Last December, the 15 Delaware charter schools and the Christina School District settled in a lawsuit over local funding from Christina to the charters. The district agreed to pay that portion of their local funding (even though the Delaware DOE colossally screwed up) going forward and both the DOE and Christina had to pay the charters attorney fees. As well, wording in the settlement around special education funding indicated there could be a change in the air with those payments. As well, the match tax was brought up in the settlement (but not decided on) and whether charters should get a portion of that. Almost six months later, I am curious if you agree or not whether this was a fair settlement.
Over two years later, the Wahl family and Brandywine have settled on a matter involving zero tolerance and due process. As reported by Amy Cherry with WDEL this morning, Patrick Wahl, father of Joseph Wahl, has reached an agreement with the Brandywine School District. In January of 2015, Joseph Wahl was suspended for bringing “sharp objects” to school. While not intentional, the discovery of the objects were ripe with controversy. Patrick Wahl began a one-man crusade to change the district’s zero tolerance policy.
I’ve been following this story for years now and I am delighted Wahl and Brandywine were able to work this out. This morning, Patrick Wahl released the following statement:
FINALLY! JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH — AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!
I’m very happy to report that the Brandywine School District and my family have settled our differences. I would like to thank the Brandywine School District for all of the work they’ve done to improve policies and to prevent the situation that occurred with my family from ever happening again. At their heart, these changes recognize that “exclusionary discipline” — out-of-school suspensions and expulsions which deny children their property right to a free education — must not be doled out cavalierly, and should be treated with all the seriousness and due process that denying this property right merits.
I said that Joseph’s suspension would not stand. It fell. I said that policies would be changed. They have been. And I said that Delaware’s “Zero Tolerance” laws which tie the hands of school administrators must go. They’re next.
As a result of Joseph’s case, the District has already created and implemented a new, mandatory training program for administrators regarding student rights, due process, what reasonable suspicion is and what it isn’t, how to conduct searches properly, and what the grievance processes are should a student or parent feel treated unfairly. They have fixed their Defiance Policy, clarifying that students can refuse certain requests without fear of punishment. Students will know why they are being searched and absent an immediate threat, students will be allowed to await their parent before any individualized search of their person or personal possessions.
Whenever a student is suspended from school, he or she will be given a form that is now truly informative, even including the contact information for any police officer who has been notified. No parent need lay awake ever again worrying that his child is under criminal investigation, and without any way to find out the status of that investigation. Steps to appeal the suspension are now spelled out on this very form, as is notification of any right to stay in school during an appeal process.
Even more importantly, the District will issue a position statement opposing “Zero Tolerance” laws and calling for our legislators to give our school administrators the ability to address disciplinary issues on a case by case basis. The District vows to lobby for this discretion. Schools breaking their silence on this issue is exactly what’s needed to get our legislators to reform bad law.
Remember when the Christina School District expelled the third-grader whose grandmother had sent a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it to the school? The teacher used the knife, then reported the girl to the administration for having brought a dangerous weapon to the school. This mind-boggling case led to Delaware amending a law and giving school districts the ability to consider the circumstances when making expulsion decisions. That same law must now be amended once more, this time to include suspension decisions. It is a very simple change to make.
Out-of-school suspensions for first-time, unintentional offenses are especially harmful to the marginal, at-risk student. How many disciplinary issues would be better handled by an in-school suspension, where the offender can be assigned educational tasks like writing an essay about his behavior, performing some service around the school, and perhaps apologizing in front of an assembly? If there is no investigation as to who started a fight, are we punishing the victim and turning a blind eye to bullying?
Case by case does not mean weak! On the contrary, when a punishment does not fit the offense, students learn not about justice but about injustice. Students do not turn in found contraband, because they fear, correctly, that doing so will get them punished. They learn to subvert rules and policies and to have no respect for authority.
How long will Delaware schools be forced to treat plastic knives the same way they treat guns? How long are we going to keep pretending that the Advil a student inadvertently brings to school might as well have been cocaine? What happens when a student from a broken home, already feeling that school may not be the place for him, is told he is not welcome on school grounds or in school activities for a week? How does further alienating him from the school advance his education or that of others? It’s time we end the criminalization of childish mistakes. Zero tolerance policies, too, will fall.
Thank you very much to all of you for your support. Community involvement is essential if our schools are to thrive.
Oh, and one more thing.
I’m 51 years old and starting law school at Widener in the fall!
Hey, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old!
Wahl was not alone in issuing a statement. The district released the following language concerning the issue:
The District appreciates Joseph Wahl raising awareness of potential imperfections in the Defiance, Search and Seizure, and Due Process provisions in our Student Code of Conduct. While we admit no liability, we have used Joseph’s situation as a learning opportunity and have made substantive changes to the District’s policies, procedures, and practices including changes to our Student Code of Conduct. We have also implemented safeguards to ensure teachers, administrators, and other school employees are properly trained regarding the students’ rights. These revised provisions are available on the District’s Facebook page, website and will be printed in the next printed version of the Student Code of Conduct. Faculty and staff will be receiving training on these revised procedures.”
It looks like Brandywine’s zero tolerance policy will become a thing of the past. All Delaware school districts should get rid of these obscene policies. Our General Assembly should do whatever it takes to make them extinct as well. While no one wants a Columbine situation at our schools, there is such a thing as taking things too far. Zero tolerance results in situations exactly like what Joseph Wahl went through.
Never underestimate the will and resolve of a parent when something doesn’t feel quite right. Wahl fought the district, the Brandywine Board of Education, took it to the State Board of Education, had a FOIA complaint ruled in his son’s favor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and filed suit. Some have said he didn’t have to do this, but look at the results. He got the district to change a policy. That is not an easy thing to do, especially when dealing with a discipline issue. I salute Wahl for his perseverance.
If Wahl does become a lawyer, I can only imagine what opposing attorneys would go through in a courtroom if this case was any indication.
To follow the storyline of Wahl v. Brandywine, please go to the following links. It looks like all of Wahl’s Youtube videos are no longer viewable.
Yes, the words “chicken-fried awesome” were used by a Christina board member last night. But first they had to get through 45 excruciating minutes of approving their agenda. Board member Harrie-Ellen Minnehan introduced motions to remove three action items from the agenda and to table another item. That was just the beginning of a meeting that had topics as varied as car shopping to a very strong use of the word culpability. A member of the audience drew a great rendering of the meeting and asked me to put it in this article.
The four motions Minnehan put forth failed to move forward. Board member Shirley Saffer kept alleging Minnehan had a personal agenda going on. There was a ton of discussion about the motions and how it was unprecedented for one board member to attempt to remove action items like that. As a result of the motions, what should have been a 1-2 minutes process turned into a 45 minute ordeal for the audience. A lot of the audience had come for the presenting of the Honor Roll which is done right after the approval of the agenda and board minutes.
The charter settlement with Christina fell after a 3-4 vote by the board, exactly how the vote went when they voted for the settlement two weeks ago. Board member Fred Polaski tried to convince everyone that he believed the district would lose if it went to court with the charters. He offered no viable reason for why he felt they would lose. But it didn’t seem to matter because the board was clearly divided on many of the same action items with Polaski, Minnehan, George Evans and Meg Mason on one side. On the other were members John Young, Saffer, and President Elizabeth Paige. Young stated the minutes of the executive meeting would now become public since the need for the meeting was no longer valid and the settlement is public. He said he will be submitting updated minutes on that meeting. He also stated he had concerns about the culpability of the district in the matter. He also had grave concerns about the back and forth between the district and attorneys over Thanksgiving weekend and what amounted to a short time period of 90 minutes for the board to review the settlement. Young said that would make for a very interesting FOIA request. He had many concerns about the authority of charter leaders in signing the document, such as an Interim Principal, a Head of School, or a Board President. He reviewed many charter school bylaws and did not see that authority granted to those parties without permission from the entire board. He also did not special board meetings for the charter boards to vote on the settlement.
One of the shockers of the evening (and there were many), was the situation with the Montessori program in Christina. There was an action item to end the program. This became the controversy of the evening as parents and staff members gave public comment in support of the program. When it came time for the board to discuss the matter, Paige asked a question that solidified a crucial problem with the district, that of transparency. Delaware schools receive academic excellence units which they are free to cash in and do as they please. The Montessori program had three of those units. Paige asked about them and it was revealed by the district the Honors Academy would use three academic excellence units. While the district hemmed and hawed about the “coincidence”, Paige said the “optics” look very bad. In a rare moment of unity, the board voted 6-1 in favor of keeping the program with Polaski as the lone no vote. This prompted Young’s quote of the evening. He said the district believes competition is so “chicken-fried awesome” that they should be doing everything they can to get students who are a wait list at First Sstate Montessori Academy into Christina’s Montessori program. Board member Polaski suggested partnering up with the Wilmington charter school to have them open a satellite school in the Christina school district. No one even responded to this rather absurd notion. But it did point to what I see as a very charter friendly Polaski.
Once again, with a 3-4 vote, the board voted against annulling the Honors Academy vote from November with the same 3-4 blocks. Young pointed out that many of Christina’s existing Cambridge programs are disproportionate with the amount of minorities represented in them. The irony of the district wanting to close a program where there is equity (the Montessori program) in favor of moving forward with a program which has a strong potential of inequity (The Honors Academy) did not escape members of the audience. Concerns around placement tests, a parent letter, and standardized test scores were the chief reasons three of the board members wanted to annul the prior vote. There were also concerns around opt out and how the application for the academy could penalize those students who were opted out despite a board policy that explicitly forbids that.
The point of exhaustion for members of the audience surrounded the district’s Superintendent interviews. Yesterday, the Delaware Attorney General answered a FOIA complaint surrounding the board’s November executive meeting to formulate questions for the Superintendent candidate. Some board members refused to participate in the meeting since they had already figured out it would be a FOIA violation. This prompted the board to make public the questions for candidates. There was also a matter about interviewing the candidates the week before Christmas and a mad rush to get it done. As a result, the board voted in favor of naming an Interim Superintendent with Noreen LaSorsa taking on the role. It was agreed the board would conduct Superintendent interviews the first week of January. Saffer argued the board needed the public to see the candidates in the schools and interacting with students and staff as they had done in the past. Board member Evans said he would not participate in any of that. Young’s action item to begin the Superintendent search again to get a more diverse pool of candidates fell with a 2-5 vote with Saffer and Young as the two no votes.
This board is a house divided. Mostly between common sense and… I don’t know what. On the one side we have Young, Paige, and Saffer who seem to know the law and sees how decisions made today could cause problems in the future. On the other is the not-so Fantastic Four who always seem to be in this frantic hurry to get things done now without looking at all of the angles. They also seem to be easily intimidated by the district and outside forces. This shapes their votes. Minnehan took a pointed jab at Young as she said she would never want to go car-shopping with him because he takes too long to make a decision. I would rather have that than winding up with a lemon Mrs. Minnehan! As I drove down to Dover after this very long meeting which entered an actual new day, I saw a warrior district succumbing to the privatization movement that is paralyzing public education. I believed for a long time Christina was the last hold-out in Delaware, but after some of the votes last night, it was painfully obvious the last blockade fell. At this point, Delaware needs a hero. We need an Obi-Wan moment where someone answers the call of “you’re my only hope“. Will that person come from Christina or somewhere else?
I gave the following public comment to the board last night but despite my six minutes thanks to borrowed time, I was not able to get to the end of it which I will notate in the below comment.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the Christina School District Board of Education. It has been a long time since I came up to this podium to speak before this board. The last time I did so was seventeen months ago. I believe Ms. Minnehan was the Board President at that time. A lot happened at that meeting. I did want to offer an apology in regards to that. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to give public comment here.
I have a lot to talk about tonight, mostly in regards to the charter school shakedown, er, uhm, lawsuit.
First, can you please, for the love of all we hold sacred, fix the sound for the audio recordings on your website? It is a recurring issue and I’m certain it wouldn’t cost that much money to correct this.
Second, I am very curious why a FOIA request I sent to the district was never followed up on. I sent a FOIA request to the district asking for the past three years of all air quality inspections for every single one of the Christina schools. I received an email back that a cost estimate would be forthcoming. That was almost two months ago. I received nothing. As Delaware state code gives any public agency a period of 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, the district has violated FOIA. Please remedy this by tomorrow so I do not have to file another FOIA complaint with the Delaware Attorney General’s office. Which I’m sure this district has had enough of. But I digress.
I do not believe the board should even entertain not voting on the rescission of the settlement. I am glad that motion failed. (I adlibbed the last sentence because of the board not passing Minnehan’s motion but I am not entirely sure on the wording). I believe it is very important you vote in the majority to vote yes on rescinding the settlement. As we all know, this was brought forth by Greg Meece over at Newark Charter School. What has never been answered is HOW Greg Meece suddenly, last winter, decided to get a meeting with the fine people at the Delaware DOE. How, all of a sudden, Meece knew EXACTLY what to look for. According to a letter Meece wrote last week to the parents of NCS students, Secretary Godowsky never knew about the change to the local funding formula. So Godowsky reversing a decision he never made, which was cited in the lawsuit and settlement, is frivolous at best. This entire shenanigan was meant to intimidate Christina, and sadly, the district took the bait. They didn’t just take the bait, they swallowed it and regurgitated it to four board members who voted out of fear rather than common sense. That is something that needs to be reversed tonight. I would rather see this district take this ALL THE WAY than see one more penny going out of this district to certain charters who want for nothing. If anything, the DOE should be the entity paying for this year’s charter share of the 2003 referendum and all future costs due to their colossal screw-up, not just getting off the hook by paying for half the attorney fees. But more than that, what may not have come out of all this, is the role the Office of Management and Budget played. As Brian Stephan wrote in a recent article on Delaware Liberal, something happened in 2014 that changed everything with the local funding formula. What he didn’t write, which he may not have been aware of, was why everything changed that year. The Office of Management and Budget, a section of Governor Jack Markell’s office, took over the responsibility from Mark Murphy to oversee this aspect of Delaware education financing. Oh so coincidentally, that was the same year the Delaware DOE launched the priority schools debacle and launched a coordinated attack against Christina when this board would not cower and buckle to Governor Markell’s shameful education agendas. While I am not an attorney or an accountant, I am just a blogger. According to Newark Charter School parents, I’m a sneaky snake blogger. But it is my belief this omission of paying the charter schools their portion of the 2003 referendum was, at best, an egregious error that the State of Delaware should pay moving forward. If that were not enough, the fact that tuition and match taxes were brought up in the settlement is very troubling. The charters have no right to those funds so why it was brought up in a settlement is beyond me. I certainly hope none of that nonsense was the district’s idea. That just opens the door for future siphoning of district funds the local taxpayers entrusted to the district, not to fifteen charter schools. If I’m not mistaken, Christina does not get large donations from the Longwood Foundation, they don’t get a larger proportion of minor capital funds based on their student populations like the charters do, and they certainly don’t get to keep excess transportation funds under their “budgeted” amount.
While we can sit here and pretend the charter cabal, led by Saul Ewing LLC, is a force to be reckoned with, the simple fact is they made unprecedented money grab. This could have been done a dozen different ways, but they chose threats and intimidation, with support from certain legislators in both the House and the Senate, to get what they wanted. As a result, if this board does NOT rescind the settlement, it will continue to give away funds this district desperately needs to 15 charter schools who have more than enough money already. And if you are going to put your trust in the Delaware Dept. of Education to do the right thing, you have already put one more nail in the coffin of this district.
At this point my time ran out, but this is how I planned to finish my public comment:
I strongly urge this board to continue to keep CSD moving forward. That does not mean responding to bullying threats by what amounts to non-profit corporations in Delaware. That means fighting for what is yours. As your CFO, Bob Silber, rightly argued, this district did what they were supposed to do. It was the State that screwed up. If this board is truly supposed to represent this district, and not Saul Ewing, Greg Meece, and the charters that have taken more funding from this district than any other force in this state, they will need to do the right thing and rescind this farce of a settlement that will allow charter schools to plunder funds not just from Christina, but would set a precedent for every district in this state.
I love the fact that the anonymous donation to Stubbs was highlighted by so much media in this state. But those students deserve more than having additional funds taken from them that would put the lunch balance to shame.
Thank you, and I do want to wish all of you a great holiday. Bob A, thank you for the Frozen memory. Good luck in your future endeavors.
To read the response to the FOIA complaint from the Delaware Attorney General’s office, please read below:
New details emerged in the never-ending Christina-Delaware Department of Education-15 Charter Schools lawsuit/settlement thanks to Newark Charter School leader Greg Meece. I guess now that the ink is dry on the settlement, people can say whatever they want, right Greg? We shall see!
From the Weekly Bulletin sent to Newark Charter School parents yesterday afternoon:
Follow-up on the settlement letter
This will provide additional information and clarification about the recent settlement of the lawsuit filed by NCS and 14 other charter schools over what we considered to be funding errors which cost charter schools – and their students – a fair amount over the years. Because we are satisfied with the agreement reached over local funds and pleased with the new level of transparency created by the agreement, we are happy to offer the following clarifications:
– We stated that the general idea 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. We believe that, for whatever reasons, in the case of Christina School District (CSD) that was not being done. But we also concede that, as in most settlements, the district admitted no wrongdoing.
– We stated that the August decision was made by the Secretary of Education. Actually, the August decision was made by other Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) executives and Secretary Godowsky was not involved until later. In September, he reversed his Department’s earlier decision and we sued.
– Finally, we said that “both CSD and DDOE agreed to cover the cost of the charter schools’ legal costs.” Let us clarify. In the complaint filed in court, we demanded an award of attorneys’ fees. During the negotiations, we pressed that same demand. The resulting agreement, while not mentioning the subject of attorneys’ fees, provides for a one-time payment of $150k from each defendant. Naturally, the plaintiffs are free to spend that one-time payment as they see fit and have decided to pay their legal fees with it, and we have been told that both DDOE and CSD are paying that amount directly to the charter schools’ attorneys. We are told, in CSD’s case, that payment is funded from “true-up” funds created by a switch in the method of calculating the share going to charter schools.
We hope these clarifications resolve any confusion about the settlement and want to reiterate its essence: both sides agreed to a sharing of local revenues that each believes represents fair compromise and charters will now be given the information in coming years to assure that fairness continues. We are pleased that the Department and CSD have approved the settlement and look forward to working with each in the future.
Ah, Greg Meece, you are crafty. That is for sure! So if I understand this correctly (as well as the thousands of readers who are probably sitting with a dropped jaw right about now), Secretary Godowsky did NOT know about the changes to the local funding formula. Which is one of his job duties, to approve that formula by September 1st. But one could presume, if no changes were presented to him, there would be nothing to approve if the old formula was used. So can someone please tell me why the 15 charters named Godowsky personally in the lawsuit if they knew he did nothing wrong? And it’s not like this is new news. State Rep. Earl Jaques confirmed this in an email I published three months ago.
Greg Meece, are you telling me your attorneys willfully put something in a lawsuit they KNEW wasn’t true? Or was this oh-so-little detail discovered after the lawsuit was filed? Either way, it would have come up before the settlement was written. But the settlement specifically gives details about Godowsky back-tracking on his decision. But it was never a decision he made to begin with. So this ENTIRE mess went down because Delaware Dept. of Education officials neglected to give their State Cabinet-level superior information that IS IN STATE CODE and they only have to pay $150,000 to the charters for “whatever they choose but we planned it ahead of time to pay the attorney fees“. This seems VERY convenient. Too convenient. If this is not the very definition of a shakedown, I don’t know what is. Maybe Secretary Godowsky should sue the fifteen charter schools for a frivolous lawsuit. And Bob Silber. And the Christina School District. The only way Meece can say this wasn’t Christina’s fault is because of the nature of settlements. People try to tell me what a great guy Meece is. I don’t see it. Someone who is okay with playing games with tens of thousands of student lives, staff members, educators, and taxpaying citizens is not in my definition of a good guy.
So we have Greg Meece, the same guy who got this snowball rolling down the hill to begin with, openly admitting this was all the DOE’s fault, but he is glad Christina and the charters could come up with a mutual agreement? Are you out of your damn mind Meece? So why was Christina even named in the lawsuit to begin with if this was all a colossal screw-up by the DOE? IF I were the attorney for this, the only legal option would be to go after the DOE. UNLESS I was already planning on a settlement. With some other easter eggs thrown in for good measure. Things like the tuition and match taxes. Opening the door for them. Very smart. Very shady. Very Delaware. And 4 out of 7 Christina board members fell for it. For now. There is still some information that hasn’t come out yet Greg. But I know it. And it will. Good luck with THAT weekly bulletin Greg! But I do want to thank you for reading my article I put out last Monday based on your last missive to the NCS parents. Had I not put that article up, would you be bending over backwards trying to “clarify” things with NCS parents? I tend to doubt it.
To read the FULL NCS Weekly Bulletin, and learn all about the have to see it to believe it “Hour Of Code”, see below.
The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule. The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools. The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan. The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out. Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.
While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again. No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy. The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close. Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.
Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity. Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools. In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.
Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school? Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening. This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back. Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town? Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.
In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools. More is not the answer at all for that city. Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters. The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.
We shall see who applies this year. At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!
No one seemed to be the center of controversy in Delaware education more than Head of School Greg Meece, the face of Newark Charter School. Greg Meece had a very busy year behind the scenes of many headlines. It almost seemed like the ongoing district and charter school war centers around NCS and the Christina School District. Here, in it’s entirety, is the story of Newark Charter School in 2016. There are still 27 days left, so I may have to put some updates in before 11:59pm on December 31st! If you see blue in the article, that is a link to an article I published on NCS or Greg Meece.
Before I get into the whole local funding formula fiasco, we need to look at other events Meece was involved in. Prior to this year, I really didn’t write about NCS that much. The school tends to keep things to themselves. What happens at NCS stays at NCS. That changed in February. On February 5th, it was announced NCS would get a “distinguished Title I” designation for their students outstanding scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The only problem? NCS isn’t really a Title I school. The reward was based on the district surrounding them which has Title I schools all over the place.
The next day, I posted how a special needs girl was denied an opportunity to participate in NCS’ lottery. This caused a massive outcry all over the state. The NCS board, the previous fall, said any child who turned six after a certain date would not be able to participate in the lottery. For children with developmental or other disabilities who may start school later, this would prevent those families for applying to NCS. I had people email Greg Meece. He responded to my email the next day. and it eventually caused the school to change their mind. The girl was let into the lottery but she did not win a placement.
A month later, I discovered NCS does not file IRS tax returns because of very vague loopholes from the IRS dating back to 1995. I sent a tip to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office on this. As well, I submitted a FOIA to NCS to which they responded very fast. Nearly ten months later and nothing has come of the tip to the auditor. I know they were investigating this because I received a call from the state auditor’s office about this. When I called over the summer to find out that status of the investigation, I never received a confirmation that it was being worked on.
Things stayed relatively quiet until shortly after the school year ended. Delaware Senator David Sokola nuked a great bill dealing with teacher evaluations in Delaware. House Bill 399 was meant to undo some of the very damaging practices thrust open teachers from the state. Sokola got involved with the bill and put an amendment on it. One of the aspects of the amendment, the addition of parent surveys at the pilot schools, is something Meece implemented at Newark Charter School. The ties between Sokola and NCS just kept opening up like a can of worms.
As folks were getting ready for the 4th of July, I thought out loud about NCS, Senator Sokola, and the missing Kathleen Davies. I wonder if NCS had anything to do with that. Davies disappearance from the Auditor’s office hit mainstream media with a lot of details missing. While NCS and Meece were not mentioned in that article, that didn’t rule them out on my suspect list for what happened to Davies. State Rep. Kim Williams broke the news in comments on Kavips blog about a petty cash audit Davies had been working on that disappeared as well. I went into a lot of detail and started naming suspects. A few months later the mystery deepened what the petty cash audit turned into petty cash warning letters but NCS wasn’t involved.
While the Kathleen Davies mystery was simmering, I discovered NCS did away with the age restriction for Kindergarten applicants but they came up with a new policy that students entering Kindergarten could only apply once. So if a child with developmental or other disabilities did spend another year in pre-school, and the parents applied to NCS before that, they could not apply the next year. It was the same discriminatory package decorated in different wrapping paper.
After I received detailed breakdowns of every school district and charter’s payment allocations for Fiscal Year 2016, I began to take a closer look at NCS payments. I found they spent an exorbitant amount on student body activities. Only one district was higher than them. This raised my suspicions that something funky was going on which led me to examine the funding for their “cafetorium” addition along with a STEM laboratory. I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it was very ironic how numbers matched with other things.
By the end of August, as the school year started off nice and quiet, all hell broke loose. The local funding formula was changing so charter schools would get more from the local districts. I immediately pegged Greg Meece as the catalyst for this and dumped my feelings about NCS throughout the article. Less than 24 hours later, Secretary Godowsky changed his mind on the change to the charter payments. The next day I posed my theories on who was responsible for this at the Delaware DOE and openly asked Meece many questions about NCS. I never did get a response from him. I can’t imagine he is my biggest fan. This led to a resurfacing of Greg Meece’s famous crab bucket analogy. While all this was going on, Senator Sokola wrote a letter to the News Journal on his latest “discovery” for education. Speaking of the News Journal, they wrote a very misleading article on the whole thing which prompted me to do even more research. The President of the Christina board gave me the official news there would be no changes to the formula the next day. But apparently Meece and NCS Board President had their own thoughts on the matter and wrote their version of events in a letter to NCS parents. The true shock came the next day when a Senator Sokola email defended NCS and cast blame on Christina but I debunked a lot of his theories. Then Christina sent a letter to parents. For a week, NCS parents were coming out to defend their school. Some of them got very nasty which prompted this response from me. After a long ten days, I had to recap the whole thing and give some new information about district exclusions. On September 7th, Christina held an open to the public legislative briefing to explain their side of the story and how the funding works with payments to charters. I attended the meeting and recorded it. Transcribing it was a bitch but it gave a ton of key information (which still makes my head hurt when the final outcome of this reached its climax this week). I’ll have to see if I still have the recording to transcribe Part 2 of this meeting. I assumed Christina argued their case so well it caused Secretary Godowsky to issue a letter to the legislators calling off the whole thing for this year. Many assumed nothing would happen on this until the legislators returned in January based on Godowsky’s letter.
In the Spring, the General Assembly finally passed the Kilroy-inspired “All school boards must record” legislation. For Newark Charter School’s very first audio recording, it was a whopping 16 minutes. You can’t make this stuff up. The next week, they won the Blue Ribbon School status from the U.S. DOE for their “outstanding” test scores (smelling a theme here?). Senator Sokola got the spotlight treatment based on his upcoming General Election contest against Meredith Chapman so I felt obliged to showcase his very sad charter school legacy. Of course NCS got a nod.
One would think after such a crazy month, NCS would try to stay out of the news. Not the case. The school ended September with a student sit-in. Inspired by the U.S. Congress, students staged a sit-in when a teacher was fired over an incident with a student. Instead of getting barbecued by the parents, the students jumped in on the comment roasting of this blog. I actually admired the students for what some called “The Slappening”. The teacher got her job back a couple of weeks later as Earth started spinning on its axis again.
On October 5th, Delaware found out the charter school response to Secretary Godowsky not moving forward with the change in the charter school payments from Christina. 15 charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE. I got my hands on the actual filing which named all the schools and parties involved. By this point, everyone knew it was NCS who started this whole thing which they confirmed in another letter to NCS parents. I soon received the whole timeline for the shenanigans involving Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning. This prompted me to look at some things that were very peculiar about this lawsuit.
A couple of weeks later, Delaware United made a three-part video series where they interviewed Senator Sokola. Care to guess what the biggest topic was? Education and Newark Charter School!
At the end of October, I found out that Newark Charter School was supposed to have an outreach plan to get more sub-groups in their school. This was a condition of their major modification to start their new high school. We are still waiting for this.
Last week, the Charter School lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE came back in a big way. Christina’s board accepted a settlement with a 4-3 vote. By the end of the week, the settlement leaked out before all the signatures were on paper. Where did the leak come from? Governor Markell’s office!
So there you have it: Greg Meece and Newark Charter School. More controversy than Donald Trump at a rally for Democrats! More scandalous than… I can’t think of anything… I sure do hope 2017 is quieter for Newark Charter School. They lost their isolationism label this year!
In their haste to get the settlement out, did Governor Markell’s office actually blow the whole thing?
Governor Markell’s office let the settlement between the 15 charter schools and Christina School District get out to the public before all parties signed the document. Markell’s Chief Legal Counsel, Meredith Tweedie, sent an email to State Representative Paul Baumbach yesterday according to Christina School District board member John Young. Young posted the following on Facebook this morning:
If you needed any proof that the Charter lawsuit against Christina (not against the Governor’s office) wasn’t a shakedown, ask your self this: Why is the Governor’s office, a non-party, disseminating the not-yet-final settlement to legislators before the actual parties that signed it? They are clearly invested in this, and it comes off rotten. Here’s the email (you can see the document on Delaware Liberal):
From: Tweedie, Meredith (Governor)
Sent: Friday, December 2, 2016 7:14:23 PM
To: Baumbach, Paul (LegHall)
Subject: Charter settlement agreement–with some signatures
Good evening Representative Baumbach,
Attached is a copy of the signed Settlement Agreement (actually two copies, but it’s the same document with different signature counter-parts). This will be fully “final” when all of the Charter signatures are acquired, which we anticipate will occur early next week.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email me. Otherwise, have a great weekend.
When Christina approved the settlement at their board meeting on 12/1/16, the motion included that the settlement would not be made public until it was final. No legal settlement is final until ALL parties have signed. In the settlement on Delaware Liberal the parents representing the minor children had not signed and two of the charter schools didn’t either. Even if they publicly stated they would approve the settlement this does not translate to the settlement being final. Presumed approval is not the same as final approval. Since this leak from Markell’s office broke the condition of the Christina board’s approval of the settlement, does that render the settlement null and void?
Why would Jack Markell’s office leak a legal settlement that had already caused a great deal of controversy in the state to begin with? To what purpose? Why was the Governor’s office even in possession of this document to begin with before all parties signed on? And even some of those signatures are suspicious based on their authorization in some of those schools. Last night, Delaware Liberal posted the entire settlement. I knew this wasn’t leaked from the Christina board because it had the other signatures on it which would not have been on it before or even immediately after Christina’s board meeting.
According to the above email from Tweedie, there were two attachments, one for Christina and one for the DOE. What were the stipulations in the DOE settlement?
Markell and Christina… this chapter needs to close fast. Watching Markell support Christina’s referendum in a video last Spring was like watching a root canal. The man obviously has no love for the district which spread to his puppets in the DOE during his administration. Should a Governor target an entire school district? It almost seems personal for him. Certain legislators who chair certain education committees in the General Assembly don’t really hide it either. They are transparent as Saran wrap. Will Carney carry on this very obvious disdain? I certainly hope not. It has been very damaging not only to Christina but the entire education system in the state.
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.
Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will hold a meeting to go into Executive Session to discuss a potential settlement in the lawsuit of Fall 2016. At issue: 15 charters are suing Christina and the Delaware Dept. of Education over what they claim are illegal exclusions from the local funding formula for money sent to charters from the district. Christina claims they submitted the exclusions to the Delaware DOE and the DOE accepted those exclusions. Should Christina settle? I would take this poll now before they come out of executive session sometime between 7pm and let’s say 2am tomorrow morning.
While no news has surfaced about what the proposed settlement is between the Christina School District and the 15 charter schools suing them and the Delaware Dept. of Education, the board did release the agenda for the meeting tomorrow night.
The board is certainly in their legal right to have this meeting without seven days notice. It sounds like some attorneys were pretty busy over the holiday weekend. This bothers me, a lot. Any settlement will give the charters what they want… more money. It will ignore the history between Christina and the Delaware DOE. The bottom line is Christina submitted exceptions to the local funding formula and the Delaware DOE approved them. I think any settlement should be paid for by the Delaware DOE. But what concerns me even more is what happens to future local funding formulas with this settlement. Which could also impact every single school district in the state. This settlement agreement has to be made public. No questions asked. The people deserve to know exactly what transpired with this whole thing, from start to finish. It seems like the attorneys “negotiations” could put Christina in a bind. Is the cost of the settlement more than the potential attorney fees should Christina prevail in the lawsuit? I would tend to doubt it. This seems like a hasty rush to resolve a complicated situation before certain powers in Delaware begin their terms. This whole thing reeks of foul play. For all the fuss Greg Meece started with this because Newark Charter School didn’t get funding based on Christina’s two failed referenda in 2015, offering a settlement shows severe weakness on the fifteen charter schools part. Unless there was previous foul play involved long before this topic even came up earlier this year. Either way, we want answers on this. Transparency is a must!
22 months after serious allegations arose regarding theft of school funds, justice finally caught up with Sean Moore. The former Family Foundations Academy co-director faced a federal judge today and said he was guilty. When any public schools gets federal funds and some of those federal funds are stolen, the feds get first dibs on prosecution. But Moore made it easy for them by pleading guilty today. He faces sentencing on March 2nd, 2017.
The Family Foundations Academy was probably my first really big investigative piece. It began during their charter renewal process in December of 2014 and stretched out the next few months. I don’t know how much my initial reporting on Moore and fellow co-director Tennell Brewington’s activities led to what happened today. The feds rolled these charges down a couple of months ago. So why did it take so long for Moore to enter a plea? From what I’m hearing, they had to find him first. That took some doing.
Moore’s fellow co-director, Tennell Brewington, is gainfully employed in Delaware. She was terminated from Family Foundations Academy when Moore took over the school during his brief coup-detat but she too was found to have stolen money from the school. Initial reports indicated she did not take as much money as Moore, but if she used any federal funds she too would face a federal judge. If not, I’m still waiting on Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn to do something. And what about Noel Rodriguez from Academy of Dover? I guess these things take time.
From the United States Department of Justice:
WILMINGTON, Del. – Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, announced today that Sean Moore, age 43, of New Castle, Del., pleaded guilty to three counts of federal program theft before U.S. District Judge Richard G. Andrews. Moore is scheduled to be sentenced on March 2, 2017.
According to court records and statements made in open court, between July 1, 2011 and January 31, 2015, while serving as the Director of Finance and Operations for the Family Foundations Academy, a charter school in New Castle, Del., Moore embezzled $161,871 from the school.
Moore accomplished this embezzlement in a number of ways. First, Moore charged personal expenses to an unauthorized credit card he opened in the name of the school. Moore also abused the State of Delaware’s voucher program, by which charter schools are permitted to submit qualified expenses for reimbursement, and the State of Delaware’s procurement card system, by which the State of Delaware issues credit cards to charter school administrators to purchase necessary school supplies. In addition, Moore stole money from the school’s fundraising account, which consisted of money collected from parents of school students, local sponsors, and an after-school program. Moore also took money from the school’s construction loan account.
Moore used the embezzled money for personal expenses such as retail purchases, home improvement purchases, electronics, auto loan payments, auto services and accessories, federal tax payments, groceries, entertainment, food, gas, travel, gifts and collectibles, shoes, hotels, jewelry, train tickets, and video games.
During this time, the Family Foundations Academy received significant federal funding, which provides the basis for the federal program theft charges. The maximum penalty for each count is ten years in prison followed by a three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Education – Office of the Inspector General, and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, with assistance from the Delaware Office of Auditor of Accounts. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth L. Van Pelt is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
I would like to know how Moore could settle with the Board of Directors at FFA over stolen funds. If he stole $161k in funds and settled with them for $67k, as per WDEL, that is $94,000 in lost education funding for Delaware kids. That is some serious coin. And Moore only paid back $13k of that settlement amount. But he will face jail time. That is all but a guarantee.
I’m pretty sure a lot of readers won’t get my tongue in cheek title to this article unless you happen to like the Righteous Brothers. And not just the song from “Ghost”. What is going on at Academy of Dover now? In their most recent board minutes, from 6/23/16, there were several items that raised red flags. To a casual observer, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. But knowing their history, it spoke volumes.
There are financial issues going on. There was discussion about the settlement with Mosaica, their former management company. Last year, the school was ordered to pay on a judgment by the Superior Court for an amount over a million dollars. Along with some academic issues, this caused them to go under formal review with the Delaware Department of Education. The eventual outcome was probation until 6/30/16.
Academy of Dover reached a $650,000 settlement with Mosaica, of which $500,000 has been verified as paid. The remaining $150,000 due to Mosaica was broken up in three payments of $50,000 due by the end of July for the next three years. A payment of $50,000, based on the original settlement, was due to Mosaica by 7/31/16. At their June board meeting though, there was discussion about settling again with Mosaica. There was talk about “the monetary issues dealing with the Mosaica issue”. The board voted on a motion regarding this “monetary issue” with a bizarre footnote that one of their board members, Dr. Charles Fletcher, had voted no on the Mosaica settlement.
Further adding to the financial mystery, the board announced they had a silent auction for “items sitting in the shed for two years” on June 16th. They didn’t reveal how much revenue they received from this endeavor nor why it was held. There was talk during a board meeting some months ago about trying to sell items former Principal Noel Rodriguez purchased illegally with school funds. Rodriguez returned many of the items to the school.
While not completely verified, the school is having some staffing issues. Rumor has it they got rid of their entire special education staff and will have about nine new teachers this year. While they showed increases in their Smarter Balanced scores across the board, that doesn’t always translate into more students. They appear to be down in enrollment but not to the level where their charter would be affected. But they are up for charter renewal this fall, so expect to hear a lot more about this.
Back to their finances, what is interesting is their final FY2016 budget. It appears the school overestimated on a lot of their expenditures. As a result, they will have to base their FY2017 budget on those final expenditure amounts based on Delaware state law. This could be causing some of their financial issues as well.
I got the above part wrong folks! Sorry about that!
And then there is always the looming shadow about Noel Rodriguez. Will Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn ever press charges against him? As always, we wait… and wait… and wait…
According to sources, Academy of Dover had a recommendation of probation by the Charter School Accountability Committee. Their final report should be issued later today. Apparently the school, under formal review, has reached a settlement with Mosaica, their former financial management company. An unknown (will be talked about in the final report) down payment was or will be made, with payments over the next three years. The other aspects were their academics and issues surrounding the former head of school and the state auditor’s report. As well, the special education issue that surfaced with parent Sabine Neal became part of the formal review discussion. Nothing new on that front. Even though the CSAC recommends probation, the final decision is by Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education in their meeting on June 18th, starting at 1pm.
Once the final reports come up for all four of the charters under formal review, I will put them up!
Education Week just posted an article written by Arianna Prothero in regards to special education services in New Orleans charter schools. Post-Katrina, the Recovery Schools District essentially took over the public school district and converted all of the schools to charters. This process was very controversial at the time, and echoes to the present day. While Delaware has some of these implementations in place already, more needs to be done.
In 2010, parents filed a lawsuit against the charter school district in regards to special education and discrimination. A settlement was reached in December.
“The settlement puts in place an independent monitor to make sure New Orleans schools are following the law. Among the terms: schools will be randomly audited, the state will create a plan to ensure all children with disabilities are identified and charters must lay out special education services in their renewal applications.
[Judge Jay] Zainey called the plan ‘very fair, very well-thought-out,’ and praised both sides for working in good faith to help children, saying the work ‘makes me proud to be a lawyer.’ “
To read more about this settlement, please go to: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2015/02/a_new_orleans_federal_judge.html