Thinking Out Loud

The first thing I’m wondering is how many people will go past the read more part of this article if they are just going to my homepage to see what I wrote beneath that.  But seriously, the main thing I’ve been thinking about (in regards to education) is a state legislator and a charter school.  And how, when everything comes up, somehow, some way, it always circles back to the two. Continue reading

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Librarian-Gate In Christina Heats Up: Sophie’s Choice or Misinformation? You Decide!

I wrote a post yesterday about the Christina School District choosing not to rehire librarians that were cut as a result of their 2nd failed referendum last year.  Many have gone on the attack against the district and many have jumped to their defense.  One clear and obvious thing is Delaware needs to change their antiquated unit-based funding system to some extent.  I don’t think anyone is arguing that point.  But a lot of accusations were thrown out as a result of my article and I wanted to point out some of them.

During Christina’s 3rd referendum attempt, the situation was dire.  As a result of the last two failed referenda, they had to make some major cuts.  Teachers, para-professionals, specialists, and yes, including librarians.  In several places, whether in writing or spoken word, the district mentioned they wanted to hire back the positions they cut and reduce classroom sizes.  This year, there were anywhere between 35-45 kids in some classrooms.  That isn’t good for any student, much less some of the high-need populations in the district.  One of the members of Christina’s Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, Brian Stephan, also writes for Delaware Liberal.

Let me point out this simple fact: I like Brian.  I think he is a good guy and a very involved parent.  I wish more parents were as involved as Brian and his wife in public education (and on a volunteer basis at that).  I have no doubt in the world he is very well-versed in school financing.  But just as I get my readers stuck in the weeds on issues such as special education or regulations for example, I think that may happen to Brian when he is explaining district financing.  Like any television show, there is frequently a “previously on…” before the show starts.  The brains of everyday citizens don’t remember everything, so they need a constant refresh.  I have to reiterate things on this blog constantly, not only to refresh existing readers, but also for my new readers.  I don’t always succeed with this.  But I would never complain to my readers that I have to explain it again.  That would be an insult to my readers.  I believe this happens in education a lot.  I see it all the time in parent complaints about educators and administrators.  They perceive them as being arrogant, but the reality is they may know more about situations and assume you do to.  When they realize you aren’t aware, the communication style is perceived as condescending or arrogant.  It may be, or it may not be.  There isn’t always an easy answer.  But when both parties are equally aware of a situation, and they dance around it with bad communication, that can be very dangerous.  But I digress…

I like to refer to education funding as a Rubik’s Cube with 64 sides.  It is a beast!  God bless any average parent who has a firm grasp on it, because I know I don’t.  Charters I’m pretty good at breaking down, but that is not the case with school districts.  But I do look at what people write and things they say.  That is the anecdotal evidence I look for in most situations.

Back in March, a week before the referendum, Brian wrote:

What’s the District asking for? An additional $0.30 per $100 of assessed property value that would generate an additional $16.2 million per year. What would that do? $4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes. $4 million would go toward the operating fund to keep the district functioning at pre-budget cut staffing levels for the next 2 years.

Note the word “and” when talking about restoring the positions cut AND reducing the classroom size in the above statement.  On Facebook yesterday, Brian was telling folks the current situation with librarians was spelled out succinctly and clearly, but I could not find anything in writing stating that it was an “or” situation.  Currently, defenders of the district are stating it is a building leader’s (principal) choice to either fund a librarian with an earned teaching unit or hire a regular classroom teacher.  In the event that a board doesn’t like that decision, they could force a principal to hire the librarian.  In effect, this comes down to a gut-wrenching choice of either keeping classroom sizes bigger or having a librarian.  Brian alleges this situation plays out in many of our school districts.  I have no doubt he is correct about this, but does the average taxpayer know this?  I doubt it.  This situation wouldn’t have become as intense as it has had this been spelled out during the weeks before the referendum.  Had something been put in writing to the effect of “It is our desire to hire back what we lost but we may not be able to get back every single position”, I would have no issue with any of this.

In response to the firestorm that went down on social media yesterday, Brian wrote a response on Delaware Liberal last night.  In the comments for this, he writes:

I can say that we described the referendum as restoring what was lost. And there’s a reason I didn’t say “Restoring ALL that was lost” because if I could have said *that*, I would have without a doubt.

This is the heart of the matter, in my opinion.  As I wrote in my response to his comment, there isn’t any transparent difference between “restoring what was lost” and “restoring ALL that was lost”.  I completely believe that Brian understands the current situation, but it was not clearly pointed out to taxpayers that their vote would mean one or the other.  That is why I was upset about what is happening with the district not restoring the librarians.  I backed this referendum 100% and fought for the district.  Now I feel like I’m eating crow.  It’s very easy to come back afterwards and explain this in writing.  I called that Monday morning quarterbacking yesterday.  I became very confused when things were written on social media and Delaware Liberal yesterday where defenders of the district wrote the funding is there to restore librarians.  Many commenters were.  But to write things to the effect of “let me explain this again” is not in the best interest of trying to win a point.  Most people feel like they are being talked down to.  But if that is the flavor of Brian’s writing style, that is his choice.

But here is the million dollar question.  If the assumption is that building principals in schools that had librarians cut are not restoring those positions in favor of keeping classroom sizes smaller, will the district take the classroom size waivers next fiscal year?  These are waivers the districts request that actually keep classrooms bigger.  They are usually granted.  Most districts do this, including Christina.  But in doing so, should Christina choose to go that route in December, they are actually breaking another referendum campaign promise, that of reducing classroom size.  Technically, one could say all districts do it and if they are out of compliance in one school they have to do it based on the populations in the school.  But it has also kept classroom sizes at increased levels in many districts and has not made the problem any better.  I could not tell you, based on my limited knowledge of this aspect, how to fix that or who exactly controls that aspect.

But back to Christina.  To make matters even worse, several sources have informed me that Acting Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski told many students the librarian positions would be restored.  These were children who were upset their librarians were no longer there.  Perhaps he spoke out of turn in saying this, but the students are probably the most important stakeholders in any education decision.  Imagine if a librarian was a student’s favorite teacher.  That librarian got cut.  The student was very upset.  They go home after the Acting Superintendent says the librarians will be back.  The student is happy, the parents are hopeful, and the district can count on a yes vote from those parents.  Those kind of events can seriously impact referendum results.  That is a huge issue and could easily be seen, and justifiably so, as a broken promise.

To truly understand what happened here, we do have to look at Delaware’s unit-based funding system.  This is based on the September 30th count for each school in a district or a charter school.  The number of students in the school determines how much state funding the district or charter school gets from the state.  Schools also get funds from federal dollars and local dollars.  What a school can’t pay for from state or federal money, comes out of local dollars which is where taxpayers come in.  A district receives x amount of units based on the population of the district.  With this, there are all sorts of conditions, especially with special education.  Based on a student’s disabilities, the formula changes.

Looking at Christina’s 2015-2016 unit allotment based on their September 30th count, they received the following: based on 15,553 students, they received 1,236.40 units.  This does not mean every unit goes towards one teaching position.  For example, a CTE teacher counts as half a unit, or .5.  Based on the amount of units a district receives, the district determines how many units each building gets based on their student count.  Certain units, such as special education, have to go towards those services (or they are supposed to).  But a building leader, or principal, does have some discretion for how the funds generated from that unit-count are allocated.  They can’t make wild decisions.  If a school’s Smarter Balanced scores are low, they can’t hire 50 math teachers and only 3 English/Language Arts teachers.  But out of that pool of funds is how decisions are made.  The district’s Chief Financial Officer guides the schools with those decisions.  If enrollment is down, based on school choice or students moving from the district, a principal may face some difficult decisions.  I don’t envy a principal making decisions like this, but I also believe they should look at things like what was told to taxpayers in the latest referendum campaign.  Such as the case with Christina now.  Unfortunately, Christina loses a lot of students to charters and this has been going on for the past ten plus years.

So then a district is faced with difficult decisions.  They could either stay on the road they are on, or make changes.  In Christina’s case, they are wisely looking at school climate and discipline as one of the key issues which results in students leaving the district.  I have no issue with this as it is the number one complaint I see for Christina.  Part of their referendum promises was to take a “deep dive” at the situation, come up with a plan, and make changes.  That is completely acceptable in my opinion.  But what Christina also didn’t point out was the fact they would hire an outside vendor to help form this “strategic plan” who also happened to also work for the district in the past.  To the tune of almost $50,000 without a formal bid process.  These are the types of things that need to be spelled out to taxpayers during a referendum attempt.

One of the questions posed on the CSD Paving the Way referendum website concerned school resource officers and if the $1 million the district would use out of the funds generated out of the referendum would go towards bringing those positions back which were cut.  It was clearly spelled out that this decision was not going to be immediately made and that an action committee would form to determine how to handle this issue.  While it doesn’t look like anyone directly asked if all cut positions, such as librarians, would be restored, that would have been the place it would have most likely appeared.  In the absence of that question, many assumed all cut positions would come back.  Not to put the entire blame for this on a referendum website or a well-read blog in Delaware, but it is part of the issues.  As well, Andrzejewski’s comments to students played a factor.  As well, I had grave issues with the district spending $181,200 on what I initially viewed as more assessments for students when a state focus has been to reduce the amount of assessments.  I have since been informed this contract would replace two assessments at less of the cost of the other two assessments, which seems to be a prudent move on the district’s part.  Furthermore, you can’t just rob Peter to pay Paul.  Just because that $181,200 was available for assessments does not necessarily mean you can pay $181,200 in librarians in lieu of those funds.  There are different buckets for different aspects of education, as Brian has explained many times to people.

I received this information from an anonymous commenter named “John Doe”, seen below, but I felt the need to put it in the heart of the article:

Sir, I would please ask that you correct some misinformation included in this blog. It was made clear at the Christina SD Board of Ed. meeting that the district was consolidating, not simply adding, assessments. Yes, a new assessment will be purchased, but it is replacing two existing assessments which together cost the district more money than will be spent on the new assessment next school year. The district is indeed cutting assessments back in a number of sensible ways, and the district will benefit from cost savings as well as savings in instructional time because of these decisions. Teachers and administrators, like carpenters, need good tools to help them do high quality work. For a district the size of Christina SD, the assessment costs the author quoted are very reasonable.

In the past, districts and charters lave gotten themselves in trouble with misappropriated funds in the wrong bucket.  For example, last year Capital School District was warned by the State Auditor’s office they can’t use a Superintendent’s discretionary fund to help pay for band field trips.  That is just one of countless examples where districts did the wrong thing.  Intent plays a big part in that.  Was it an honest mistake or done on purpose?  In the case of some charter schools in Delaware in the past few years, taking school funds and using them for personal use is a big no-no.  But this hasn’t just happened in charters, but also public school districts as well.  But charters are held under more scrutiny than traditional school districts so it could be easier to find.  But by the same token, some of the charter employees who did abuse these funds had not been involved in public education to the extent others in traditional school districts have and were not as well-versed with the law.  This does not excuse their actions.  In fact, it makes the problem more acute and laws should reflect this troubling aspect.

As I learn more about district and charter funding, I am also looking towards the future in regards to corporate interference in education.  Out of the funds schools do receive, what funds are being wasted on assessment and useless programs?  How much is going towards outside vendors who have limited experience in an actual classroom but come out with reports that are utilized by those who support these agendas?  Are districts and charters riding the latest wave that has no factual research to back up the effectiveness of these programs, such as personalized learning in a digital environment?  Are funds being allocated based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how to increase scores while keeping bloated classroom sizes and not addressing the true needs of students?  These are the things that matter to me.  So when I see librarian positions not being restored (as of now), I have a major beef with that.  That is happening right now, in Christina.  If I am made aware of similar situations playing out in other districts, I will call them out on it.  Which is something, based on this current situation, I am going to be looking for.

Christina has a pocket of folks who do not enjoy any controversy based on decisions made coming out of that pocket, in my opinion.  And when they are called out on it, the fingers point to those casting the blame and not addressing the real issue.  This has landed me in a tough spot with the district in the past and in the present.  If information is not readily transparent, I go by what I do know.  And yes, I am opinionated and I am quick to reach judgment based on what I know, or believe I know.  I’m not denying this.  There are also other factors that play into how I write articles, such as sidebar conversations or issues I am unable to write about to protect others.  But those aspects definitely influence my opinion.  Do I get everything right?  Nope.  I’ll be the first to admit that, and when I don’t, I’ll fix it or write a follow-article.  But if you come on here and comment that I am wrong without explaining how I’m wrong, that I can’t do anything about.  I was accused of starting fires and then saying “I didn’t know” and trying to back out of my original post under that excuse.  Sure, that happens.  I write based on what information I do know and go from there.  Do I always seek clarification from other parties?  I don’t.  Here’s why: I am not a mainstream journalist.  I am a blogger.  The journalistic etiquette for mainstream journalism does not apply to bloggers.  Do I go for the “shock and awe” at times?  Absolutely.  And sometimes I just don’t feel like reaching out will serve a purpose.  All too often, I get no response, I’m attacked, or I get bad information.  That happens more often than not.  As well, the person who accused me of this, I have reached out to in the past over certain things but lately I had not been getting much response.  Until I posted about this latest librarian thing.

This is one of the reasons I admire and respect Christina board member John Young so much.  He is constantly attacked for attacking, or the perception of attacking.  John and I are very much alike in that aspect.  But it gets people talking and I would say it brings more transparency to issues facing public education.  The more people talk about education, the better.  We live in a state where a certain group of people tend to make ALL the decisions and that isn’t good for kids.  Period.  End of story.  If I can shock people out of an education awareness slumber, I certainly will.  This is how John operates, it is how Kilroy operates, and it is how Kavips operates.  It is the heart of Delaware education bloggers mindset, especially those who fight against the insane practices of the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell.  Most of the information we post (or used to in John’s case) is not information that is picked up on by the News Journal or other media outlets.  I don’t believe John’s goal, or my goal, is to intentionally divide, but to bring light to situations people may not be aware of.  But we are attacked for attacking.  If we don’t do these things, how the hell are people going to know these things?  Could we be more temperate in how we do this?  Sure, but would folks listen?  I can say I have defended Christina much more than I have “attacked” them, as some have said.

My intention is not to make things up in order to start a fire.  Unless it is one of my “fan fiction” posts, which are easily recognizable (such as Markell, Herdman, Godowsky, Jaques and Sokola going on a midnight horse ride in Dover), I am basing my information on something real.  If there is more information along the way, it’s going to come out.  If not from me, than in the comments or somewhere else.  Without going into a lot of details, there are some VERY strange things that go on behind the scenes with blogging.  Eventually, all truths are known or they are buried forever.

Updated, 9:32pm: This article has been updated to reflect the discussion about the assessments the district purchased.  I previously wrote these were more assessments, when the reality is they were to replace two other assessments to save instructional time and the district money.  While this is certainly a good thing, it does not change my issues with the librarian issue.

 

Auditor Report On 9/30 Enrollment Counts Shows Inconsistency Statewide & Major Reporting Issues At 4 Delaware Charters

Four Delaware charter schools will have to return funds based on 28 students they received funding for from the state based on not meeting specific criteria for those students.  Yesterday, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the final report of a statewide audit on the September 30th Enrollment Counts which determines how many units a school gets for salaries, energy costs and equalization funds.  The report does an excellent job of describing how funding in Delaware education actually works without needing an advanced accounting degree to understand.  The report showed the biggest problem is inconsistency with the districts and charters on how to submit the data as well as no specific requirements for the school or district unit count coördinator to even attend the training offered by the Delaware Department of Education.

Four charter schools were specifically called out for not having the proper documentation for early Kindergarten entrance students.  This is for students who are considered gifted and talented and are not the age of 5 by August 31st, as required by state law.  The Auditor of Accounts found 28 students at these four charters should not have been counted in the unit count and the schools should return the funding they received for those students.  The charter schools were EastSide (11 students), Family Foundations Academy (12 students), Kuumba Academy (3 students), and Delaware College Prep (2 students).  Given the fact that EastSide and FFA are run by the same executive director, Dr. Lamont Browne, and that over 82% of these unlawful unit count claims are occurring at the schools he runs is very troubling.  As well, the Board President is the same at both schools: Charles McDowell.  FFA already had an audit report released late last year based on the prior school leaders massive fraud and theft of school funds.  Kuumba Academy was spotlighted with irregularities based on an inspection report released last year.  Red flags came up over unauthorized compensation for the Head of School and a custodian.  Delaware College Prep did not have their charter renewed by their authorizer, Red Clay Consolidated School District, and will close at the end of this school year.  They were also mentioned in the same audit inspection as Kuumba with unauthorized reimbursements to their Board President.

One thing the report showed, which I was not aware of, was the role special education service providers play in the unit counts.  According to the below report, providers such as speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists and other providers are based on the following:

1 unit per 57 Regular Education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, Basic Special Education students 4th-12th grade, and Regular Education students 4th-12th grade

1 unit per 5.5 Intensive Special Education students

1 unit per 3 Complex Special Education students

If there is one thing I have heard in Delaware it is how schools are unable to provide these services consistently, especially for basic special education students.  This is an even bigger problem with having the unit formula be the same for Kindergarten to 3rd grade basic and regular students.  But all students in basic special education from Kindergarten to 12th grade are not given any advantage over regular students in receiving these services.  This is a major problem and I would urge any legislator to remedy this problem immediately!

The report also highlighted the role Innovative Schools plays in enrollment counts.  The Auditor of Accounts felt Innovative Schools should not be the agency conducting the enrollment counts but the school unit count coördinator.  They advised either way the accountability falls on the school leader.  Several charters and a scattering of traditional public schools were mentioned in the report in various sections covering details such as training participation for the unit-count system and having a clear policy manual on the process.  The full report is below.

Which Delaware Charter School Is Under Investigation By The State Auditor Now? How About ALL Of Them!!!!

It turns out the Delaware State Auditor’s office is investigating the September 30th Enrollment Counts at certain charter schools in Delaware.  Which ones?  How about ALL OF THEM!!!  Schools were notified in November that the Auditor of Accounts would be coming for a visit.  They started going to the charters the past couple months.  How do I know this?  A few charters actually told me.  But my question would be this: why would the auditor’s office announce they were coming ahead of time?  Isn’t the point of an audit investigation that it takes you by surprise?

POCS930Audit

“September 30th Procedures.”  The above picture came from Positive Outcomes board minutes from November.  All schools in Delaware are required to submit their enrollment counts on September 30th of each school year.  This determines the unit-based funding for special education children in Delaware.  If ALL the charters under investigation by the auditor, is this for their special education counts or their TOTAL counts?  This could be a VERY interesting report when it comes out!  I went to the state auditor’s website, and I saw NO reports from the last three fiscal years on any type of September 30th count investigation.

NCS930Audit

Newark Charter School already had their audit done.  I have to wonder why all of them are being investigated.  I know Delaware Met’s numbers were in some flux for a while there.  But ALL of them?  I would have to imagine if ANY charter school in Delaware is reporting false numbers that would have a huge impact on their funding.  As well, it is the law.  But if they are fudging around with special education numbers…that’s federal as well!  IDEA-B funding comes from federal coffers, and you DON’T want the feds coming after you for that kind of fraud!

 

Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

DelawareJFC

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.

Is Delaware Design-Lab High School Del Met 2.0?

Delaware Design-Lab High School is having some major issues.  While they are struggling with enrollment, it appears their school model isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Parents and students saw right through this based on some of the parent complaints below.  One parent went so far as to say they weren’t releasing her child from the one-year contract until after the September 30th counts.  Citing a lack of supplies, and even cafeteria food by one parent, this brand new charter school looks to be having some of the same issues as the recently closed Delaware Met.  While it doesn’t appear to be having the extent of the issues Del Met had, there is a pretty clear and consistent pattern here.  Their enrollment is so bad they want to decrease it.  Below is the Charter School Accountability Committee report from last week, along with information the school provided and parent complaints that came into the DOE.

 

Delaware Special Education & Enrollment Numbers Released, Students With IEPs Up 9.5% This Year

The Delaware DOE released the September 30th student counts.  This helps to determine funding units for each school.  Special Education is determined as one of three categories: Basic for 4-12, Intensive or Complex.  There is no funding for Basic Special Education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade, even though State Rep. Kim Williams attempted to get a bill passed during the first half of the 148th General Assembly.  I sincerely hope her House Bill 30 gets passed in 2016, because these kids need this!

For the state, the average percentage of the 19,870 special education students out of the total enrollment of 136,027 is 14.6%.  Traditional School Districts have 18,580 while Charters have 1,290.  To put this in perspective, 18% of students in Traditional School Districts are Special Education compared to Charters at 10.1%.  Had Kim Williams House Bill 30 passed, 2,467 students in basic special education in grades K-3 would have received the extra state funding they rightfully deserve.  Instead, schools get nothing for these students.  This is 12.4% of the special education population in Delaware that is being underserved by a funding issue.

Charter School enrollment grew by 12.7% with an increase of 1,591 students.  Last year, 13,521 Delaware students attended charters, this year it is 14,112.  Five new Delaware charters began this year, but two were shut down last year.  Some of the schools, with Delaware Met loud and center, are having special education issues.

Without further ado, let’s get to the numbers!  For each school district or charter, the first number is the special education percentage, followed by last year, then this year’s student count, followed by last year.

 

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: 11.9%, last year 11.1%, Student Count: 10, 378, last year 9,870

Brandywine: 14.4%, last year 13.3%, Student Count: 10,580, last year 10,740

Caesar Rodney: 15.6%, last year 14.7%, Student Count: 7,221, last year 7,249

Cape Henlopen: 17.3%, last year 16.3%, Student Count: 5,170, last year 5,075

Capital: 18.9%, last year 17.4%, Student Count: 6,486, last year 6,665

Christina: 18.8%, last year 17.9%, Student Count: 15,553, last year 16,255

Colonial: 16.4%, last year 14.8%, Student Count: 9,763, last year 9,825

Delmar: 9.8%, last year 9.1%, Student Count: 1,347, last year 1,367

Indian River: 16.5%, last year 16.0%, Student Count: 10,171, last year 9,842

Lake Forest: 15.9%, last year 14.9%, Student Count: 3,794, last year 3,812

Laurel: 15.5%, last year 15.0%, Student Count: 2,221, last year 2,177

Milford: 14.1%, last year 13.6%, Student Count: 4,119, last year 4,197

New Castle County Vo-Tech: 12.0%, last year 12.4%, Student Count: 4,698, last year 4,629

Poly-Tech: 8.4%, last year 9.1%, Student Count: 1,194, last year 1,192

Red Clay Consolidated: 13.5%, last year 11.9%, Student Count: 16,094, last year 16,302

Seaford: 17.2%, last year 17.1%, Student Count: 3,473, last year 3,509

Smyrna: 15.3%, last year 14.4%, Student Count: 5,233, last year 5,279

Sussex Tech: 6.9%, last year 6.9%, Student Count: 1,444, last year 1,545

Woodbridge: 12.5%, last year 12.5%, Student Count: 2,466, last year 2,384

 

While a few districts stayed the same, it is obvious the bigger districts are actually rising with special education students at great rates.  Last year, the special education population was 17.2% for traditional school districts, but it is up to 18% this year, a 4.4% increase.  I’m not digging the vo-tech numbers and their downward trend.  The vo-tech percentages as a whole are actually lower than the charter average. 7,336 Delaware students are attending vo-techs, but their special education average is 10.4%, much lower than the traditional school districts.

Last year, traditional school districts had 104,388 students and this year they went slightly down to 103,335 for a loss of 1,053 students.  For the four Wilmington school districts, they all lost 1,132 students this year, with the majority of those belonging to Christina which lost 702 students.  The charters gained 1,591 students.  But did their special education numbers rise as well?

 

Charter Schools

* means they just opened this year

Academia Antonia Alonso: 2.2%, last Year .9%, Student Count: 320, last year 221

Academy of Dover: 9.5%, last year 11.7%, Student Count: 284, last year 290

Campus Community: 6.7%, last Year  8.3%, Student Count: 417, last year 410

Charter School of Wilmington: .5%, last year .2%, Student Count: 972, last year 972

Del. Academy of Public Safety & Security: 19.5%, last year 16.5%, Student Count: 303, last year 363

Delaware College Prep: 1.6%, last year 2.5%, Student Count: 186, last year 203

*Delaware Design Lab High School: 20.6%, Student Count: 233

*Delaware Met: 27.9%, Student Count: 215

Delaware Military Academy: 3.9%, last year 3.0%, Student Count: 564, last year 569

Early College High School: 10.5%, last year 2.3%, Student Count: 209, last year 129

EastSide Charter: 12.9%, last year 14.8%, Student Count: 443, last year 418

Family Foundations Academy: 8.6%, last year 5.3%, Student Count: 792, last year 811

*First State Military Academy: 19.3%, Student Count: 202

First State Montessori Academy: 7.4%, last year 5.4%, Student Count: 325, last year 280

*Freire Charter School: 6.4%, Student Count: 234

Gateway Lab School: 60.8%, last year 59.9%, Student Count: 212, last year 212

*Great Oaks: 16.0%, Student Count: 212

Kuumba Academy: 10.5%, last year 6.3%, Student Count: 644, last year 464

Las Americas Aspiras: 8.5%, last year 5.7%, Student Count: 639, last year 541

MOT Charter School: 6.8%, last year 6.1%, Student Count: 1,013, last year 869

Newark Charter School: 6.4%, last year 5.6%, Student Count: 2,140, last year 1,948

Odyssey Charter School: 4.9%, last year 4.4%, Student Count: 1,160, last year 933

Positive Outcomes: 62.7%, last year 65.9%, Student Count: 126, last year 126

Prestige Academy: 27.2%, last year 22.0%, Student Count: 224, last year 246

Providence Creek Academy: 5.1%, last year 5.1%, Student Count: 690, last year 688

Sussex Academy: 4.9%, last year 3.6%, Student Count: 594, last year 498

Thomas Edison: 7.0%, last year 7.1%, Student Count: 758, last year 745

 

Last year, the charters had special education populations in total of 8.6%.  This year they rose to 10.1%.  This is a rise of 14.85% in students with disabilities receiving IEPs at Delaware charter schools, but don’t forget, they also had an increased student count of 1,591 students this year.   They are up a bit from last year’s percentage of 12.7%, which is good.  But it seems like the bulk of new IEPs are going to some of the newer charter schools, like Delaware Met, Delaware Design Lab, Great Oaks and First State Military.  They are all well above the state average.  But the much vaunted “zero tolerance” charter stumbles at the gate with a very low 6.4%.  Charter School of Wilmington more than doubled their special education numbers.  But really, going from .2% to .5% is a joke.   Of concern are the two Dover charters who look like they are experiencing a downward trend in special education numbers.  That isn’t good, which accounts for Capital’s very large rise in percentage.  Down in Sussex Academy, it looks like the bulk of parents of special needs children chooses to send them to traditional school districts over Sussex Academy and Sussex Tech.  My big question though, if Providence Creek stayed the same, and Smyrna went up, where are the First State Military special education kids coming from?  This is a high school, so perhaps they are getting a lot of the Campus Community students that graduated from 8th grade there?  Or maybe more from the Middletown-Odessa area?  Who knows!

For student populations, the charters are definitely seeing upward movement, but one thing to remember is many of them are adding newer grades.  When a charter is approved, they can’t just open up every grade at once.  So it is a slow build.  For already established charters, you see them leveling out around the same numbers from year to year.  If I were Delaware College Prep and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, I would be very worried about those falling numbers.  Since the districts aren’t adding many numbers in your area, I would assume the bulk of your losses are going to other charters.  So they don’t just take from the traditionals, they also feed off each other.  It looks like the Middletown-Odessa area is having a huge population boom.  Between Appoquinimink and MOT Charter School’s rise, that is a total of nearly 750 new students between the two.  I would have expected Appoquinimink to decrease with the new MOT high school, but that isn’t the case at all.

It is obvious special education is on the rise in Delaware.  But are all schools implementing IEPs with fidelity?  I would find it very difficult to believe they are.  In this era of accountability and standardized test scores, it has to be very hard for the administration and teachers of any school to keep up with it all.  The DOE has so many demands going out to our schools, traditional and charter alike.  And in the next year or so, all of these IEPs will transition to “standards-based” IEPs if they haven’t already.  These are controversial, but many teachers swear they work better.  The jury is still out on that one.

In the meantime, email your state legislators today and let them know they need to support House Bill 30 no matter what the budget says.  The bill has been stuck in the Appropriations Committee for 9 months now.  2,467 Delaware students are not getting the supports they need.  The funds this would generate would give these students more teachers and paraprofessionals.  This is a crime this wasn’t included in this “needs-based” funding.  There is a crucial need, and Delaware isn’t meeting it.

To find out how each school did in the traditional school districts with special education percentages and student counts by grade, they are all in the below report.  Just hit the arrow on the bottom to get to the next page, or hit the full-screen button on the bottom right.