Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning: How The Lawsuit Against Christina And The Delaware DOE Happened

On September 2nd, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman met with Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel, Joanne Schlossberg, Chuck Taylor, Margie Lopez-Waite, Kendall Massett, and William Manning at Newark Charter School.  The last name is important because William Manning is the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education.  William Manning is a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which also happens to be the lead charter school attorney law firm.

Delaware charter schools, especially ones alleged to “cherry-pick” students, have long complained about not getting their rightful share of money while at the same time they constantly boast how they “do more with less”.  In fact, Manning complained about this to the U.S. Congress back in 2000, as I wrote in an article last year:

I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.

Manning served as the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education when the original Delaware charter school law was written in 1995.  But where this gets more interesting is Manning’s very direct tie with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  His wife, Martha Manning, created the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  She is also on the boards of Innovative Schools and the Red Clay Education Foundation.

Martha Manning stepped down from the Delaware Charter Schools Network in 2006, but her husband is still heavily involved with Saul Ewing LLP.  It was not a coincidence he was called in for the Sept. 2nd meeting at Newark Charter School, mentioned above.  Chuck Taylor is the Head of School and Providence Creek Academy, the President of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Margie Lopez-Waite runs Las Americas ASPIRAS.  And Kendall Massett… good old Kendall… who gave a presentation at the State Board of Education meeting last month on, of all possible things, charter and district collaboration.  The irony is still astounding!  Kendall gave a quote to the News Journal yesterday:

Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said in a prepared statement, “We applaud the state Department of Education for recognizing the out-of-proportion exclusion requests from Christina School District this year and for taking steps to bring them in line, in the interest of fairness for students and to make the process consistent among all districts. But that decision was reversed after the deadline mandated by state law.”

Whatever Kendall!  Many decisions were made without full clarity.  In fact, the whole process beginning with the NCS Trio getting a meeting with David Blowman wasn’t readily shared with all district financial officers.  In fact, we can see how the Delaware DOE actually blew off Robert Silber when he asked the DOE why they wanted a list of district exclusions.

This was why State Rep. John Kowalko submitted a request to Secretary Godowsky in early September for a list of who was involved and specific dates.  Godowsky did provide that timeline and specific names to Rep. Kowalko on September 20th.  Rep. Kowalko asked me to share this with the public so that everyone knows what the specific timeline was and who was involved in each step.  In addition, there are several emails from the Delaware DOE to charter and school leaders.


From: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request

Rep. Kowalko,

Please find answers embedded in red below as well as attached copies of email correspondence in response to your questions.

I need to know the details of the meeting in April which was attended by Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel and David Blowman, with a list of anyone else who attended that meeting, whether from DOE, State Board, or other (for instance the DE Charter Schools Network, etc.). I would like to know if any legislators attended that meeting. I am also asking if there were additional meetings with any smaller groups discussing this matter and who were attendees. I want to know if there were any unannounced meetings w/CFOs or Superintendents regarding this issue. I realize the DOE has monthly meetings, usually separate, with all the charter and district CFOs. Has anyone else attended these meetings?

Those four were the only ones at the meeting, which occurred at the request of the school.

Please send me a timeline of events, including:

When the CFOs were notified about submitting a list of excluded information (in May as I’ve been made aware by one district) and whether the notification went to all districts and when was that list due.

                *Discussed at April 8 Business Managers meeting (see agenda from April 7 email attached)

                *Follow-up email sent May 25 (see attached)

                *Christina response received June 8 (see attached)

Which individuals took part in the decision-making process regarding which exclusions were allowable or not allowable by DOE

                *David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley

When (specific date needed) the new allowable exclusion list was sent to CFOs/Superintendents

                *August 8 (see attached)

When (specific date) charters were notified so they could send their bills to DOE to send to districts

                *August 12 (see attached)

When (specific date) DOE sent those bills to the districts

                *August 16 (see attached)

When Bob Silber (Christina CFO) was notified of the exclusion issue with Christina

                *See above dates

Please send a list of all persons that attended the meeting at Newark Charter last week.  Steve Godowsky, David Blowman, Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel, Margie Lopez-Waite, Bill Manning, Chuck Taylor, Kendall Massett

As you can surmise I expect a list of any and all attendees at any meeting discussing this issue. Please send an accurate report of this information to me as soon as possible.

This also was discussed with superintendents at their September 1 Chief School Officers Association (CSOA) meeting at POLYTECH.

And this is what the Delaware DOE sent to State Rep. Kowalko in terms of email discussions concerning this issue.  Note the absence of any emails from the Newark Charter School trio to anyone at the DOE prior to April 8th when they would have requested the initial meeting with Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.

In the complaint against Christina and the DOE, it states the charters want a full accounting of what funds were excluded from the local payments to charters going back to 2008.  Why 2008?  At that time, the Superintendent of the Christina School District was Lillian Lowery.  Shortly after Governor Markell’s first inauguration in 2009, Lillian Lowery was confirmed by the Delaware Senate to become the Delaware Secretary of Education.  The looming question is what was signed off on back in 2008 and 2009 by the Delaware DOE.  Obviously, NCS feels this is some type of crucial timeframe which pertains to the lawsuit.  But the even bigger question is who was giving them information and why.  I’ve heard some wild tales about that timeframe.  But until I am able to confirm anything, I will remain mum.

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Newark Charter School’s Letter To NCS Parents About Lawsuit… NCS Didn’t Join The Suit, They Instigated It!!!!

Newark Charter School Board President Stephen Dressel is claiming they joined the lawsuit against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education, along with 14 other charter schools, and actually said “This is not a step we take lightly.”  Yeah right!  Dressel sent a letter to NCS parents and staff today about the suit.  No doubt to rile them up more than they already are.  I’m sure they will blast me on their new Facebook page, Parent Networking.  Since NCS Parents had a few moles (guess what chumps, you still do). Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel and Joanne Schlossberg started this whole mess when Christina passed their referendum.  They know exactly what they are doing here.  Maybe that’s why they had their 16 minute board meeting in September so they could rush to executive session to talk about this.  I have no doubt they were salivating at the opportunity.  If anyone doesn’t see this for what it really is, they are fooling themselves.

Because of the lawsuit, any communication around this issue is probably not allowable by FOIA since it would be a part of litigation.  But we all know who started this and why.  Greg Meece.  The “savior” of Delaware public education.  It will be interesting to see how the Delaware DOE reacts to this.  After all their boasts about NCS, look what they did.  I have a feeling there is a lot more to this.  All I know is the ESSA Student and School Supports Discussion Group in an hour and 15 minutes is going to be very interesting.  How can this subject not come up?

Funny how NCS brings up taxpayer dollars when the whole district to charter funding formula by itself is flawed.  NCS and the other charters are about to learn a very important lesson called “you don’t understand district funding”.  And how does this work when Donald Patton, who sits on the board of Las Americas ASPIRAS, is also an administrator in the Christina School District?  Isn’t that a HUGE conflict of interest?

ncsparentletteraboutlawsuit

 

Letter From Newark Charter School Board Chairman May Turn District/Charter/Delaware DOE Funding War On Its Ear

No sooner do I receive the official word that no changes to the local cost per pupil formula will be changed than I get multiple emails with a letter from Newark Charter School Board Chairman Stephen Dressel sent to Newark Charter School parents.  This letter shows a very different take on the whole issue and alleges that Christina has been hiding funds in a certain bucket in their local funding.  The letter further states that the Delaware Department of Education approved this every single year.  That it wasn’t until this year that this funding bucket was found and corrected.  At this point in time, I truly don’t know what to believe.  While I have serious concerns with Newark Charter School’s enrollment practices and other financial issues at the school, if (and this is a very large if) what they are saying is true, I have serious questions about that as well.

I will be very clear with a few things before you read this letter.  The information presented to me from sources last week was a change in this formula, not a correction.  At no point in time until now did anyone from Newark Charter School or anyone from the charter school community present this information to me.  This is crispy fresh information that I just received.

So if there is no change, as the letter alleges, does that mean Christina will still have to pay these funds?  And who are the other districts alluded to in the letter?  Who was responsible for signing off on this at the Delaware DOE?  How does the Office of Management and Budget fit in with this?  Why did the local cost per pupil go up three times the original amount from 2013-2016 when the amount of students Christina sent to Newark Charter School only went from 1,200 to 2,000?  Those are still big mysteries in my book.  So while NCS may claim they are owed these funds, the fact remains the DOE put their stamp on it every year.  Were there earlier funding inequities going on with this formula which accounts for the huge change in funding between 2013-2016?  If this “hidden” budget was so hidden, how did Newark Charter School come to find out about this if the DOE was oblivious to what was going on as the letter alleges?  How much did Governor Markell or Ann Visalli, the former chief of the Office of Management and Budget know about what was going on with this if OMB were the ones determining the actual formula?  And is there any connection whatsoever to Kathleen Davies at the State Auditor’s Office being put on leave in May?  I do not have these answers, but my door is open for anyone to contact me on these questions.

In terms of this letter, it is written by a sole member of the Board of Directors of Newark Charter School and signed by one individual.  This letter is not from the entire board, or even on behalf of the board.

I have no doubt the NCS supporters will see this as justification for the actions Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Dressel took last Spring.  The Deputy Secretary of Education, who the Associate Deputy Secretary of Education answers to, would be responsible for financial oversight of the Delaware DOE.  They did not meet with the Deputy Secretary of Education in the Spring.  They met with the former Deputy Secretary of Education, David Blowman, who now serves as the Associate Secretary of Education.  Blowman would have been the head finance guy at the Delaware DOE for the past few years when anyone would have signed off on what Dressel alleges to in this letter.  This is going to blow up this entire conversation all over again.  If what NCS is saying is true, then I would owe them an apology for allegations surrounding this particular issue.  I went based on information presented to me and I publicly wrote about this.  NCS or the charter school supporters could have responded in an official capacity at any time but chose not to.  But this is one letter written from one board member of the NCS board without full board approval. This letter was sent to the parents of a local education agency as defined by federal law so this document is in the public domain.

Oh, and just one more little itty bitty thing.  The creator of the PDF file was not Stephen Dressel.

GregMeeceSignature

 

 

 

Breaking News: Secretary Godowsky Is Changing Funding Formula So Charter Schools Will Get More School District Money

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is about to set off an education war unlike any Delaware has ever seen.  If you thought the school district vs. charter school war was loud before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

In Title 14, the Delaware Secretary of Education has the authority to change the local cost per pupil.  When a student choices out of their feeder pattern, or their local school district, a portion of that school district’s local funds follows the student to the charter school.  To keep things in perspective, no Delaware Secretary of Education has touched this formula in the past 15-20 years.  There are slight increases each year based on inflation, but they are nominal in comparison to what Godowsky is about to do.

For big districts like Red Clay and Christina, this will hurt them… bad.  Any local school district that sends funds to charter schools will be affected by this decision.  Every school in Delaware already created their FY2017 budget months ago.  Each school district and charter set their budget on the expected number of students they anticipate having.  This was based on the same formula that has been in use for years and years.  When a district has a referendum, the funds generated from that referendum are earmarked for certain things.  Godowsky found a way to circumvent those funds to directly benefit charter schools in Delaware.

On August 8th, Secretary Godowsky sent all the Chief Financial Officers of each district a letter.  He asked them to list all of their restricted and unrestricted funds in their local budgets.  Restricted funds are not used in the calculation for money going to charter schools or other choice schools out of district.  These cover many things, like building maintenance, consultants, and food services as a few examples.  These are district expenses that only affect the district.  These aren’t services the student would bring to the new school.  The school the student choices to should already have those services.  Godowsky is moving budget allocations that were previously in restricted over to unrestricted.  By changing the way this is done, charter schools will get more money while districts will have less.  How much more?  It will differ between district and how much local money they have.  Even though Christina choices out more students, Red Clay has more money in their local share based on their tax base.  But the districts will bleed.  A lot of money.  From what I’m hearing it could be anywhere from 10-15% more money going to the charters, depending on the district.  Millions and millions of dollars.  This won’t just be a Red Clay and Christina thing.  Think Colonial, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smyrna, Capital, Caesar Rodney, Indian River… these districts will feel the pain as well.  Any district that sends dollars to charters will send more.

So when your kid comes home from school this year in school districts, don’t be shocked to see something cut that you thought they would have already had.  For charter school parents, they will be happy when their kid gets some new things they might not have had before.  In other words, charter schools will be getting more while districts will be getting less.  This will be in the double-digit millions.  I don’t have exact amounts yet.  But if your district pays a decent amount of money to charter schools, they will be paying a lot more.

Secretary Godowsky didn’t just wake up one day and say “I’m going to change the local cost per pupil formula this year!”  This wasn’t even his idea.  For this, we can thank the folks at Newark Charter School.  When Christina won their third attempt at a referendum last March, the school immediately pounced on Christina for more money.  Everyone wants more money, but Newark Charter School is relentless with their greed.  Immediately after the referendum, their board discussed a meeting that was about to take place:

NCSAprilBdMtg

This trio from the bastion of discrimination and cherry-picking in Delaware, good old Newark Charter School, is Head of School Greg Meece, Board President Steven Dressel, and their Chief Financial Officer, Joanne Schlossberg.  The Superintendent of the Christina School District, in an Acting Superintendent role, is Robert Andrzejewski.  The Associate Secretary of Education is David Blowman.  This was in April of this year, a month after Christina passed their referendum.  Ironically, Newark Charter School’s May board minutes seem to have disappeared.  I did read these board minutes when they came out, but I don’t recall specifics (I should have saved them).  I know there was a lot of discussion about the school refinancing their bonds.  In looking at Christina Board minutes and listening to their audio recordings, I did not see or hear any mention of “Bob A”, as their Superintendent is frequently referred to, and this strange group of people meeting.  I would like to publicly, right here, right now, ask Bob A what happened at this meeting and be prepared to discuss at their next Board of Education meeting on September 20th.  You don’t get a skate out of Christina free card Bob A.

Bob A did have a meeting with Newark Charter School earlier this year.  He asked Meece to support Christina’s upcoming referendum.  Meece flat-out refused.  Even though their charter school directly benefits from Christina School District with their five mile radius requirement for students.  Even Governor Markell and Senator David Sokola supported the referendum.  Which was a bit unusual.  But even that mystery will be cleared soon.

Meece, backed by the Delaware Charter Schools Network I’m sure, successfully lobbied the Secretary of Education to change the local cost per pupil formula.  By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education has up until September 1st of each year to do this.  But if this wasn’t the final straw, get ready, cause it gets worse.  Several sources are telling me this won’t just go into affect for this school year.  Godowsky wants districts to pay for last year based on the new formula.

Districts are at a loss.  They are in a frenzy and searching other possible remedies to address this education funding catastrophe.  When was this decision made?  I don’t have the answer to that one…yet…but I’m working on it.  It has been in play since April according to the Newark Charter School May Board minutes.  David Blowman, as the former Deputy Secretary of Education until earlier this year, oversaw the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE.  Since their Executive Director left in June, Blowman has been taking on the responsibilities as the authority figure in that area of the DOE until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney.

I have to imagine that Meece had other help with this as well.  Something this high up and controversial would have to fly by Governor Markell.  I have no doubt in my mind Meece’s legislative buddy Dave Sokola had a hand in this as well.  Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. I imagine the Delaware DOE will have to announce this by September 1st since this is the deadline for the Secretary to make these decisions.

This will create a war between school districts, charter schools, the DOE, the State Board of Education, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network unlike anything seen before.  If this change in the way districts pay charters goes through, expect a lot of hardship on districts.  Expect boons for charters.  You will have to pick a side.  You can’t sit there and stay neutral.  Every Delaware candidate for public office is going to face this question.  This isn’t going to be a situation where both sides can come to the table and stay neutral.  This move by Godowsky is the knife in the back that will cause outrage.

All because one little man hates the Christina School District so much, and he continually runs his “great” school.  The same school that continually benefits from the laws Delaware Senator David Sokola creates every single year.  And from what I’m hearing, Sokola isn’t the only candidate running for office that is getting support from Newark Charter School.  But the actions of this one little man will affect an entire state.  If you thought the funding issues for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan were rough before, get ready for this whole thing to take on a whole new level.

I wrote earlier today about this with cryptic words.  But make no mistake, Governor Jack Markell is leaving this in the lap of John Carney to deal with.  Markell doesn’t give a crap about Delaware education.  He has proven this time and time again.  This is just one more of his final revenge tactics before he leaves office (he will have more if Jack lives up to his true self).  Markell hates Christina.  Watching him in the video supporting the district for their referendum… he looked like he would rather have a root canal.  But it was very important their referendum passed.  Which was why Sokola also supported it.  If their referendum failed, Meece wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunity for his huge money grab.

This will affect every public school district student in the state.  For years, education reformers true goals have been to privatize education.  They found a very successful way to do it with charter schools.  They suck money out of local districts until they are gone in some cities.  But this time, I believe Meece overreached.   The reputation of charter schools as greedy, money-sucking vampires of local school districts is now set in stone.  All because of Meece.  Remember this moment.  Remember who started all of this.

District parents… I invite you all to attend the September State Board of Education meeting on September 15th.  The meeting begins at 1pm at the Townsend Building in Dover.  Bring picket signs protesting Godowsky’s actions.  Give public comment and demand the State Board of Education take action on this abuse of power.  Make your voice heard.  Go to your local school district board meetings and tell them to not send this money to the charter schools.  Go to the charter school board meetings and tell them they can’t get more while their children get less.  I have no doubt the charter side will make a lot of noise.  But only 10-12% of Delaware students go to charters.  We have the numbers.  We have the louder voice.  And we have more voting power.  Find out which legislators support the district side and which support the charter side.  If they tell you they support both, they are useless.  This war will demand strength in leadership.

When the dust settles on this, there will be casualties.  The question that remains is how much more students have to suffer because of stupid little men like Greg Meece.  We can’t tolerate this as a state any longer.  We can’t have a third of our state budget benefitting charter schools and allowing our kids in school districts to suffer because of them.  This has to change.  The war began a long time ago, but take a side.  And get ready to rumble!

I will be updating this story with new articles as they come out.  This is going to be a long Autumn.  With this action, Secretary Godowsky will replace Secretary Mark Murphy as the most reviled Delaware Secretary of Education in our entire history as a state.