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…

asdf

Academy of Dover Is Not A 501c3 Corporation As Stated In Their Charter, DOE Needs To Revoke Their Charter Now

The Academy of Dover is not listed as a 501c3 corporation with the Internal Revenue Service.  The Academy of Dover’s charter, which firmly states they are a 501c3 non-profit corporation, is not real.  The Delaware Department of Education put the charter school under formal review last year.  This was their fourth formal review in 12 years.  This did not come up at all during that process.  As well, their auditor, Barbacane, Thornton, & Company LLP, wrote about this in the last three years of audits they did for the school.

AcademyofDoverIRSRevocation

For the past three years, their auditor made note of this in their yearly audit of the school.  Each year provides a link to the full audit:

2013

AoD13AuditPt1

AoD13AuditPt2

2014

AoD14Audit

2015

AoD15Audit

And yet, for all three years, it states the exact same thing.  Ironically, the link for their 2012 audit, which may have shed some light on this situation, comes up as a blank pdf file.

How has this never been publicly disclosed until now?  Actually, it was disclosed a few years ago but it was buried in a comment section on Kilroy’s Delaware.  It was during July of 2013, which as any blogger can tell you isn’t exactly a big audience at that time of the year.  Especially an education blog!  But a commenter wrote exactly what I am telling you now but no one picked up the baton and ran with it.

But this tells me this information has been out there for a while now.  I would have a very hard time believing nobody at the Delaware DOE knew this.  I’m sure they read the annual audits.  But the fact these audits say the exact same thing three years in a row is astonishing.  With the school involved in a $2 million dollar lawsuit as well as former Head of School Noel Rodriguez’ personal theft of school funds, how does this not come up at all?  Who is reading these audits at the DOE?

The oversight for Delaware DOE authorized charters falls on the DOE.  It was right in front of them the whole time and I have never seen it publicly questioned.  It never came up in their formal review meetings last spring.  I know this because I attended all the meetings.  Transparency and this school have never been the best of friends.  But this… the DOE needs to act.  Their 501c3 status was revoked over four years ago.  They have been operating in the dark for over four years.  Granted, they could be trying to work things out with the IRS.  But if they aren’t a 501c3, even though they are still listed as such with the Delaware Department of Corporations…

AoDcertofinc.

And if anyone is wondering why charters need more oversight, this is exactly why.  Avi at Newsworks wrote an excellent article today about more charters under investigation in Delaware, including ones that were already under past investigations.  I’m just going to come right out and say Senate Bill 171 would give us more of what we have: fraud, lies, and auditors copying and pasting the same information year after year.  House Bill 186 would allow information, like what I am writing now, the ability to be seen.  Who knows what other skeletons are buried out there in Delaware charters?

Title14Charter990

One last thought…charter schools are required by the State of Delaware, in Title 14, paragraph 509, that they must have their IRS Tax Form 990 on their website.  Academy of Dover has not had this on their website since at least 2008 since the IRS said they hadn’t posted a return the last three years in 2011.  So we have a law and nobody is making sure this even happens?  Hello Jack Markell… this is transparency calling… your DOE has a lot of explaining to do.  But let’s get Academy of Dover taken care of first.  They have been out of compliance with their approved charter for over four years.  It’s time the DOE and the non-elected State Board of Education make a real decision instead of “probation” four times…

 

The Sokola Williams House Bill 186 Charter Funding “Town Hall” Debate: What If We Are All Wrong?

Sometimes the best conversations happen when there is a freedom to it with no strings attached, just honest questions and answers.  Yesterday, Senator David Sokola responded to a post of Mike Matthews on Facebook about House Bill 186 and Senate Bill 171.  The two competing bills both deal with charter audits. What happened next on the “debate” was pleasantly surprising.  I actually admire Sokola for entering into what I’m sure he knew could be “hostile territory” so to speak.  What ensued was very interesting.

Here is the bottom line, as I wrote in one of the final replies on this: something needs to be done to make sure the charter school fraud just stops.  We can’t have school leaders going rogue and raiding the public coffers.  It’s just wrong.  I think House Bill 186 would prevent that quite a bit.  Will it prevent any school employee from ever absconding money for personal use?  No, I don’t think anyone could ever 100% stop that.  But it is one hell of a deterrent.  There are more than enough issues with school funding in Delaware, the last thing we need is for one cent to be wasted like this.  It is criminal, it is illegal, and it needs to end.

Given all that has occurred since Senate Bill 171 was introduced last week, I would actually love to hear Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network response to this thread.  So I invite Kendall to comment on here.  This is not a free-for-all to jump on her should she take up the invite.  It is just a debate about the issues at hand.  If Kendall does take me up on this, I believe it could shed light on what the charters may be looking at for this.

In my opinion, the way charters were set up in Delaware is miles away from the present reality.  It is much more visible in New Castle County, but the whole traditional school district/charter school debate has morphed into something with both sides pitted against each other.  I will fully admit it’s something I’ve been guilty of.  But is it good for the education landscape of Delaware?  Should charters be funded separately from regular school districts?  But even bigger than that is the competition.  This need to be the best school in the state and all that comes with that.  Since the catalyst for that is standardized test scores, what would happen if those scores all of a sudden didn’t hold the weight they currently have?  What if schools were judged on their own merits, good or bad, based on something not so exact?

Our Department of Education, in line with the US DOE, certainly set up this kind of environment.  But let’s get real for a moment.  The traditional districts and the charters aren’t going anywhere.  I know I’ll probably get shot for even bringing this up, but a lot of us look at education in Delaware under the lens of how the charters affect the schools around them.  But I’m going to attempt to look at this from the charter perspective.  They view themselves as not getting as much money as districts, thus their assumption they do “more with less”.  In defense of that, they don’t have the sheer size and multiple capital costs the way districts do, so there is that.  Most of their teachers are not unionized, so turnover is most likely greater.  So they need to retain their good teachers and find ways to keep them and attract them to their schools.  They also need to make sure their enrollment stays at certain levels or the DOE will come after them.  To do that, they need to make their schools look as attractive as possible, so they need to sell it as such.  While some schools do indeed have enrollment preferences that are very questionable, a lot of them do not.  But still, the lure of charters for many parents is the escape from the local school districts who do “less with more”.  Most parents who are engaged at that level, and have made a choice to keep their kids out of a district, will certainly be more active in their child’s education, which results in more of a collaborative relationship between charter parents and their schools.  But the flip side to all of this, as those students who most likely have more parental engagement with their child’s education (not all) and  pull their kids out of districts, it has a rebound effect on the traditionals.  It can draw out the “better” students resulting in more issues at the local level for the remaining students.  This is certainly not the case in every school in every district, but we have seen this happen in Wilmington most of all.

So how do we get around all of this and work to make both co-exist?  The conversation gets very heated very quick with parties pointing fingers and making declaratory statements that don’t serve to solve the issues but actually polarize both sides into their position of defense.  As a result, we see legislators with differing opinions proposing laws that the other side opposes.  In the case of the charter audit bills, Kim Williams wins that one, hands down.  Will it cost charters more money?  Like I’ve said before, probably.  But we should have never reached this point.  It should have always been equitable for both when it comes to audits.  It isn’t now, and it wouldn’t be with Senator Sokola’s bill.  I’m not saying this cause I like Kim better than Dave, I’m saying it cause it makes sense.  There are some Republican bills I think make a lot of sense, and vice versa.  But let’s face it, the Democrats have controlled Delaware for a long time now, so their bills tend to get more press and traction because of that control.

This is what I would like to eventually see in the charter/traditional debate.  All schools, be it charters, magnets, or vo-techs, have no enrollment preferences whatsoever.  This would put everyone on the same level playing field.  As well, charter schools should be funded the same way vo-techs are.  But there could still be a problem of a district shedding students as we see in Christina.  How do we solve that issue?  Not an easy answer.  When districts do lose a lot of students, it is bound to cause financial concerns.  But obviously we can’t just close districts.  But we can’t let them go to the poorhouse either.  And when a referendum goes south, it doesn’t just affect the traditional school districts, it flows into charters that receive the funding for those students.

Finally, our legislators need to find a way to minimize the importance of standardized testing.  At a state level, not a district level where those assessments do actually help students.  I posted an article on American Institutes for Research last September where their CEO admits standardized testing is actually accountability tests against teachers and schools.  Because our states and federal government have allowed this to happen.  They set up this crazy chess match but is very bad for schools, students, teachers, administrators, and even communities.  Whenever there are high-stakes, there are also consequences.  While some are intended, others are not.  Setting our schools up to compete against each other can bring innovation, but then it becomes a matter of “who has the better test scores?”  It’s not good, it’s not healthy, and this is leading all our students into the assumption that if they do well on a once-a -year test they are actually a success and “college and career ready”.   But even more dangerous, the schools actually think this and instruction is aimed around the test as opposed to the individual student and their own individual success.  The question that always comes up after this argument from the proponents of standardized testing is “How do we measure our student’s progress?”  There are measurements that don’t have to be the focal point of everything.  But yet our DOE has the Smarter Balanced Assessment with most of the weight on the Delaware School Success Framework.

Until we can get out of this testing obsession, nothing will ever change.  If charters and traditional school districts want to survive, they should join together to eliminate this abusive practice, not to perpetuate it.  There is no stability in it, and it is very destructive.  To those who do profit off this, they truly don’t care.  As long as they are making money.  This should be something parents of students should want as well.  They may not see it now, but they certainly will after their child graduates and they find they are really struggling in college.  This is why we are seeing more students taking college-level courses in our high schools because even the corporate education reformers know this.  But what we should really be doing is focusing less on test scores and letting children progress naturally in schools without the test stress.  So by the time they go to college, they are ready for what comes next.  College is supposed to be hard.  It shouldn’t be easy.  If we are seeing so many kids taking remedial classes, maybe this isn’t a reflection on our schools but on the emphasis society places on test scores.

For me personally, I care deeply about these issues.  Because I believe the students that pay the price the most are those who need the most.  By leading all students toward these very specific goals of “proficiency” and “growth”, we are allowing students with disabilities and those who come from poverty to start at the gate with a disadvantage.  And wanting to “close the gaps” without changing their inherent disadvantages results in an explosion just waiting to happen.  I’m not saying these kids can’t learn, or that they don’t want to learn.  But the instruction they need may not be the same for their regular peers.  If the end goal of accommodations is to make a student do better on a test, then we are losing sight of the true picture.  We can’t erase a disability or poverty in schools.  There are far too many outside factors to make that ever happen.

The charter/district debate is a systemic issue, but it is symptomatic of the far greater disease: standardized testing.  We have many excellent teachers who can become even better by allowing them to flourish in an environment that isn’t poisoned and set up as a competition.  Education isn’t a race.  It isn’t a contest.  It is education.  No child learns the same, and no child tests the same.  It needs to stop.  Until our leaders learn this, parents will continue to opt out.  At greater numbers than each year before.  Because we see it and we have the power to act on it.  Sooner or later they will get the message.  But in the meantime, the reformers and leaders continue to spin their wheels looking for the next big thing in order for them to survive.  They do not care if a school is doing bad.  They love it and they will pounce on it.  They use our schools and students so they can get rich.  And their method of measurement: the standardized test.  And far too many lap it up and believe it.

 

 

Dave Sokola Kicks Kim Williams In The Back And Then Thrusts The Knife Into It

Sokola

Senator Dave Sokola pulled a fast one on State Rep. Kim Williams in his latest political trickery because of his uncontrolled bias for Delaware charter schools.

Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 was approved by the Delaware House of Representatives on June 30th, the last day of legislative session. Senator David Sokola refused to suspend the rules and said this bill needed to be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Fair enough. It was heard in committee this week, and it was released yesterday. Fair enough. What he did behind the scenes is what defines him.

House Bill 186 deals with charter school audits. Rep. Williams felt the charter school fraud and embezzlement was a bit too much for Delaware taxpayers and she brought the bill forward to allow the State Auditor’s office to monitor charters more closely. This is something Kathleen Davies from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office was in full support of. The main party who was not in support of the bill was the Delaware Charter Schools Network. They vehemently opposed the bill stating it would cost charter schools extra money. On their website, they set up a “letter to the legislators” system where parents just add their information and a letter is automatically sent to the legislators.

At present, all traditional school districts audits go through the State Auditor’s office.  Charters use their own hand-picked auditors.  This bill would add an extra layer of protection.  As well, ever since the very first charter school closed in Delaware, funds seem to disappear resulting in millions of dollars vanishing.  Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 would put charters on the same equal playing field as traditional school districts and is not an attempt to treat charters any different.  Why would we not want to ensure our taxpaying funds are being used with fidelity and honesty?

Having sent my son to a charter school back in the day, I know how this works when legislation comes up that may affect a charter school.  Parents get emails from the school leader basically saying “Our poor charter school is under attack, we need your support.”  It usually ties to funding and money.

On June 30th, the bill passed the House with all Democrats except State Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques and all the Republicans voted no.

This week, Sokola, along with co-sponsor Jaques and several Senate Republicans filed Senate Bill 171.

Are charters required to have their audits done the same way as Sokola’s Senate Bill 171 states?  Not at all.  Title 29 of the Delaware State Code, dealing with the Auditor of Accounts, specifically states:

(f) The Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits of local school district tax funds budget and expenditures annually. The results of the audit shall be submitted to the local board, the State Board of Education, the office of Controller General and the local libraries within said school district. Expenses incurred for such postaudits herein authorized shall be borne by the local school districts.

This says absolutely nothing about charter schools whatsoever.  With respect to charter schools, Title 14 does touch on this, but the wording is very vague:

The charter school shall contract to have an audit of the business and financial transactions, records, and accounts after July 1 for the prior fiscal year. The results of the audit shall be shared with the Department of Education by October 1.

What Sokola’s bill does completely ignores the authority given to the State Auditor of Accounts in Title 29.  And the charter audit part is not even included in chapter 29 whatsoever.  Title 14 doesn’t even define what the scope of the charter school’s audit should look like, and even with Sokola’s bill this is not defined either.  But Title 29, the section that once again authorizes the Auditor of Accounts of their duties and responsibilities, bolded for emphasis, states:

(a) The audits shall be sufficiently comprehensive to provide, but not limited to, assurance that reasonable efforts have been made to collect all moneys due the State, that all moneys collected or received by any employee or official have been deposited to the credit of the State and that all expenditures have been legal and proper and made only for the purposes contemplated in the funding acts or other pertinent regulations.

This is a direct attempt to sabotage Rep. Williams’ bill in my opinion. Sokola’s bill does absolutely nothing. It is a piece of paper designed to actually protect charter schools from the financial destruction some of them have inflicted on Delaware. After the State Auditor’s office released reports last year on Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover showing well over $300,000 of taxpayer money being absconded by school leaders, along with other reports showing a couple of charters doing very suspect things with school funds, one would think our elected officials would want to make sure charters are held under a bigger microscope.  In the case of Family Foundations Academy, telling the public they aren’t sure what may have happened to $2.5 million dollars along with another $141,000 in funds that may or may not have been personal purchases shows a clear need for more oversight into charter finances.  But apparently not with the Chairs of our Education Committees, Sokola and Jaques.

How does something like this happen when charter schools are supposed to have greater accountability because of their unique structure with the public school environment?  It is political maneuvering.  Senator Sokola is in the 8th District, in Newark.  Since 1990, Sokola has been a State Senator.  I wrote in great detail about Sokola’s history of education destruction last year.  The 8th District is a very unique district.  In this district is Newark Charter School.  Senator Sokola was one of the founding board members of the school.  Newark Charter School has a 5 mile radius for its applicants, which actually extends past the Maryland line.  So it is not a true 5 mile radius, but ensures all its students come from a very specific geographic area.  The 8th district.  This school is considered to be one of the best schools in the state based on standardized test scores, academics, and school climate.  There is usually an extensive waiting list.  Because of this, Sokola is able to hold onto his Senate seat because of his steadfast loyalty to charter schools.  He is also the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Interestingly enough, State Rep. Kim Williams gave insight into this in a comment on Delaware Liberal last night:

House Bill 186 will require charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts like all other public school districts in the state. Currently, only public school districts are audited through the Auditor of Accounts. Sen. Sokola explained to us during the debate of House Bill 186 that his bill, Senate Bill 171, was drafted with the help of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, who represent charter schools and the leaders who have been stealing from Delaware taxpayers. Senate Bill 171 does not require the charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts office. The charter schools will be able to select who they want once again. Senate Bill 171 does nothing except protect the charter schools and not the taxpayers. I for the life of me cannot understand why these people do not care about protecting the taxpayers’ money; they are more interested in protecting the charter schools.

This is Delaware.  Those in power position themselves in the key positions so they can be re-elected over and over and over again.  Sokola is also the chair of the Senate Bond Committee so he can curry favor with the organizations that receive state funding through bonds and grants.  Sokola has not filed for the 2016 election, but his seat is up for grabs.  No opposing candidate has filed either, so there is still time.

I urge every single Delaware citizen to contact every member of the Delaware Senate to vote yes for House Bill 186.  Sokola’s anti-Williams bill will most likely be on the Senate Education Committee agenda for next week.  His bill will be fast-tracked for passage while Williams bill will either be voted down or sit in limbo.

I just wrote the Delaware Senators an email for my full support for House Bill 186, and I would ask anyone reading this to do the same:

Good morning Delaware Senators!

I wanted to ask for you support in voting yes for House Bill 186, State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit bill which passed with overwhelming support in the Delaware House on June 30th, and was released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  As a Delaware taxpaying citizen, I firmly believe our Delaware charter schools need rigorous examination with their finances.  We have seen far too many charters abscond with public funds for personal use in the past few years for their own personal use. 

I firmly believe, after carefully reviewing House Bill 186, that this bill would give the extra protections Delaware taxpayers need to make sure our dollars are being protected from those who would steal money from us.  If we are going to demand accountability in our schools, that needs to start at the top in each and every building.  Every single traditional school district is held to this same process, so why wouldn’t we include charters in this process?

I would urge all of you to read this article by Business Insider which was written on January 6th, 2016: http://www.businessinsider.com/are-charter-schools-the-new-mortgage-crisis-2016-1  This article clearly shows the environment charter schools exist in and there are red flags all over the place.  Charter school accountability and transparency was also addressed in the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama last month.  The ESSA demands more state responsibility in monitoring charter schools.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

Here is a list of the emails for our Delaware Senators, just copy and paste!

harris.mcdowell@state.de.us MargaretRose.Henry@state.de.us robert.marshall@state.de.us greg.lavelle@state.de.us catherine.cloutier@state.de.us Ernesto.Lopez@state.de.us Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us karen.peterson@state.de.us bethany.hall-long@state.de.us Nicole.Poore@state.de.us david.mcbride@state.de.us bruce.ennis@state.de.us Dave.Lawson@state.de.us senator-colin@prodigy.net brian.bushweller@state.de.us Brian.Pettyjohn@state.de.us gerald.hocker@state.de.us bryant.richardson@state.de.us David.Sokola@state.de.us Bryan.Townsend@state.de.us gsimpson@udel.edu

 

How Much Authority Does The Delaware DOE Have?

I just found this in Delaware’s Title 14 which seems to grant the Delaware Department of Education a great deal of power and authority.

  • 1606 State Board waiver authority.

The Department of Education shall have the authority to waive or suspend provisions of the Delaware Code in the implementation of programs authorized under this chapter; provided however, that such waiver or suspension of a provision of the Code shall not result in an increased financial obligation to the State. The Department of Education is also authorized to waive or suspend its rules and regulations in order to maximize the projected impact of programs authorized under this chapter. The State Board shall be advised of any waiver of a regulation it must promulgate or approve, and may deny such waiver within 30 days or by the next regularly scheduled meeting, whichever is earlier, of the waiver’s approval by the Department. (69 Del. Laws, c. 464, § 1; 71 Del. Laws, c. 180, § 93.)

Can anyone tell me if this has ever happened and what the hell it means?

Delaware’s Fatal Special Education Flaw: Using Response To Intervention

Delaware is considered to be horrible for special education by many around the country.  The reason for this could be due to Response To Intervention.

Under federal law, Child Find is an obligation for all public schools in the United States of America.  Wrightslaw describes Child Find as the following:

Child Find requires all school districts to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school is not providing special education services to the child.

The US Department of Education came up with something called Response To Intervention (RTI).  This process does not work effectively at all for potential students with disabilities.  In Delaware, the whole RTI process takes 24 weeks until a suggestion is made, if needed, for an evaluation for special education services.  That is over six months because it is 24 weeks of school time.  While that may not seem like a long time for some, for the student with disabilities it can be a lifetime.  The large problem with RTI is many schools use it based on how a student is doing academically.  Some children with disabilities are very smart but the neurological wiring may not allow them to focus or have motivation to do well in school.  If the classroom is out of control, this magnifies for the student with disabilities.  Many of these students are perceived as “behavior problems” but if they do well academically, it is difficult for them to get an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Add in other factors, such as low-income or poverty status, bullying, and violence in their environment, and this is a cauldron of problems boiling over.

Title 14 in Delaware is very specific about what Response to Intervention is:

Under federal law, Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)  is mandatory for students with an IEP.  Using the Wrightslaw definition:

In a nutshell, FAPE is an individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child’s unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit, and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.

The problem is getting students to this point.  At the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee meeting today, two charters brought up the RTI process in how they identify potential special education students.  But the problems mount because of the time process.  If schools are using RTI to  identify students for special education, it is a minimum of six months before the RTI system reaches the point where special education evaluation can happen in Delaware.  Schools should be looking at other factors.  I’m not saying RTI is bad.  It can be very helpful for instruction.  But using this as a determining factor for special education services can cause a student to lose a whole year.  Then add the timeframes for the evaluation, getting parent permission, convening an initial IEP meeting, and then getting to the point of actually drafting the IEP, it could very well be a whole school year.

While I don’t think any school should be over evaluating students for IEPs for additional funding, the far greater danger is in under evaluating.  If the RTI process works for academic support, but the child does not have FAPE, it is not addressing the true needs of the student.  A student with disabilities can be brilliant, but if their neurological disability gets in the way of that, it impacts their education.  This is why I oppose many of the tests schools use to determine eligibility for special education.  A simple IQ test is not going to give you answers.  Many students with disabilities suffer from large classroom sizes without enough support.  For a sensory mind, this is like a torture chamber for these children.  But get them in a small group with RTI, where the focus is more centralized to their needs, and we have a much different story.  But RTI is not an all-day event.  So when the student is back in the general curriculum environment, that’s when teachers see the true natures of disabilities manifest themselves.  If a student appears to be smart, but doesn’t seem to be in control of their actions, this is the time to get an evaluation.  Yes, they are expensive for schools.  But how much time is spent on the RTI process that may or may not get this student results until another school year in most cases?  RTI as a system costs schools tons of money, time, staffing and resources.

Until Delaware schools truly get this, both charter and district alike, we will continue to bang our heads against the wall and say “We don’t know how to fix this.”  Add to this the even more burdensome “standards-based” IEPs which are rolling out this year, and we have a special education nightmare on our hands.  I’ve said this a million times: intelligence is not the sole factor for special education.  It could be as simple as a student having sensory toys, or additional transition time, or even training for staff at a more in-depth level.  There are so many things that can be done with special education that are not financially problematic, but common sense.  But expecting a special needs child to perform at the same levels as their peers when the DOE and schools have not done their essential legwork in truly identifying these students is a lesson in futility.  They may never perform at that level, but until schools do the right thing with special education and stop doing all this time-wasting nonsense, we will never know.  And let me reiterate: when I say performing at the same level as their peers, I do NOT mean standardized testing.  All the standardized tests actually take away from the uniqueness of the individual child and says “We want all of you to be the same.”  It is a demeaning and humiliating experience for all involved when we use a test to measure success.

Kavips, I Have The Answer To Why We Don’t Have Smarter Balanced Results Yet

“The assessment program shall be designed and operated to provide the General Assembly, the Governor, the Secretary, the State Board of Education, educational administrators, teachers, parents and the public with timely and accurate information on student achievement and educational attainments.” -From Delaware Title 14, § 151 State assessment system; rules and regulations (a).

The Delaware blogger Kavips has been following other states that belong to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as they release the scores from their own Smarter Balanced tests.  To date, Delaware has not release their own.  Nobody in the public knew why…until now.

Apparently, states could pay extra money to have their scores released early.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell did not do this.  While some could say he is a financial hero, this is hardly the case.  This will end up costing Delaware much more, and this is why.  School districts and charters in other states who have this data can plan for the next year.  Delaware can not.  Because next year will already be here when the scores are released.

For a Governor who spends money on education like it just falls from trees, he sure is picky about test score information.  What was that part about House Bill 334 when it was approved by the 147th General Assembly and signed by Governor Markell last year?  Oh yeah…see above.  Timely scores are not being provided to students, parents, teachers and schools.  And this is a Governor people want to trust?  Who won’t pay to have our schools run the same as others in the country?  Wasn’t that the whole point of implementing the Common Core State Standards, so we could all be on the same level playing field as other states?  Silly me, it’s about the money.  It’s always been about the money.

The Delaware Charter School Tranportation Slush Fund Fully Revealed In State Code & Epilogue Language

Delaware State Code allows for charter schools in the state to keep any excess transportation costs for “educational purposes”.  No clarification is given for what those educational purposes are or what sections of the school budget they need to be allocated to.  As a result, Delaware charters have “kept” an estimated $1.35 million dollars, a luxury traditional public school districts do not have.  Certain commenters over on Kilroy’s Delaware claim this isn’t true, and even went so far as to post the full Title 14 Delaware code § 508 of the state code, which doesn’t indicate the slush fund.

“ § 508 Responsibility for student transportation.

The charter school may request to have the school district where the charter school is located transport students residing in that district to and from the charter school on the same basis offered to other students attending schools operated by the district, or to receive from the State a payment equal to 70% of the average cost per student of transportation within the vocational district in which the charter school is located and become responsible for the transportation of those students to and from the charter school. In the case of students not residing in the district where the charter school is located, the parents of such students shall be responsible for transporting the child without reimbursement to and from a point on a regular bus route of the charter school. In lieu of the payment from the State specified above, if a charter school utilizes a contractor for student transportation the charter school shall publicly bid the routes, and the State shall reimburse the charter school for the actual bid costs only if lower than the payment specified above. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a student at a charter school shall receive such transportation assistance as is made available to students pursuant to a public school choice program established by this Code provided that such student otherwise meets the eligibility requirements for such assistance. In the event a charter school chooses to transport students itself, it shall do so in accordance with all public school transportation safety regulations. Local school districts and charter schools shall cooperate to ensure that the implementation of this chapter does not result in inefficient use of state appropriations for public school transportation and the State Board shall exercise its authority to approve bus routes so as to avoid such waste.”

However, what the rocket scientist over on Kilroy’s Delaware failed to do, most likely deliberately as to show people he is right and everyone else arguing against him is wrong, is put in the part from the Fiscal budget which clearly indicates, in Section 347 of House Bill 225.  Even more hysterical, this commenter damn well knows about this, but blogger honor demands I not out the clown.

Section 347. (a) Notwithstanding 14 Del. C. § 508 or any regulation to the contrary, a charter school may negotiate a contract (multi-year, if desired) for contractor payment for school transportation up to the maximum rate specified which is currently 70 percent of the average cost per student of transportation within the vocational district in which the charter school is located or the charter school may publicly bid the transportation routes.  If the actual negotiated or bid costs are lower then the maximum rate specified above, the charter school may keep the difference for educational purposes.  If the charter school includes a fuel adjustment contract provision, the charter school shall be responsible for increased payments to the contractor or it may keep funds taken back from the contractor.

I wrote an article on this back in January, which clearly showed exactly how much each of the following charter schools were able to keep in FY14 based on this transportation slush fund buried at the near end of the state budget:

Academy of Dover: $56,788

Campus Community: $148,578

Charter School of Wilmington: $63,755

DE Academy of Public Safety & Security: $13,894

DE College Prep Academy: $17,750

DE Military Academy: $21,877

East Side Charter: $31,451

Family Foundations: $384,769

Kuumba Academy: $64,352

Las Americas Aspiras: $103,958

MOT Charter School: $23,126

Moyer Academy: $22,596

Newark Charter: $227,827

Odyssey: $150,607

Reach Academy: $25,647

Providence Creek Academy and Sussex Academy use their own buses, Thomas Edison broke even, Positive Outcomes uses Caesar Rodney School District buses, and Gateway and Prestige Academy each lost over $20,000 on this deal.

So collectively these 15 charters made $1,357,002.00, for average of $90,466.80 a school.  The amounts for Odyssey, Newark Charter School, Family Foundations, Campus Community and Las Americas Aspiras are all well over $100,000.  With no mandated allocation of funds except for the very vague “educational purposes” and no oversight of how they use these funds, who knows where they are going.  In the case of Family Foundations Academy, where the two school leaders embezzled over $90,000 in personal spending, and Academy of Dover where one principal spent over $127,000 in personal purchases, how is it even possible to trust how the schools are spending these funds.  Where is the accountability for these funds?

One Delaware legislator has said enough is enough, and he is requesting lawmakers to make an amendment to get rid of this:

Dear all,

Note HB225—- page 231, Section 347 lines 25-26. This is the language that is consistently inserted over the last 6-7 budgets that conflicts with the Title 14 section 508 mandate to return unused (for transportation) taxpayer money by Charter Schools. The amendment I am filing removes this onerous disregard for taxpayer money from the budget and I hope each and every one of you will support it to restore accountability and specificity of allocation to our spending of those taxpayer dollars. It is our responsibility to ensure that this practice ceases.

Respectfully

John Kowalko

I’m sure the rowdy bunch over at Kilroy’s will say I am doing my master’s bidding since they seem to think Kowalko owns me, which is so far removed from the truth it’s not even funny.  There are numerous issues I disagree with Kowalko on, but when it comes to education we align.

As Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 (charter school post-audit with the State Auditor) is supposed to get a vote on Tuesday  June 30th, and hopefully Rep. Debbie Hudson’s House Bill 61 (mandatory school board recordings) is put to a vote, and rules are suspended for each, along with Kowalko’s proposed amendment to the budget, we can start to see some legislative oversight and transparency over Delaware charter schools.  It all depends on how quick the Delaware Charter Schools Network and Kendall Massett can get their people down to Legislative Hall on Tuesday…

 

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading

Freire Board Member Running For Brandywine School Board…Say, Isn’t That Against The Law?

Embedded in Delaware Title 14 is a little part of the law that states no charter school board member shall serve as a member of a publicly elected school board.  But here we have John Pierson, a director on the Freire Charter School Board of Directors, running for the board seat from District B in the Brandywine School District.  Did he resign from the Freire board?  Not according to his LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/john-pierson/20/50a/486

bsdcandidates

And Pierson isn’t just a member, he’s also the President!

freireboard

So what exactly does Title 14 say?

§ 504. Corporate status.

(b) The board of directors of a charter school shall be deemed public agents authorized by a public school district or the Department with the approval of the State Board to control the charter school. No person shall serve as a member of a charter school board of directors who is an elected member of a local school board of education.

Oops! I guess somebody forgot to read the law!  Speaking of law, how many of these ten items from Freire’s website match up with Delaware state code, are non-discriminatory, and don’t fly in the face of special education students?

Ten Things to Know About Freire Charter School Wilmington

1) Freire Wilmington serves any and all 8th-12th grade students in the City of Wilmington and surrounding suburbs. Where there are too many students and not enough spaces, Freire uses a random lottery system to determine enrollment. We do not discriminate based on race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, academic ability – or anything whatsoever.

2) The students who succeed at Freire are the ones who take action to help themselves, who see a bright future for themselves, and who are willing to do whatever it takes (i.e. long nights of homework; studying on the weekends; going to the library on a sunny day) to get the best high school education out there.

3) We mean what we say at Freire. Perhaps other schools tell you that if you break their code of conduct there will be consequences. But then when it comes right down to it, many of these schools do not enforce their rules. At Freire, we enforce everything we say. Honestly. We do what we say we are going to do. And we expect you to do the same.

4) We are a 100% nonviolent school. Safety is our first priority. If a student acts violently – whether in words or in actions- to anyone at school or on the DART bus OR ANYWHERE – he or she will be expelled. There are no second chances. Our second priority is helping students learn to resolve conflicts peacefully and without violence.

5) Freire is for students who plan to go to college. Do not send your child to Freire if college is not in the future plan. Your sons and daughters will not be happy at Freire if they want to do something other than college after high school.

6) Remaining a student at Freire takes hard work, courage, honesty, and constant determination every day. Getting into Freire means getting a space through our lottery. That’s the easy part. The hard part is staying at Freire. We guarantee there will be challenges at Freire, and we will ask community members to do things they think are beyond their abilities. Those who succeed at Freire are the ones who never stop trying, and who are willing to work as hard as it takes to achieve excellence. No excuses.

7) Freire teachers and staff are some of the most talented, dedicated and caring in the country. These professionals come to Freire to serve students and families to the best extent ever imagined in a school.

8) Parents/Guardians must be involved and must participate in their child’s education with us as equal partners.  We will expect and demand this of all our families. Freire students need support, family involvement and encouragement every step of the way through high school.

9) Learning at Freire is painful and joyous, hard and exciting. And learning happens everywhere – in classrooms, on school trips, at internships, on athletic fields, using the internet, planning the school dance, eating healthy food before school, and doing homework at night.

10) Freire is a place to take risks, dream big, and then work hard every day to meet  those dreams head on. We strive for excellence in our community every minute of  every day. Freire is a school for those who want to do and be their best all the time.

I like #5.  No selective process for enrollment whatsoever.  Why don’t they just say “If you’re too dumb to come to our school, we don’t want you.  If your parents don’t think you can get to college, don’t bother applying.  If you are a student with disabilities and you don’t and we don’t think you’re gonna go to college, there’s a snowball in hell you might want to go chase!”

To read more about the Freire top ten list, please go here: http://freirewilmington.org/10-things-to-know/

Say, isn’t this the same school that submitted a major modification request to lower their approved enrollment numbers and take out specific interest from their enrollment preference cause it wasn’t really suggested by the Feds based on some published guidance they had recently?  Yeah, it was.  But I suppose their top ten is okay?  Yeah, the Charter School Accountability Committee approved their request.

So my big question would be how Pierson could serve on a charter board with a zero tolerance policy, but be effective as an elected school board official for a public school district when it comes to behavior issues that may come up.  Not to mention the whole serving two schools within the same district thing.  And the funding issues like, oh yeah, Freire could conceivably take funds out of Brandywine School District through local funding.  And don’t the boards of public school districts vote on students who choice out or into their district?  Yeah, they do.  No conflict of interest whatsoever.  But maybe Pierson isn’t too enamored of Freire?  Yeah right…

From his very public Facebook account:

Secretary of Ed and state board approves Freire School charter. Good day for kids in Delaware.

Come out this Saturday to learn about options available for your children!

Discover your FREE charter school options at the Charter School Expo! The Delaware Charter Schools Network hosts its 2nd Annual New Castle County Charter Sch…
youtube.com
  • John Pierson @Di – I hear you on the brain drain concept. Charters are open to everyone but parents need a little info and be motivated enough to apply. We plan this school to be title 1 and to serve kids living in the downtown Wilmy area. We’re trying to duplicate the Freire school in Philly, serving 95% minority students…the vast majority from low income homes. That’s the hope! We’ll see who applies – but that’s been our market target audience. Not sure yet on the Nog.