The Delaware Charter School Network became involved with the firestorm at Thomas Edison Charter School and that can only mean one thing: Kendall Massett is now in charge. The last time she entered the fray like this it resulted in Family Foundations Academy having their board completely gutted when the Eastside Charter School board took over back in January, 2015. I was able to find out a lot more about the school’s “foundation” account and that is the biggest farce of them all! Meanwhile, the school has violated FOIA many times through this and they are about to do the same tomorrow. Continue reading “Kendall Massett Rides To The Rescue For Thomas Edison Board As They Are About To Violate More Open Meeting Laws”
The Board of Directors at Thomas Edison Charter School are facing a head-on karma collision today. At least 20 teachers called out sick today forcing the school to close for the day in early dismissal. Dr. Salome Thomas-EL has been placed on indefinite leave by the board. Parents don’t know what is going on due to the lack of transparency coming from the board.
Yesterday afternoon, members of the board met with teachers after school. Note to self: find out if there was a quorum because there was no agenda posted for this meeting. Several teachers walked out of this meeting.
I did find out their “Foundation” account is due to the school owning the building. That account is meant for lease and renovation payments to which they receive payments from the state. Whether it is used for that purpose, I cannot say. But it is my hope someone in the state looks into that. My question would be why they need a separate bank account and why those bank statements aren’t available to the public since it is fueled by taxpayer funds.
At this point it is a no-brainer that the Delaware Dept. of Education has gotten involved. Far too much has happened since yesterday morning. I have not found out whether or not a charter school board has the authority to deny teachers a state approved increase in pay. My sense is that they do not have this authority. And is Thomas Edison the only charter denying these increases to their teachers?
The teachers at Wilmington’s Thomas Edison Charter School are NOT happy with the Board of Directors today. As I broke the news this morning, Head of School Salome Thomas-EL was removed from the school this morning by the police with the board present. What was the issue?
The school had a surplus of funds from their FY2017 budget to the tune of $534,000.00. The teachers were requesting a 1.5% increase in salary which Thomas-EL asked for from the board. The request was denied. What happened from there I do not know… yet. But to publicly shame a charter leader who is beloved by his staff and the community around him is in very bad taste. Not to mention the appearance this gives to students. This is a school with a low-income/poverty population hovering around 96%. The last thing they need is to see their school leader kicked out of school over what amounts to him fighting for higher teacher pay at a school that is known for having the lowest paid teaching staff in New Castle County. But they can afford to have lavish Christmas parties and send seven people to a charter school conference?
Thomas Edison’s teachers, like all Delaware public school teachers, received either a 1.5% salary increase or $750 (whichever is greater) last year. The board sent a letter to their educators a year ago advising them they would receive this increase but then backed out a couple of months later. The board’s response was that charter schools are not required to give those raises as approved by our state legislators in the annual budget. Based on their board approved budget for FY2017, the amount for salaries was $5,877,429.00. If they gave the 1.5% increase, that would have amounted to $88,161.43. With a surplus of $534,000 (or $588,000 according to their final June 2017 monthly financial statement), that would have been a drop in the bucket. My guess with the increase in local funds of over $176,000 is funds received from the settlement with the Christina School District over local funding. So where is that money going if it isn’t going to teachers? Where does their surplus money go to?
The answer to that is more frightening than the question itself. Thomas Edison has a foundation. The school transfers their surplus money into a foundation account. What happens from there is anybody’s guess. In looking at their July monthly financial position statement, it shows a board approved “transfer” budget which I can only assume is coming from their “foundation” account. In July it shows $25,000 transferred and in August another $25,000. But if the school has a $534,000 variance and they are transferring funds into the foundation account, what is being done with the rest of that money? In looking at their expenditures for May 2017 compared to June 2017, it looks like their expenses went up considerably in June considering school ended that month. And why isn’t the school posting financial statements for their foundation on their website? If I were the State Auditor, I would be looking into this as soon as possible.
This is not an attack on Salome Thomas-EL or the charter school. This is looking to be another round of what the hell is this charter board doing? The optics on this at the time of their charter renewal do not look good. Could this be Family Foundations Academy redux? I would LOVE to see their monthly foundation bank statements! If you have nothing to hide Board of Directors at Thomas Edison Charter School, I am asking that you make your bank statements from your foundation bank account available on your website immediately!
It looks like we need legislation around district and charter “foundation” accounts as well. You hear that legislators!
*To clarify, Salome Thomas-EL was NOT arrested this morning. Police were used to escort him off school premises.
Breaking news: The police just removed Thomas Edison Charter School Head of School Salome Thomas-El from the school. The Board of Directors was present for this. Details are sparse at the moment, but from what I’m hearing the board was not pleased about the direction Thomas-El wanted to take the school in. Apparently wanting more pay for staff and administration is a big no-no. The teachers are not pleased with the decision and there could be a walk-out. It looks like there is no such thing as due process at this Wilmington charter school. More details to come as this story develops…
That was weird. Today, Delawareonline published an opinion piece by Salome Thomas-El, the leader of Thomas Edison Charter School and three other people. The big problem is Thomas-El didn’t write any such letter. Did the other three?
The letter was a critique against newly christened Delaware State Education Association President Mike Matthews. With Mike’s Facebook comments taken completely out of context in relation to Governor Carney’s veto of HS1 for House Bill #85, the five-mile radius bill, the piece made it seem like Matthews is anti-charter and wants them all to close. But the true mystery is the addition of Thomas-El as a writer. I posted a comment on their Facebook page to which Thomas-El just responded with this:
Bam! They didn’t wait a full two weeks for Matthews to break in to his new role. But who exactly wrote this letter? If I were Thomas-El, I would be pretty ticked off that he was given top billing in a letter he never even wrote. Not sure how a mistake like that can just happen. That’s pretty major. This is an odd group to begin with, but when one them is fake, that is serious cause for concern. Did Erica Dorsett, Daniel Walker and Cyntiche Deba also contribute to this letter? I’m at the State Board of Education meeting and Walker is sitting a few seats in front of me. I’ll ask him during the next break.
Five Delaware charter schools will go through their charter renewal process next Fall. The Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Office had what I am sure was a huge task of sending out reports to the schools. Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College High School, First State Montessori Academy, Sussex Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School are all up for renewal. With any charter school renewal, the DOE goes through everything: Academics, Financial, and Organizational. No stone is left unturned. With five charters and all three Delaware counties represented in these renewals, the public hearings will be everywhere. But it looks like the Charter School Office has planned ahead and scheduled different public hearings on different days. Last year, there was only one charter school (Academy of Dover) that went through the renewal process. There would have been two but Prestige Academy opted to close their doors at the end of this school year.
In reviewing the below renewal reports and the charter schools responses to those reports, I didn’t have any alarm bells going off. I do have concerns about the demographics of two of these schools, First State Montessori Academy and Sussex Academy. At least one of these schools has some financial issues that seem to have flown under the radar for a long time now. Hopefully more will come out during this process. And one of them, I strongly suspect but can’t prove…yet, has a secret going all the way back to the origin of their school…
Here are all the schools renewal reports from the Charter School Office, their responses, and the timeline issued by the Charter School Office for this mammoth process:
Academia Antonia Alonso:
Early College High School
First State Montessori Academy
Thomas Edison Charter School
Charter School Renewal Timeline:
The below picture portrays exactly what is wrong with education funding in Delaware. There is no consistency or oversight with where existing funds are going. As a result, we have a boiling cauldron of fraud, waste, and abuse. It seems like anyone can get paid in education and it can be catalogued however a school wants.
In this picture, we see the former Head of School from Family Foundations Academy and East Side Academy doing what appears to be consulting work for three Delaware charter schools. Given that the amounts are very similar, I can assume it was the same type of work. All three schools put the payments under different categories: Educational Benefits-Chld, Consultants, and Other Professional Service. All three schools used different funds for what I assume to be similar work: Special, General, and Federal. All three schools belong to the same Wilmington Charter School Collaborative, which is an alternate teacher evaluation system. This initiative came about through Lamont Browne.
Lamont Browne left Delaware last summer and moved to Colorado to work his “magic” in another corporate education reform state. So how is it he is able to do all this work in Colorado and still get paid by the State of Delaware through various charter schools? Does he have a finders fee for this teacher evaluation system?
Governor Carney wants to talk about all these education funding decisions but has completely ignored the elephant in the room: we don’t know where existing funding is going to, especially in our charter schools. School districts pull the same kind of shenanigans (wait until you see the next major audit investigation report coming out of Tom Wagner’s office!) but they can be harder to find.
I did go ahead and submit this as a tip to Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as I wrote this article. In the vein of full transparency, I am including screen shots of my tip:
When I write about this kind of stuff, all too often charter school supporters start defending the schools and say I am picking on charter schools. While this most likely isn’t a Sean Moore kind of deal, it is symptomatic of what is wrong with our education funding oversight in Delaware. I’m not looking for the causes as much as I truly want a solution to these kind of problems. I would love to stop writing about these matters. So Governor Carney, I am throwing you the gauntlet one more time: are you ready to talk about this or do I need to keep writing?
Yes, a group of Delaware charters are trying to strike gold over the charter funding issue. Which charters? Newark Charter School, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy, Academia Antonia Alonso, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, EastSide Charter School, Family Foundations Academy, First State Montessori Academy, Freire Charter School of Wilmington, Gateway Charter School, Great Oaks, Kuumba Academy, MOT Charter School, Odyssey Charter School, Providence Creek Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School. As well, there are a handful of parents suing on behalf of their minor children. Below are the complaints filed against Christina and the Delaware DOE. There is also a motion to expedite proceedings. I have not had time to fully read these, but I will after the ESSA Discussion Group meeting tonight. This is going to turn Delaware education on its ear!
Delaware State Auditor Thomas Wagner released a report today and Delaware College Prep and Kuumba Academy showed significant discrepancies regarding reimbursement of funds to school leaders. Thomas Edison Charter School and MOT Charter School, also included in the inspection, came through with flying colors. For Delaware College Prep, there was a “party loan” over $11,000.00 involving the Board President. For Kuumba, the Head of School, Assistant Head of School and a custodian were overpaid and the report alleges violations of state code in procuring contracts without any bidding process.
This tells us the seven charters that were under investigation by Wagner’s office. Family Foundations Academy, Academy of Dover, Providence Creek Academy, Thomas Edison Charter School, MOT Charter School, Delaware College Prep and Kuumba Academy. I have a sneaky feeling Delaware Met could fit into this category in the future based on events currently happening there.
More to come on this unexpected development. Congrats to Thomas Edison and MOT for doing the right thing. Kuumba and Delaware College Prep… there are no words! To the members of the General Assembly: House Bill 186 needs to pass first thing in January 2016. The charter financial fraud in our state must pass. All Delaware Republicans need to open their eyes to this mismanagement and outright theft of state funds and do the right thing.
“Head of School Report: School is completed for this year. This year should go down in the history books as gone for good and never have history repeat itself. We need to learn from the past.”
The above quote was found in a Delaware charter school’s board minute notes recently. About a year ago, I went through all the charters websites and graded them on certain things: board minutes up to date, agendas for next board meetings posted, and monthly financial information posted. I will be grading each charter based on this information again this year, but I am adding in Citizens Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) notifications and minutes. I’m not including charters that haven’t opened yet or charters who got shut down this year cause really, what’s the point?
I can say a lot of the charters have become more compliant and transparent with these in the past year. But some have not. I gave a little bit of slack on the board minutes. A lot of them had a meeting in the past week, so I don’t expect them to get the June minutes up right away. If you see red, it’s not a major thing, but they need to fix it. If it’s in BOLD red, they are majorly breaking the law and they need to fix that ASAP! State law mandates charters put up their monthly financial info up within 15 days of their last board meeting. As well, you have to have a CBOC committee and meetings. Two of the charters on here with some big dinks are on probation already so they need to get on that. Two others are up for charter renewal, so they definitely need to jam on it!
Academia Antonia Alonso– Agenda: no (only has two agendas for two board meetings in past year listed), Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: has meetings listed through end of 2015, Grade: C-
Academy of Dover– Agenda: Yes, Board minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: July 30th, Grade: B
Campus Community School– Agenda: July 2015, Board minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: March 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: not listed, Grade: D
Charter School of Wilmington– Agenda: Yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: not listed, but does indicate no July meeting, Grade: B
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security– Agenda: no, website gives generic agenda for every meeting, Board Minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed, last shows June 2015, Grade: F
Delaware College Prep– Agenda: no, Board Minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: April 2014, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: none listed, last shows June 2015, Grade F- for Formal Review
Delaware Military Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: January 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, states meets 4th Monday of the month, Grade: D
Early College High School– Agenda: no, Board Minutes: May 2015 (states June meeting had no quorum which is majority of board members present to approve items up for action), CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: no, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed but states meets 4th Thursday of the month, Grade: F
Eastside Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: Shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A
Family Foundations Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A
First State Montessori Academy– Agenda: no, Board Minutes: February 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, shows meets 4th Thursday of the month, Weird Fact: Uses WordPress as their website, the same as Exceptional Delaware…, Grade: D+
Gateway Lab School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 18th, Bonus: shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A+
Kuumba Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, Grade: B
Las Americas Aspiras Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: yes*, next board meeting: none listed, states meets 4th Thursday of each month, *Superstar: Monthly Financial report is excellent, shows both what the DOE wants AND what state appropriations and codes are needed!!!!, Grade: A+
MOT Charter School– Agenda: no, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: not sure, shows agenda for June 2015 meeting but last meeting was in May 2013, CBOC Minutes: May 2013, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, Grade: F
Newark Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 18th, Bonus: board meetings listed through June, 2016, Grade: A+
Odyssey Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 12th, Grade: A-
Positive Outcomes– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 19th, Bonus: board meetings AND CBOC meetings listed through June 2016, Grade: A+
Prestige Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: none listed, website only shows members of CBOC, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed, shows meets 3rd Tuesday of each month, Grade: F
Providence Creek Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 25th, Bonus: does have all future board meetings through June 2016 on school calendar, Grade: A+
Sussex Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: February 2015, next board meeting: September 16th (no meetings in July or August), Grade: C
Thomas Edison Charter– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 17th, Bonus: Has all board meetings listed through June 2016, Grade A+
There you have it. The Exceptional Delaware July 2015 Charter School Compliance and Transparency Report. 8 out of 22 need to do some serious damage control quick. Because once DOE Jenny (as Kilroy calls her) reads this report, she’s going to have some serious questions for some of you!
Oh, I forgot one thing. The quote up above will be shown later today as part of another article. Because even though that school wants to forget about the past year, the past is knocking on their door! More later!
The Delaware House of Representatives released their House Agenda for their last day of legislative session until January 2016. The first item on the agenda is State Rep. Kim William’s House Bill 186. These are the reasons this bill needs to pass:
1) Noel Rodriguez & Academy of Dover- $127,000 in personal spending and another $129,000 the State Auditor isn’t sure was used for school or personal spending. As well, an anonymous source informed me two other staff members at the school were also pilfering funds, and this was reported to the FBI, but nothing has come from any of that…
2) Family Foundations Academy, Sean Moore & Tennell Brewington- over $90,000 in person spending between this dynamic duo, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in other questionable spending performed by this school during their reign. The State Auditor’s report hasn’t come out yet on this one, but it will be a doozy that may make Academy of Dover look weak in comparison.
3) Delaware Military Academy & Jack Wintermantel- while out of the news, this 2013 State Auditor investigation found numerous financial violations at this school. Source: http://auditor.delaware.gov/Reports/FY2013/DMA%20Investigative%20Report.pdf
4) The seeming inability for many charter schools to accurately code items correctly on the state financing website, as indicated by what is shown on Delaware Online Checkbook. In some situations, funds are allocated in areas that have absolutely nothing to do with why the funds were spent, i.e. Academy of Dover putting a payment for an out of state residential treatment center under “Employee Recognition”. Furthermore, putting students names in a special education settlement transaction on Delaware Online Checkbook is a clear violation of FERPA legislation but schools continue to do this.
5) Section 347 of Paragraph 508 of Title 14: This special designation for charter schools allows them to keep the unused portion of their transportation funds for “educational purposes”, but there is no clear mention of what those “educational purposes” can be, or where the funds should be directed on an accounting level. In the past two fiscal years, over $2.4 million dollars was kept by Delaware charter schools, with Family Foundations Academy and Newark Charter School each keeping over $400,000 EACH from this caveat.
6) As indicated by the ten charter school performance fund applications I just posted, most schools don’t have a clue about finances and what funds can go to which allotment.
7) The Delaware Charter School Network is vehemently opposed to this bill- while they have a right to be concerned about the cost of audits, the cost to taxpayers over the complete and utter disregard of how taxpayer funds are spent as well as the strain and disruption this places on all education in Delaware makes it very clear more oversight is needed over the Wild West of Finances occurring in our charter schools. As well, at least two of the current or former members of their governing board are/were heads of school at two of the charter schools that are being investigated, and one of them sits on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE
8) The DOE is not in a position to do anything about this: through a complete lack of oversight over the charter schools they authorize, the DOE has never caught fraud in the act. They do not monitor they money flowing in and out of these schools
9) Lack of oversight at the charter schools themselves- many charter schools just started having a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee this year. This has been in state code for years. As well, a DOE representative is supposed to be at each meeting for each school. If some of these schools that have operated for years never had a DOE rep at their non-existent CBOC meetings, than the DOE fell asleep at the wheel but they are never held accountable.
10) In discussing House Bill 186, the State Auditor’s office said seven charter schools are under investigation. We know Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, and Providence Creek Academy are three, but who are the other four? Judging by their board minutes, Thomas Edison Charter School may be one, but who are the other three and why are they being investigated?
Kendall Massett at the Delaware Charter Schools Network is fighting like a House Bill 50 parent proponent, but she is against this bill. She has emails going out every day begging parents to email legislators to stop this bill. Should what is essentially a lobbyist firm receive that much free reign to stop a bill? What is Kendall so afraid of? Is there something much, much bigger yet to be discovered? That wouldn’t shock me at all.
In their April 27th board minutes, Thomas Edison revealed they have been in communication with the Delaware State Auditor’s office. While it doesn’t go into specifics, there is a lot of discussion about how to reveal contingency items and how to hide them…
“Mr. Christie stated that to Mr. Velasquez point we have a total of $104,250.00, that we’re saying we have spent this on contingency, but we haven’t really. Mr. Blocksom asked if this makes us look bad and how would the auditors look at this. Mrs. Winder stated that our external auditors wouldn’t recognize it, but not quite sure how the State would react.”
As well, the school absolutely kills it in discussion about the Smarter Balanced Assessment which they only refer to as “the test”. Every Delaware Senator needs to read this report before the vote tomorrow.
The Delaware House of Representatives also need to read this and Pete Schwartzkopf needs to get House Bill 186 on the agenda tomorrow, the Senate needs to suspend Senate rules and skip the Senate Education Committee meeting for this bill, and get House Bill 186 passed before midnight June 30th. This is a shining examples of how Delaware charter schools openly flaunt their disdain for state code and regulation in terms of financial matters. They also need to do the same for House Bill 61 and get these charter schools recording all their board minutes and place them on their websites within seven business days. The days of Delaware charters making their own rules are coming to an end. And nothing Kendall Massett and the Delaware Charter Schools Network or all the backers, investors, and “non-profit” foundations do is going to stop this.