A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out at Legislative Hall with some folks, and we were discussing how Sussex Academy, the only charter school in Sussex Academy, is having a pool built on their campus. We were wondering how they could afford a pool. That would have been a huge capital expense for a traditional school district, much less a charter school. But then we found out the pool was donated by a company, so no hot story there. Some company called Schell Brothers.
It fell off my radar as those kind of things do. I was getting rid of some files on my computer, and I tend to bookmark all the charter school board minutes. I saw the Sussex Academy minutes from April, and I wondered if there was any mention of the pool in there. I didn’t see any. I did see some notes about how they were going to charge students $10 to get a permit to park on campus. When the school got the permit back, they would be refunded $5.00. I thought that was odd but nothing huge.
Then I looked up at their board members, and a name popped out at me. Joseph Schell. I immediately put the names together…Joseph Schell…Schell Brothers. Did a board member donate a pool to the school? No. His twin sons did, through their real estate company, Schell Brothers. The company was funded through a trust named after Joseph Schell.
That’s really awesome! The school gets a pool! I have to wonder though, does the donation include the planned second floor balcony and the elevator to get to that second floor? Does it include all the costs associated with the pool: water, electricity, maintenance, chlorine, insurance costs? Or is that something the state will pay for? I would be happy if Joseph Schell or anyone from the school can provide these answers. It’s a Sunday evening as I write this, so I’m sure the school isn’t open. The only mention of the pool in their board minutes comes in January 2015, when Joseph Schell announces “a local business will pay for an aquatic center which should be complete mid 2015 or early 2016.” I would love to hear the recordings of all their board meetings to get more details, but alas, the school doesn’t do that.
Sussex Academy is receiving $60,703 as per Senate Bill 160, the bond bill. The total for all charters is over $1.4 million dollars for minor capital improvements. They are allotted the same portion as a vo-cational school district based on unit funds. Apparently it doesn’t matter if the state owns the properties or not. So add in the $1.4 million the charters got to keep from the charter school transportation slush fund, whereby they get to keep any excess transportation costs over their contracted bid amount from their budget for “educational purposes”. Oh yeah, they also get $1 million this year for their performance award. That’s, let me do some non-common core math here, $3.8 million dollars for charter schools. And our budget was short how much this year before all the other cuts… $68 million?
Back to Sussex Academy. Did the board vote on this donation? Did Joseph Schell recuse himself from the vote due to a potential conflict of interest? What if something pool related comes up for a vote? Would the fact that a board member has very close blood relationships with the owners of the company that gave the pool to them have any potential for an issue? I can’t imagine it would be a problem unless Joseph Schell is the head of the finance committee for the school. Just because he speaks on all financial matters in their board minutes doesn’t mean he runs that show.
Sussex Academy received over $4.6 million in revenues as per their 2014 tax form 1099. It did mention the Sussex Academy Foundation which donated over $1.4 million to the school in 2014. This seems to be from donations. Curiously, on their 990 form, in schedule E, they wrote “The Academy is fully supported through grants and funding from local school districts, and therefore does not solicit contributions from outside organizations.” Well, that’s a relief! I’m just glad they marked no for all the areas marked in Section 5 of schedule E, especially item B. You know, the part about the organization discriminating by race in any way with respect to admissions policies. I’m sure that whole ACLU complaint to the Office of Civil Rights matter against the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District, which mentions Sussex Academy as an example of discrimination and segregation, will clear itself up…
To get a look at all of the school’s board minutes and 990 tax forms, look no further than here, all on one page: https://saparents.team-logic.com/index.cfm?teamLogic=deptPages.view&groupID=215