districts. In August, the Secretary of Education made his decision. This decision would have provided charter and choice students who live in the CSD approximately $450 more per student. In early September, over the charter schools’ objections, the Secretary reversed his own decision, due to outside pressures being made on him. This is when the 15 charter schools decided to sue both CSD and DDOE.

Both CSD and DDOE offered to settle the lawsuit before it went before the courts and the charter schools agreed to the terms of the settlement. Among the details of the settlement:

* The CSD now agrees that $5.5 million in revenue that had been excluded from the pool of funds shared among all students in the district, including those who attend our school, will now be shared with all charter and choice schools serving Christina students.

* The DDOE agrees to bring greater transparency to the process through which it determines each district’s Local Cost Per Student. DDOE is obliged to share information and seek input from charter schools as part of this process.

* We will be working with the CSD to examine whether opportunities exist to share resources to serve special needs students.

* Both CSD and DDOE agreed to cover the cost of the charter schools’ legal costs.

* In return, the charter schools agreed to relinquish claims on funds that may have been inappropriately withheld in past years.

As a result, the tax dollars that should follow your children to Newark Charter School will arrive for this school year and in future years. These funds will be put to good use here, where they belong and where they are needed.

I would like to thank you for your support as we worked through this legal process, and I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have. If you would like to see a full copy of the settlement, we will be glad to send you an electronic copy.

Sincerely,

Gregory Meece, School Director and the NCS Board of Directors

Excuse the hell out of me Greg Meece, but did you just write a letter to parents indicating that Christina broke the law even though the settlement you just signed clearly indicates otherwise?  I have to ask, what the hell is wrong with you?  You just violated your own settlement with this public letter.

Meanwhile, the Christina School District put out a press release on their own website today which doesn’t have a few of the things Meece mentioned in his letter:

Christina School District Signs Principled Settlement Agreement

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue.

The Christina School District has signed a principled settlement agreement to a Civil Action by 15 charter schools regarding the sharing of local property tax revenue. The charter schools filed the Civil Action asserting that the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), the Secretary of Education, the Christina School District, and the Christina School District’s Chief Financial Officer had breached Delaware law as a result of actions taken by the Department of Education in August and September. The agreement requires the approval of all 20 other parties to the suit, which states that settlement is made by December 2. The Christina Board of Education was required as part of the agreement to approve the agreement on or before December 1. The Christina Board voted to approve the agreement on November 30.
With the settlement, the Christina School District resolves the dispute over revenue generated by a 2003 Referendum passed by Christina taxpayers in a manner which honors the promise made to voters in 2003. In that Referendum, 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value was restricted for expenditures on: 1) Phase-in of full day kindergarten for academically at risk students; 2) Expansion of services for Gifted and Talented Program; 3) Expansion of services for Alternative Programs; 4) Technology replacement schedule. All parties in the civil suit have agreed that the 2003 Referendum revenue will be considered restricted, and may only be used to support these four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot. In addition, all parties further agreed that:
  • In the annual certification of Christina School District’s Local Cost Per Student pursuant to Section 509 (e), both the 2003 Referendum Revenue and CSD’s expenditures posted against those revenues will be ignored. In other words, such expenditures will be neither included in, nor excluded from, CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures. This is important because under the statutory formula for sharing local property tax revenue with charter schools, if such expenditures are included in CSD’s Total Local Operating Expenditures, the 2003 Referendum Revenue shared with the charter schools would not be subject to the restrictions imposed by the voters in 2003.
  • Beginning with Fiscal Year 17, the revenue generated by the 10 cent levy shall be divided by the total number of students residing in CSD and attending public schools in order to determine the per student share of the 2003 Referendum Revenue.
  • The parties agree that the dismissal shall include all claims that were brought or could have been brought, in the Lawsuit regarding FY’17 or any earlier fiscal year.
  • DOE will recommend a process to be used by the DOE in the future for determining Local Cost Per Student. In this process:
    • Districts will have the opportunity to request DOE approval for Exclusions from Total Local Operating Expenditures, with Districts providing justification for their request.
    • DOE will make a tentative determination responding to each requested Exclusion, together with DOE’s reasoning
    • Districts will have the opportunity to discuss with DOE its tentative determination before such determination is final and included within the annual certification
    • Prior to the annual certification, DOE will provide all charter schools with its tentative determinations, along with District justifications, and will afford the charter schools an opportunity to discuss such determination
    • DOE shall establish a schedule by which it proposes to meet each of the steps noted above.

 

The total amount of restricted funds generated by the 2003 Referendum is approximately $5.5 million. The agreement provides a mechanism for the appropriate portion of these funds to be applied to charter schools that educate Christina students, based on number of Christina students they serve. The portion of restricted funds for all Christina students attending charter schools is estimated to be $1.5 million. The Department of Education is required to establish a unique appropriation for these restricted funds, and is responsible for assuring that they are utilized only for the four programs as identified in Section II of the 2003 Referendum ballot.
For background information on this topic, please use this link to see the presentation made by the District at a Legislative Briefing for elected officials and the public held on September 7, 2016.
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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.

So, About Those Attorney Fees For The Charter Lawsuit…

Who is the benefactor to the 15 charter schools suing the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education?  You know, the one where the almighty (or are they?) charter schools want more money?  Led and initiated by Newark Charter School who got fourteen other charters to follow suit.  Literally.  As in a lawsuit.  But they had a little problem they had to take care of first.  The damn attorney fees.

I imagine taking a case like this would involve a lot of prep work and discovery.  Saul Ewing, LLP is the law firm representing the fifteen charter schools in their lawsuit against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education.  As the named parties are represented by their own counsel, the charters would have to be able to definitively prove their case.  Or at least a perception of their case.  That’s what attorneys do.  Make a jury or judge believe their side of the story, whether it is right or wrong.  It is always about the belief.  But who is paying Saul Ewing for this lawsuit? Continue reading