The Delaware Department of Education released the 2019 September 30th Unit Count report earlier this month. Special education numbers are rising each year. This is now the 6th year I’ve written about this report. This covers everything: special education, demographics of each district and charter school, and enrollment trends in Delaware’s public education. One of the demographics in Delaware public schools is actually decreasing which came off as shocking to myself. Continue reading 2019 September 30th Numbers Show Special Education Is Up But Another Key Demographic Is Decreasing
The quickest way to lose special education funding is to lie about holding IEP meetings. Such is the case with Glasgow High School in the Christina School District. If this were one or two IEP meetings that would be one thing. But sources are telling me this could be upwards to 70 IEP meetings. The situation is so bad that the school lost a ton of funding for these special education students.
How does a school hold up to 70 fake IEP meetings? You set them up in the system, set up a date for the meeting, and then do NOTHING ELSE. Who gets blamed for this? Is it Principal Butch Ingram? The education diagnostician for the school? The school psychologist? The teachers? Was the then head of special services for the district, Michele Marinucci, aware of this situation? (Marinucci is now the Head of School at Academy of Dover.) Did the IEP team members actually sign off on IEP meetings that never happened in the first place? Tons of questions here folks!
Sources for this horrible news are laying very low. The situation is playing out but the September 30th unit count report is going to look very different for Glasgow H.S. compared to previous years. That report usually comes out in November courtesy of the Delaware Department of Education. Speaking of the DOE, how long have they been aware of this mess? Why has NONE of this been made public until the scrappy little blogger from Dover had to stick his head out of the sand to write about this?
While I’m sure Christina’s CFO Bob Silber and the other fine district folks are scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to do damage control over this latest debacle, I would hope someone in the district is considering the impact this will have on the actual students with disabilities. How many services will they go without this year because the adults screwed up? For a school that had a little over 15% of its population listed as students with disabilities, that amounts to 114 out of the 753 kids that attended the school during the 2018-2019 school year. That’s a ton of funding for the school to be losing! What say you Superintendent Richard Gregg?
Chances are good this story is going to keep on growing. I’m just breaking the ice here. I have no doubt there is much more going on here.
I always wondered why the Delaware Department of Education went into Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security last December to do an emergency student count. It turns out the DOE found out they were fooled and were not happy about it. You see, DAPSS didn’t lose a lot of students. They were counting ones they never had. Continue reading The Ghost Students Of Delaware Academy Public Safety & Security
Editor’s Note: I was going through my drafts folder today and I found this little gem from June 20th, 2016. I wasn’t able to fully verify the reason Kathleen Davies was ousted from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office. Nobody really knew except Tom Wagner and he wasn’t talking. I had my suspicions. Turns out they were just part of the reason. As Davies continues to get wrongly persecuted by the News Journal during an election, I thought this would be an opportune time to publish this “lost in the drafts folder” article:
For the past couple years, Kathleen Davies has been very busy. As the Chief Administrative Auditor, she had her hands full with education audits, specifically those dealing with charter schools. She was in charge of the investigations for Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Providence Creek Academy, and the recent September 30th Count investigation. Recently, however, there have been two glaring omissions from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s website: Kathleen Davies and the September 30th Count report. Where did they go? Are the two connected?
This is Delaware. Of course they are. Word on the street is the Delaware Department of Education didn’t like the September 30th report, even though they requested it. When they asked Davies to make changes, she refused. This caused an impasse, and the result… Davies and the report are gone. Apparently the DOE’s influence now stretches across State of Delaware Departments. All the way to the Auditor’s office. Ironically, their central offices are both located in the Townsend Building.
The Greek-themed Delaware charter school, Odyssey, sent out a letter to parents in their area advising them they are still accepting students. As most involved in Delaware education know, schools get their funding based on the September 30th student count. Odyssey is trying to beef up those numbers to get more money.
This is a bad idea in very bad taste. The window for school choice in Delaware closes in mid-January. As in eight months ago. While charters are certainly free to accept students after those dates if they have room, actively
soliciting students after the school year has already started is lousy judgment. It is poaching, pure and simple. It is money driven, not student driven. But what many forget is that some charters tend to kick out high-risk students after September 30th. And guess what? Some keep the funding they received.
On DSEA President Mike Matthews Facebook page, he brought this up yesterday. While he didn’t name the school, State Rep. Kim Williams said she is aware of it and did notify the Delaware Dept. of Education. Will the charter-friendly DOE actually address the situation or just play along to go along?
As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with actual charter schools and the reason for their existence. But I do take issue with situations like this, when profit and money result in grown-ups making poor decisions. There are good charters out there but unfortunately when certain charters keep coming up in events like this it is hard to not view the charter problem as a whole. Whether it is discrimination, poor special education, cherry-picking students, or using lobbying power to get more money at the expense of districts, the Delaware tends to side with the charters. Even worse, they tend to turn a blind eye to recurring issues such as the ongoing financial cesspool that is Providence Creek Academy, the enrollment preferences at Charter School of Wilmington, or the discrimination factory we call Newark Charter School. Odyssey should not be attempting to get students from districts this far into the school year.
Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting put the hammer down on Odyssey or will she allow this poaching journey to continue? And what is your take on this bad education practice?
While this was not a whole-scale investigation like some recent district or charter school audit reports, the Auditor of Account’s report on the Statewide Unit-Count Agreed Upon Procedure between the Cape Henlopen School District and the Delaware Department of Education did show some flaws in the system. State Auditor Tom Wagner released the report today.
Out of the five schools that were selected for the audit, representing audits of 114 students, six students were included in the unit count that should not have been, two from Milton Elementary School and four from the Sussex Consortium. As well, all five of the schools did not properly maintain their official Unit Count file as required by state law. The Auditor has no capability or authority to mete out any consequences to the district. But the report is sent to the Offices of the Governor, Attorney General, Controller General, and the Office of Management and Budget.
Tom Wagner, the elected Delaware State Auditor, issued a new September 30th inspect report from his office today. The original report, issued on May 4th of this year, was conducted by Kathleen Davies who was put on leave in Mid-May. Oddly enough, this report does not even appear on the state website but this was emailed to many state employees and legislators this morning.
I am presenting both the new report and the original so readers can compare the two.
To view the original point, go below:
In comparing the two documents, there are significant changes. Missing in the new report is a letter from Thomas Wagner to Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky. In the new report there is a new Appendix where the auditor’s office gave each charter school or district that received a finding to respond to the initial report issued on May 4th. There are key edits of certain sections. Especially when it revolves around the Delaware Department of Education. The changes appear to fluff up the DOE in certain instances. Almost as if the DOE had editing power over an audit approved by the State Auditor.
I resent this whole new report and the attempt to demean Kathleen Davies. No logical explanations have been provided by anyone on her situation. This smear campaign by the State Auditor’s office and the Office of Management and Budget needs something more than some bogus explanation provided by Ann Visalli. Wagner needs to step up for his employee who did her job faithfully for many years. Instead, just this new report alone looks like he is majorly kissing up to the Delaware DOE, led by Secretary Godowsky, who serves at the pleasure of Governor Markell.
The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education approved an action item on Tuesday night to cover “rising special education costs” in the district, according to an article by Amy Cherry and Yossi Goldstein with WDEL. To say the reasoning for this tax hike, which will cost the average Middletown resident on average of $65 a year, is misleading at best, would be an understatement. According to the Appoquinimink Director of Finance, Dr. Charles Longfellow:
“Tuition, which is for special education students, is an (estimated) $815,000 increase (for 2017),” explained Longfellow.
That is the basis for their case. But in Delaware, special education funding comes from three sources: the feds, the state, and local funding. Is this $815,000 increase just the local increase or overall? For “tuition”, which is based on special education students choicing out of the district to another district to attend a special school, like the Delaware Autism Program or the Delaware School for the Deaf, the sending district has to pay the other district that portion of funds. As well, it could also be to cover funds for students sent to alternative schools within the district, but since Appoquinimink has no alternative schools, this is a moot point. In a sense, it is the customary tuition, but the districts pay each other. Students in Appo don’t tend to choice out at the higher rates other districts have to deal with. But students with disabilities in Appo do tend to choice out more than students with disabilities in other districts, as detailed by the Statewide Review of Education Opportunities report commissioned by the Delaware State Board of Education last year:
Appo’s biggest student population drain is MOT Charter School. Since the Delaware Department of Education hasn’t published these reports since 2014, it is very difficult to tell just how many students choice in or out of Appo. However, in looking at choice students historically, Appo tends not to bleed out as many students as other surrounding districts. Even more misleading is the fact that, aside from basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, the special education funding from the state is based on the number of special education units in the district. If you have more special education students, you would get more state funds. However, and where tuition funds come into play, when the school cannot provide the special education services to the student based on the individual special education allotment of funding for that student, the state doesn’t pay more. And if the student attends a special school in another district, this is where the tuition costs are created.
But Appo seems to justify this tax hike on their district website:
At the beginning of each new fiscal year, school districts must review their financial obligations and establish school tax rates to be collected on their behalf by New Castle County. A system of checks and balances is in place to ensure fiscal responsibility. This includes a review by the volunteers who serve on the District’s Financial Advisory Committee and approval of the Board of Education. Current and historical tax rate information is available in our budget documents accessible via the links to the right.
It’s funny they bring up the District Financial Advisory Committee, because when you click on that section of their district website, you see no reports or a list of the members of this committee, just a log-in for these special members. Delaware law states each public body must show how the committee representation is made up. While actual minutes or committee members are not required to be listed on a district or charter website, most districts and charters do show this information to support a level of transparency. But not Appo. They don’t even show meeting times, agendas, or minutes for their version of a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.
But even if the district had a massive influx of special education students choicing in or out of their district after the official September 30th count (which determines special education funding from the state for each district), we should see that reflected in their final budget approved by the board on 2/23/16, right? Not so. Their tuition tax did increase by $90,000 from last summer until February of this year. However, only 30,000 of that was for special schools out of the district. Furthermore, on page 12 of the budget, it states they transferred $276,000 out of the tuition pool to another bucket of funding. As well, it was projected the tuition fund would be at $8,407,661 in the initial budget, but due to the transfer and an unidentifiable increase in “Instruction and Operations” to the tune of $425,630.00, it left the district $702,039 in the hole. But it gets more interesting on page 15 when it shows projected revenue of $8,503,168 for the year coming from property taxes. But there is no viable proof anywhere that justifies a $720,000 increase for this in FY2017. At least not in special education. Upon careful review of this budget, they actually overestimated their initial special education costs by over $100,000.00 for the receipt of federal IDEA-B funds, which means they must have had a decrease in students with disabilities, not an increase.
To make matters worse, I checked to see how much Appo spent on special education in FY2016. Since none of our districts or charters are consistent with how they code education funding in many areas, it took some time to find Appo’s portions. According to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo spent over $1.8 million dollars in FY2016 to cover related services for special education in the district. That is what they spent under the categories for basic, intensive, and complex. But those covered special education salaries. When you look at their tuition payments, I’m not seeing $8,503,168 or anything close to that number.
I looked in every possible category to see if it these tuition payments could somehow be miscoded and I found absolutely nothing going towards other school districts. In the above pictures, I also included funds going to Delaware and out of state residential treatment centers. So at a maximum, Appo spent a little over $3 million in tuition payments for FY2016. Perhaps they haven’t paid some of the bills for this? I checked the prior year, and we are looking at a little bit less in FY2015:
So where did over $5 million in funds allocated in their budget for tuition payments go? This is a question only Appo can answer, and I expect we will find out after this article comes out. Keep in mind, this is budgeted funds, so it isn’t missing like someone stole it. They spent it somewhere else when tuition funds are specifically earmarked to cover special education costs. The only other areas where a district board can approve a tax warrant is for reading and/or math specialists and minor capital improvements. In FY2016, Appo spent about $983,000 on reading and math specialists. To be on the safe side, I reviewed a few other districts budgets and what they have allocated for tuition. For the most part, those districts matched their budgeted amount and what appears on Delaware Online Checkbook.
According to the Delaware DOE school profile site, in FY2015, the feds provided 2% of the district’s overall funding, 67% came from the state, and 30% from local taxes with an average district cost per student of $11,226.00. If you compare this to the average for the rest of the state, the feds provide 10% of funds, the state pays 59% and local funds make up the remaining 31%. So why does Appo receive such a small amount of federal funds? Most of that has to do with Title I allocations, which go towards schools with high concentrations of low-income students. For Appoquinimink, their low-income population represents 14.7% of the students in the district. For the state, this average is 36%. As well, the state average for students with disabilities is 14.4% while Appo has a lower number at 11.8%. To break this down even further, the most expensive category of special education is students in a complex status. These are students who need one-on-one support at all times and many related services which are very costly. Appoquinimink has a very low number of this special education population compared to other districts in New Castle and Kent County. The two closest districts in terms of student populations, Brandywine and Indian River, have much higher populations of complex special education students. Appo is at 58% of Brandywine’s total complex population while they are at 36% of Indian River’s number. Even against Colonial, who has 1,000 less students in their overall population, Appo comes at 37% of their complex special education population. We know the district isn’t losing special education students to MOT Charter School because they only have 4 complex students with disabilities and only 69 special education students overall. What does that tell us? Either there aren’t that many complex special education students in Appoquinimink or their parents send these students to private schools. The Middletown/Odessa area is growing at an incredible fast rate, however, it is also one of the more affluent areas of the state.
“That’s why the state and feds protect the right to get this money without going to referendum–they prescribe the services, how to identify them, what needs to be offered,” said Appoquinmink Public Information Officer Lilian Miles.
Of course they protect the right. It allows them to pay less of the allocations they should be paying for special education. But the district doesn’t seem to care, because one way or another they will get this money. They don’t care if they have to gouge the taxpayer. Perhaps those are harsh words, but in light of the biggest fabrication coming from Miles is this absolute lie:
Miles said the population of special education students has doubled over the past five years in Appoquinmink, though it remains a very small percentage of the district’s student body. The growth is representative of what’s happening all across the Middletown area.
Wow, the special education population doubled? That is a massive increase Ms. Miles. However, your statement doesn’t hold water. In checking on the Delaware September 30th Enrollment unit count reports, I found Appoquinimink had the following special education populations from FY2011 to FY 2016:
Even using Common Core math, it is easy to determine that 839+839=1,678. Being that the difference between 839 and 1,268 is 429, I would hardly call that a “doubling”. Unless they are counting the students with disabilities who either graduated or turned 21 over the past five years and are no longer a part of the district population in those numbers, than yeah, I could believe that statement. But it would be a statement built on false pretenses. Granted, the district’s population of complex special education students did double from 43 to 87 students but would that be enough to cover $8 million dollars in tuition costs? Not even closeWhat astonishes me even more is either their board was oblivious to this outright lie or they really didn’t care.
If a tax warrant weren’t approved, Miles said funds to cover special education would have to come from the general operating budget. “You don’t want to short the 90 percent by taking money from their pot–you just have to work to get it right,” said Miles. “It’s raising taxes for the services you are required to provide for this special population.”
So, Ms. Miles, if those funds won’t come out of the general operating budget based on revenue from what I view as a fraudulent tax increase based a board’s suspension of disbelief over special education populations within the very district they oversee, what are you using those funds in the general operating budget for? And furthermore, say nothing happens as a result of this article which happens in Delaware way too much for my liking, and we have already caught you in a major lie concerning the most vulnerable of children, how do we know those funds would even go towards special education? Especially since nine districts put basic special education funding all in one bucket to the state, as opposed to allocating those funds towards buckets like occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapy, and whatnot. And only Appo and Capital put funds going towards complex and intense special education students in these lumped groups, thus making it impossible to find out how much these two districts are paying for certain types of services. But at least you aren’t Brandywine who seems to throw it all in one bucket for basic to regular special education students, assuming they have NO intense or complex special education students.
But according to the special education section of Appo’s website, at least they are fully aware of which bucket these funds should go in:
The most common types of special education services are: Reader or interpreter; Assistive technology; Speech therapy; Occupational therapy; Life-skills training; Personal counseling or therapy; Transportation assistance; Physical therapy; Hearing-loss therapy or audiology; Job counseling or training.
I would strongly suggest the Appoquinimink Board of Education reconvene in an emergency session to rescind their vote cast Tuesday night and actually review this situation for what it is. How dare this district and board use special needs children in their quest for more money, and to add insult to injury, charging every property tax paying citizen in the district to get that money. I looked on the boarddocs section of their website, and most traditional school district boards provide documents to go along with items like this. Not so with Appoquinimink. So there is no way for the public to see this huge increase needed for special education funding based on an already missing $5 million dollars for this purpose. Anyone involved in this should resign now or face charges for fraud. Furthermore, any tax warrants for New Castle County have to be approved by county council. I would strongly recommend this council not even entertain this farce.
Now that the Delaware Met is closing down a month after it opened them, many in Delaware are asking “what the hell happened?” Don’t worry, I’m in that same group. In all my time doing this, I never got a lead that turned into something solid within hours, much less a lead that announced the closure of a charter school that no one seemed to be any the wiser about their difficulties. But my big question surrounds their management organization: Innovative Schools. What did Innovative Schools actually do that warranted them receiving $380,000 since July of 2013? And why were there employees being paid since July 2013 as well when the school didn’t even open until two years later?
From July 2013 until March 2014, we see salaries going out twice a month ranging from $3,245.19 to $4,110.59 (only once for this one, ironically, 12 days before Christmas). Then in March, it bumps up to around $5,400 a month, but then back down to $2,700 in June. Who was getting paid these funds? And for what? Meanwhile, Innovative Schools had over $380,000.00 in 26 months on their tab. That’s some serious coin for a charter that hadn’t even opened yet for the bulk of these funds! The Delaware Met website, which hasn’t had any board minutes posted (and their only one) since October of 2014, shows 15 board members. And under the section entitled “School Leader’s Blog”, someone named Tricia talks about how she accepted the position of Head of School in May, 2015. And good luck finding any staff, they don’t exist on the website. Now the DOE website shows the Head of School to be Patricia Hunter Crafton, so I have to assume that would be “Tricia”. But when I emailed the DOE and The Delaware Met for information yesterday, I received an out of office email for Crafton indicating she was out on maternity leave until November. Nash Childs is listed as the President of their Board, but no relation to Great Oaks Charter School leader Kia Childs.
So who was the Innovative Schools lead for The Delaware Met? Innovative Schools website lists Jemuel Anderson as the Operations Manager for The Delaware Met. Now some bell is going off telling me I’ve heard this name before…where…where…where…and then the bell rings! He was one of the plaintiffs when Moyer tried suing the State of Delaware over Moyer’s closure. But Jemuel Anderson’s charter school history goes back beyond even Moyer. He was the topic of many comments over on Kilroy’s a few years ago with the “is he” or “isn’t he” argument going back and forth over whether he was qualified to be a teacher rep on the board based on his lack of certified credentials on DEEDs (the place to look if teachers are certified or not in Delaware). To go from either a one-on-one para (with the same student) for two years at Pencader to an Operations Manager of The Delaware Met for Innovative Schools seems like a pretty good career jump! Astronomical I would say!
I’m just going to take a stab in the dark here and ask the obvious. Could there maybe be some financial issues going on with this school as well? In which case, the date of their official closure will be very interesting to watch. If it is after September 30th, what guarantee does the State of Delaware have to ask for that money back? If it’s already out there that the school is closing, what would happen if every single student left before September 30th? Would they get no funding which would then force them into bankruptcy? And it seems like it doesn’t matter if Innovative Schools cut ties with the school. You know they have to be going “Ka-ching! We got $380,000.00 from a school that was only open a month! Thank you Delaware taxpayers!”
Meanwhile, more Delaware students that are bounced around from Delaware charter to charter to charter are the true victims in all of this. A generation of lost charter school students lost in the even greater sea of lost Wilmington children who are lost in the vast ocean called proficiency gaps.
Today, I got an email from someone about The Delaware Met closing next week. Usually, I want to get more information on something like this, so I reached out to the Delaware Department of Education and the leaders at the school. Not one response. I put out some more feelers, and it looks like this story has some weight to it. I don’t have specifics, but I’m hearing about multiple incidents of violence at the school, a student brought a gun to the school on the very first day, and students leaving the school in mass quantities. The school just opened a month ago.
This school is being touted as a “Big Picture Learning School”, whatever that means. But it looks like families aren’t buying it. Is this a sign of things to come for Delaware charters? I’ve heard that many of the new charters are not prepared for their students this year, despite what the DOE is saying. I’ve heard of multiple special education issues going on at many charters this fall.
Back to The Delaware Met, I’m hearing their relationship with Innovative Schools has soured to the point of breaking. This is not a situation where the DOE will be closing the school, but The Delaware Met will be voluntarily closing down. Has that ever happened before in Delaware? This is a charter school that met their enrollment figures last Spring when many other charters were struggling. So what happened? I’m hearing many of the students were at-risk students who were facing issues at other schools including potential expulsion and suspension issues. I have no idea how many students at this school are students with disabilities. But how prepared was the school to handle these issues? If the allegations are true, not prepared at all. It’s one thing to apply to open a charter and get through the DOE. It is quite another to actually implement all the talk and ideas once the school opens.
The other night at the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission committee meeting on Charter-District Collaboration, a Red Clay principal actually advised the committee he is getting a lot of students transferring back to traditional schools from charter schools. The charter movement in Delaware may be hitting the brakes folks. Is the party over? Between financial concerns, funding issues, transportation problems (more last year), special education, and Smarter Balanced results showing the most at-risk students in charters are no different than traditional schools, I think it is past time the Delaware DOE ended their love affair with the charter movement.
If the school were to voluntarily close next week, it would make sense because the school would receive funding based on their September 30th count. Better to do it now than to wait until after they get funding…
Updated, 5:44pm: This story is gaining traction by the minute. Multiple sources are confirming, but no official word from DOE or the school. The only question is exactly when and how many students are actually left at the school….
Updated, 5:47pm: Other sources are telling me this school received a significant student population from Moyer, which was shut down by the state a year ago and closed it’s doors for good on June 30th, 2015.
House Bill 28, submitted today by primary sponsors, Delaware State Representative Kim Williams and State Senator Patricia Blevins, would put a halt to an inequity in funding when a charter school student transfers to a public school district after the September 30th count. This bill is now in the hands of the House Education Committee. Let’s get this one passed Delaware! State Rep Williams is on a roll and we are only a week and a half in!
I’ve gone ahead and added a page in the menu up top to put all the pending education bills and their current status in one spot for those who want a quick reference!
It appears public schools aren’t the only ones in Delaware with unruly students. Campus Community School, a charter school in Dover, has expelled students very fast this school year in what appears to be a renewed zero tolerance for bad behavior. Actions range from fighting down to shooting a piece of paper from a rubber band. This new get tough program comes at a very interesting time.
As a former parent who had a child attend this school, I find this very puzzling. They do have a new head of school as of last January as well as a new student handbook that was approved by their Board of Directors in August. Their board minutes from the same month do speak of a new tiered behavior policy. But charter schools are supposed to save society from all of this, aren’t they?
I have to wonder why this is happening now. My questions are threefold. How many expelled students were or should have been special education and were there any manifestation determination hearings that are legally entitled by law? What were the students DCAS scores last year? How many of these expulsions occurred after the September 30th count and what happens to the funding in these situations?
This is a school that lives by something called Choice Theory. This means every student has the capability of making choices. Under this theory, every single adult also has that ability as well. So I would have to ask what kind of environment fosters a situation where there are so many “disruptive students”? From their website, this is their basic belief:
“We believe that all children can learn, but all learners have different needs, experiences, and ways of learning. We believe that children will rise to expectations if effectively engaged in learning tasks that are meaningful to them. We believe excellent teaching is reflected in high levels of student achievement and positive attitudes.”
For the estimated 12 students who have been expelled, what choices were they given in this process? I first heard this news from a student, which I didn’t see as fact until another independent parent verified this information. I was wondering why they hadn’t posted their board meeting minutes from September even though their websites states they will be available on October 24th. Their new student handbook which would show what their new behavior policies are isn’t even up on their website either. If any parent of these expelled students wants to reach out to me, feel free. I am very curious about what infractions these students committed and if they had previous offenses.
For any school, getting rid of students with low performing expectations could certainly help to close any proficiency gaps. I would hope no school would ever result to mass expulsions to reach these levels.
Is the Delaware Department of Education aware of these expulsions? Is this isolated to just Campus Community or are other charters in Delaware doing this? If that’s the case, John Sadowski down at the DOE must be clocking in a lot of extra hours lately!