No Formal Review For DE Academy Of Public Safety & Security Or Delaware Design-Lab? What’s Up With That?

Two Delaware charter schools are in violation of Delaware state law.  The Delaware Department of Education is not putting them under formal review as they did two years ago when a few charter schools did not have 80% of their student enrollment for the next school year by April 1st of that calendar year.  Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security and Delaware Design-Lab High School are under the 80% enrollment.  Why no formal review?  The Delaware State Code, under Title 14, is very clear about this type of situation:

(c)(1) On or before April 1 of each school year, a charter school shall have enrolled, at a minimum, 80% of its total authorized number of students, and the administrator of each charter school shall, pursuant to the requirements below, provide a written certification of that enrollment to the Department of Education and to the superintendent of each public school district in which 1 or more of the charter school’s students reside.

So what gives?  The answer can be found in the State Board of Education agenda for their meeting today.  The Charter School Office gives a monthly presentation to the State Board on all matters surrounding charter schools.

The law is the law.  If they did the same to other charter schools, why are these two not going under the same scrutiny with their enrollment numbers?  Is that fair to the charters that had to go through the formal review process two years ago?  DAPSS numbers have been down for years.  Had they not submitted a modification last year to decrease their enrollment numbers (which passed), they would have gone under formal review last year.  Delaware Design-Lab was one of the schools under formal review two years ago for low enrollment numbers.  Fair is fair, no matter what.  While these numbers are not a train-wreck, they are in violation of what our legislators passed and was written into the state code.

Appoquinimink & The Sleight Of Hand Board Meeting Shows No Transparency Or Explanations

Appoquinimink finally released the documents from their board meeting on July 12th yesterday… six days later.  This morning they also put up the board audio recording from the same board meeting.  We got a bit of insight into their “special education costs” tax warrant “increase”.  And they clearly spell out how much of the money is going towards out-of-district placements and what is staying in-district.  We also find out something the money is going towards for those in-district costs.  Once again, the district is as quiet as a church mouse in a response to me.  I guess they don’t feel answering questions in the state where “sunshine is the best policy” is important.

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition

Now we know the Middletown/Odessa area is growing.  I don’t think anyone is questioning that.  But they aren’t using this tax warrant increase of 7.76 cents per resident for increased special education costs.  They are using it to increase salaries as part of the FY2017 Delaware budget.  Which is provided by the state and local funds.  As well, they are also using it to increase benefits and pensions.  Keep in mind that in FY2016, their amount for needs-based instruction was $6,500,000.  Now we are expected to believe it has jumped to $7,860,000?  Without a final student enrollment count which won’t come until after September 30th?  I know, budgeting is predictive in nature.  But in my mind, they still haven’t justified the original $6,500,000 number.  They can say what it is for, but until I see a breakdown of exactly what these collected tax dollars in the form of tuition tax is going towards, I’m not satisfied.  Of particular interest is the fact that their out-of-district placement costs actually went down between FY2016 and FY2017, even though this was a major thorn in the side for the Appo board just five months ago.  I have to wonder who is calling the shots here and who knows about what.  I want to believe the board isn’t aware of what is going on.  Which is an issue in itself.  But clearly Dr. Charles Longfellow would have some insight into this but thus far has not provided ANY information.  Nothing.  I suppose we are just supposed to take this at face value without any logical explanation whatsoever.  How much does Superintendent Matt Burrows know about this?

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition2

The entire operating budget is going up over $11 million dollars.  That is a lot of coin.  That is also a 10% increase over last year.  Did the district receive an additional 10% amount of students?  They had 10, 378 in FY2016, 9,877 in FY2015, and 9,750 in FY2014 based on their September 30th enrollment counts for the past three years.  But we are expected to believe this is about the students…

AppoFY2017PrelimBudget&Tuition3

Now things like a carryover budget don’t really concern me.  It is normal to have that.  If everything wound up exact I would be very alarmed.  That is to be expected.

To see the full presentation, budget, and the budget amendment to increase the FY2016 budget (done based on May 2016 numbers in the budget…very troubling in my opinion), see the below documents.  Of particular concern to me is the budget amendment request.  This is where it all gets very shady.  On the original pdf, if you do the right-click thing for this document and go to properties, it shows the document was created on 6/29/16.  But if the Appo Board of Education didn’t approve it until 7/12/16 how can their CFO write a letter like this before the board even voted on it?

After you read those, come back to see what the district wants to get in one of their schools.  Keep in mind, they seem to want this more than adding programs to take care of the complex special needs students that live in the district but have to go out-of-district to get the special education services they are rightfully and legally entitled to.

FY2017 Preliminary Budget Presentation

Actual FY2017 Preliminary Budget

FY2016 Budget Amendment Request

While all this is going on, the district really wants a pool.  Not just any pool, but a “shark tank”.  An actual, indoor pool.  While I don’t have an issue with any school having an indoor pool, I would think it wouldn’t be a priority until ALL students living in the district get what they need to succeed.  Especially the very students the district doesn’t serve: complex special education students.  Granted, this is just in the, pardon the pun, ground stages.  But how about an RFP for something similar to the Delaware Autism Program or something like that?  Nope, they really want a pool!

RFP for Nanotorium

In listening to the board audio recording from the July 12th board meeting, we once again hear there was not a quorum of their Financial Advisory Committee present at their last meeting, but the board once again approves their monthly financial report.  Who is on this committee?  Even more concerning is this comment from CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow:

I never budget for assessment growth.

So if we know the entire region of Delaware is growing rapidly, and their CFO doesn’t take this into account in any way, and the board is approving tax warrants based on this, what happens when the district experiences a surplus every year based on this growing population?  If the CFO is going to set firm guidelines with his budget like that, why does he overestimate on charter school payouts?  (This is the amount the district has to send to charter schools when a local student choices out to a charter school).  We did find out that in this district, for every $1.00 they spend in salaries, spends an addition 31 cents to cover Other Employment Costs which covers benefits and pensions.  The trailers the school is putting at select schools due to running out of room are all coming out of local funds.  This was correctly referred to as “portable classrooms” by a board member and Longfellow.  I found it very interesting that Longfellow stated the board couldn’t approve the budget if they didn’t approve the tax warrant for the tuition costs.  He did state that was later on in the board agenda, but the two went together.  The board is going out for a referendum in December.  There was obvious concern from one board member about pushing these tax warrants now prior to a referendum.  When asked what each revenue base goes towards, Longfellow said Tuition Tax pays for out-of-district placements and programs for students with disabilities.  When asked by a board member if it was accurate to say the increase in tuition tax was based on the district receiving more students with intensive and complex special needs, Longfellow said that was accurate.  Giving kudos where they are due, one board member did explain that assessed value and real value of homes are two different animals.  He explained the assessed value formula hasn’t changed since 1983.  Longfellow explained that the state gives local boards the “right” to increase tuition taxes to make sure students get what they need but it isn’t a “fun right to have”.  At no point did the board ask for a breakdown of how this amount increased at such a dramatic rate.  There was absolutely nothing put forth in the preliminary budget or the tax warrant request to the board.  Just numbers without any justification whatsoever.  The board voted unanimously on the tax warrant first and then the preliminary budget.

Later on in the meeting, the board approved an increase for all administrators and specialists of an additional $500 above the state increase of 1.5% or $750, whichever is greater.  So at a minimum, specialists will be getting a $1,250 raise for the year.  Note the board approved this increase after the preliminary budget was approved, not before.  A very careful sleight of hand on Longfellow’s part…

AppoAdminSpecPayScaleFY2017

Once again, I implore the New Castle County Council to ask for a full breakdown of these costs before deciding on the tax warrant.  If the district fails to give that requested information, I would highly recommend not approving their tax warrant.

In adhering to the district’s policy on Fair Use:

Fair Use
Unless otherwise noted, users who wish to download and/or reproduce text and image files from this website for non-commercial educational purposes may do so without the Appoquinimink School District’s express permission, provided that they comply with the following conditions:
  1. The content may only be used for noncommercial educational purposes;
  2. Users must cite the district, school, author and source of the content as they would material from any printed work;
  3. The citation must include all copyright information and other information associated with the content and the URL for the ASD website;
  4. None of the content may be altered or modified; and
  5. Users must comply with all other terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file, image, or text.

All graphics, links, and pdfs in this article, as well as the ones about the Appoquinimink School District I posted on 7/14/16 and 7/17/16 are used for noncommercial educational purposes.  I hereby cite the district for ownership of all applicable material in all three articles.  No document was modified or altered.  The district did not notify me of anything associated with this but I felt it was prudent to inform my readers of this. All material can be found at http://apposchooldistrict.com/

This district and board can keep ignoring me but I will not cease publishing my findings and their extreme lack of transparency in regards to this and any other issues I find with them.  As such, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Superintendent Matt Burrows and his office to obtain a full breakdown for each dollar spent on their tuition costs and where and to whom those costs are associated.  I also included, in the request, any documents presented to the Appoquinimink Board of Education for their July 12th board meeting in regards to the tuition tax increase of $815,000 and their approval of a tax warrant.

Cape Henlopen Board To Vote On Very Controversial District Enrollment Reorganization

The Cape Henlopen School District Board of Education will hold a board meeting tonight to vote on proposals that will change the enrollment patterns of their elementary and middle schools in the fall of 2017.  A new elementary school called Love Creek will be built by then and the board recognized this will change the boundaries for which students go to which schools.

At issue with many parents is what happens with Richard Shields Elementary School if they go with one of the proposals.  After six proposals have been presented, the Superintendent is leaning towards Proposal F, but the board prefers the newer Proposals G, shown in the below document.  The Board feels the greatest priority should be having a balance of low-income children in each of their schools.  Currently, Shields has a population of 27% low-income students, but with the proposed changes that could increase that level to 42%.  Love Creek, the new school, would have a 26% low-income population.  Many parents felt the priorities should be students attending schools closest to their homes and how the changes would affect families in the district.  Parents are concerned about changes in school climate, similar to what happened at Skyline Middle School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District this year.  They also feel that forced busing is not the way to go.  Other parents I spoke with were okay with the changes and feel there should be more equity between the schools in the district.  While not official, the students who have been choiced to a school already will be allowed to stay, but if a student is moved through the reorganization they will not be allowed to move back to their original school through choice.

As per the Delaware Dept. of Education website, Cape Henlopen as a whole had 5,170 students as of their September 30th count.

The board meeting tonight will be held at Beacon Middle School at 6pm which could decide the schools 2,600 students go to in the Cape Henlopen School District.  185 students have been choiced by their parents within the district while 273 students from other districts were choiced into Cape Henlopen.  For their race and ethnicity profiles, 66.7% of Cape students are white, 14.3% are Hispanic/Latino, 13.7% are African-American, and the other almost 6% are either a multi-racial, Asian or American Indian.  For the 2014-2015 school year, the average district expenditure per pupil was $15,254.

For their elementary schools, the DOE profiles (which are based on the September 30th counts) look like this currently:

Brittingham: 41.1% white, 31.7% Hispanic/Latino, 21.1% African-American, 57.4% low-income, 15.4% English Language learners, and 12.5% special education

Milton: 72.6% white, 11.4% Hispanic/Latino, 11.7% African-American, 30.2% low-income, 5.1% English Language learners, and 14.7% special education

Rehoboth: 75.5% white, 10.3% Hispanic/Latino, 9.3% African-American, 34.7% low-income, 5.3% English Language learners, and 9.5% special education

Shields: 71% white, 10.2% Hispanic/Latino, 8.5% African-American, 23.7% low-income, 3% English Language learners, and 8.7% special education

 

Delaware Joint Finance Committee’s Take On The Delaware DOE Budget

Okay, maybe the last article wasn’t as top-secret as I thought, but I’m willing to bet this one is!  This was sent to me anonymously today.  Apparently it was sent out to the legislators in the House of Representatives from State Rep. Melanie Smith who is also the Chair of the Joint Finance Committee.  It is the Delaware Joint Finance Committee’s take on the Delaware DOE’s state budget hearing that took place last Wednesday, February 17th.

Department of Education

Under the recommended school district operations budget, the budget request included reallocating money from the General Contingency (not new money) as well as additional funding (new money in this year’s budget) to cover actual unit growth for the 15/16 school year.  The budgeted unit growth was 110 while the actual unit growth is 188.  When questioned about the difference in the budgeted amount versus the actual amount, Secretary Godowsky explained that the increase was not due to an unprecedented influx of students, but rather an increase in the number of students being identified as having special needs.  Out of the 1,075 new students, 848 were identified as having special needs, dictating a higher than expected unit count.  The number also includes special needs students who are not new to the public school system, but entered 4th grade and began receiving more comprehensive special education.  Secretary Godowsky told the committee that the Department had hired UD to do a study on this recent trend so that they can better understand whether this pattern is the “new normal.”

The committee deferred discussion of the $6M in the Governor’s recommended budget for the WEIC plan until after learning the result of Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting.

$4M was requested in the Governor’s recommended budget to support the Teacher Compensation committee’s recommendations to increase entry level salaries for teachers, a pilot for teacher-leader roles, and to provide stipends for educators who attain National Board Teaching Certification.  It was noted that the committee’s recommendations are not final yet and that the changes are contingent upon legislation being enacted.

The committee also heard a presentation from Susan Perry-Manning, the Director of the Office of Early Learning within DOE.  The presentation advocated for the $11.335M in the Governor’s recommended budget to replace the expiring federal Early Learning Challenge Grant with state general fund dollars.  Most of the funds would go towards purchase of care reimbursements.  Director Perry-Manning noted that the amount requested from the state is significantly less than the federal grant amount.

News Journal Jumps On The Delaware Met Story

Matthew Albright with the Delaware News Journal finally jumped on the Delaware Met story three days after this blog broke the news about it’s pending closure.  The article does not state the school is closing because the board is meeting tonight to decide if they should hand in their charter.  I would fully expect a mainstream media source to take this route.  However, I do take offense to this part:

Rumors circulated through the weekend that Delaware Met had already made the decision to close. Students did not attend school Friday – Harrington said the school scheduled professional development for teachers – but kids were back Monday.

“We’ve been trying to get the message out to parents that no decision has been made, but they keep hearing people saying it’s already happened,” Harrington said. “It isn’t helping.”

Why would Albright only contact the school about this?  There was no mention of the Delaware Department of Education who I’m sure would have been notified.  As well, he knew what the source of the “rumors” was and I never heard from him.  But he was up in Philly for the Papal Visit.  Mr. Harrington, you could have easily contacted me as well, but the school did not respond to my two emails on Friday.  Nor did the Department of Education.

Is this school a special education school?  Calling it a “Big Picture School” is not indicative of what has been going on there.

Second, the board will decide whether the school can get a handle on problems with school climate. Harrington said there have been fights and incidents in which students have been disrespectful towards school staff.

“We’re talking about kids acting out,” Harrington said. “Our board’s and leadership’s priority is making sure we can provide a safe environment for our students.”

Part of providing a safe environment for students is having a firm handle on student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) prior to the start of school.  Being that there was no board meeting in August, I would really have to wonder how prepared this school was for opening day.  I do have a lot of respect for Ed Emmett from Positive Outcomes, and he could be a valuable source for helping the school understand special education issues.  But I think their financial issues may be beyond just an enrollment issue.  How much are they paying to Innovative Schools for rent?  Since they have NO financial information on their website (which they are required to do monthly as per Delaware law), how could anyone ascertain what their financial picture is?

I also have to question the role Innovative Schools plays in Delaware education.  Their name has been attached to far too many charters that close or have huge financial issues at some point.  Is it time to reel them in for a serious investigation?  And of course Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network is riding in for the rescue.  But is it too late?  Given everything I have written about this school in the past few days I would be very concerned as a parent of a teenager attending this school.  Conflicts of Interest are as transparent as Saran Wrap and this school has red flags all over it.

Midtown Brandywine Neighborhood Association Lawyers Up To Stop Freire Charter School From Opening!!!

According to Jenna Pizzi with the Delaware News Journal, the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhood Association in Wilmington is ready to do battle with Freire Charter School.  Concerned with the amount of traffic coming into their neighborhood, many residents have formally hired an attorney and sent a letter to the Wilmington Department of Licenses and Inspection based on a lack of parking spaces for the school, scheduled to open in the upcoming school year.  The group has also stated if their official letter does not receive a response in their favor, they will vote whether to file for an injunction against the charter school, on formal review with the Delaware Department of Education before it even opened.

At the Charter School Accountability Committee meeting last week, the school announced it has met its enrollment targets as of May 2015.  State law requires any charter school to have 80% of its enrollment by April 1st before the new school year starts.  Freire missed that number, but has since gone over it.  The State Board of Education and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy will make a decision about the school’s formal review on June 18th.  Some members of the Neighborhood Association have already filed charges against the school stemming from an incident in March, and association member Lyn Doto publicly acknowledged this a few days ago.