Delaware STEM Academy’s Fate…Charter Revocation

The Delaware STEM Academy is up for a decision right now at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting.  Director of the Charter School Office Jennifer Nagourney is advising the State Board why the charter was put on formal review: low enrollment and financial viability.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s recommendation is to close the school.  He believes the school’s board and leadership are committed to student success, he is very concerned about the low enrollment and how it can adapt a strong, rigorous program.  He agrees with the Charter School Accountability Committee’s recommendation to close the school and wants the school to surrender their charter.

The State Board gave a motion, which was seconded, to discuss the motion.  State Board member Pat Heffernan asked about the numbers.  Nagourney said they are currently at 129 enrolled students.  Heffernan asked where they had to be.  Nagourney advised, to be in compliance with state law, they would need to be at 80% of their approved enrollment of 250 students, which would be 200 students enrolled.  They had to be at that number by April 1st of this year.

Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman is stating there is considerable financial risk with the current enrollment in being able to adequately provide their academic program to students.  Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, the State Board President, is asking how much of the grant money allotted to the school has been used.  Blowman indicated he didn’t have a specific answer.  I just checked on Delaware Online Checkbook and the school has spent $137,444.67 in principal salaries for the school.

Earlier today, Technical.ly Delaware reported earlier today how Delaware STEM Academy was granted $175,000 for principal salaries through their Delaware Charter School Performance Award last year which the DOE states is allowable by state law but State Rep. John Kowalko expressed disappointment the school used the performance award for leader salaries.  With pensions and other benefits, an additional $61,739.89 was used by the school.  Included in that figure is $6,866.81 in United States Department of Education wage garnishments.

There is a lot of discuss surrounding how the school would be able to perform if they had their full funding.  Blowman is going over different components of the school’s funding.  Dr. Gray is asking if they can implement fidelity of the charter with the changes the school proposed after their final CSAC meeting.  Blowman said on some components yes, but on others no.  He said the school made as many changes as they possibly could but Blowman referred to Godowsky’s recommendation that their proposals were insufficient.  Gray asked what the lowest number they could fall to when they self-destruct, so to speak.  Donna Johnson said the school stated they would surrender their charter if they fell to 120 students by July 1st.

There was discussion on reduced funding to Innovative Schools in lieu of a partnership with another Delaware charter school, Positive Outcomes.  Board member Melendez stated he wants facts and not assumptions.  He told Blowman he doesn’t appreciate that.  Melendez said it is either black or white. (seems like a bit of tension between the two)

Nagourney gave an opinion that the closure of Delaware Met in December impacted potential enrollment in the school as she heard parents say they did not want the same thing to happen here.  With that being said, Nagourney also stressed the board was doing everything they were supposed to be doing in terms of what needed to happen to have an effective opening.

More discussion happened surrounding what will happen with the enrolled students since the school choice window is closed.  Donna Johnson indicated they would go back to their local feeder district, which caused board member Melendez to become very concerned.  Secretary Godowsky shared that when Delaware Met closed, the charters and districts in New Castle County were very helpful with helping the affected students transition.  Melendez felt the State Board and DOE are responsible for these kinds of situation and something needs to happen to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The Delaware State Board of Education voted 5-1 to revoke the charter school of Delaware STEM Academy.  Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was the sole no vote.

Updated, 7:35pm: This article has been updated to change the State Board of Education vote from 6-1 to 5-1.  State Board Member Gregory Coverdale was absent.

 

Delaware DOE Isn’t Digging Delaware STEM Academy Right About Now

The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability.  At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.

The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment.  And it is very low.  Their approved charter calls for 250 students.  By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment.  Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students.  Applications and pending decisions don’t count.  They must be enrolled.  As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students.  As of May 10th, they had 113.  They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%.  And we are approaching the end of May.

In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools.  But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.

While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed.  In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor.  It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens.  But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.

One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.

This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open.  It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.

This is the part I don’t get though.  The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade.  Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students.  Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code?  It is, if that is what the school applied for.

…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…

The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers.  This charter school was approved back in April of 2014.  They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy.  Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at.  You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware.  Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open.  Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools.  This is not looking good…

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