Finance Sub-Committee For District Consolidation Task Force Shuts Out The Public

I received an email yesterday for the meeting schedule for the District Consolidation Task Force Finance Sub-Committee.  ALL the meetings are in the morning, split between Dover and Wilmington.  I get that legislative staffers and the Delaware Department of Education sets all this stuff up, but they are doing a huge disservice to the public by holding these meetings in the mornings.  The number one item on the public’s radar is if district consolidation is worth it financially.  These are taxpayer dollars at stake here.  I volunteered for this committee and while I don’t mind morning meetings, I would rather it was scheduled at a time when the majority of the public can attend.

Here is the schedule.  All meetings are on Thursday mornings.

September 7th, 9am to 11am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

October 5th, 9am to 11am, Office of Management and Budget, Hazlet Armory, 3rd Floor, 122 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dover

November 2nd, 9am to 11am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

December 7th, 9am to 11am, Office of Management and Budget, Hazlet Armory, 3rd Floor, 122 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dover

Once again, I have to ask why the person running this sub-committee is NOT an actual member of the task force.  I understand Fred Sears has been very active with the Delaware Community Foundation and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, but why isn’t Mike Jackson with the Office of Management and Budget running this sub-committee?  Why are none of these meetings happening in Sussex County?  We need the public’s input on this task force.  This is a very ominous start for what should be the most transparent of all the sub-committees.

Governor Carney’s Office Cites “Executive Privilege” With Family Services Cabinet Council FOIA Complaint

The Delaware Attorney General’s office released a Freedom of Information Act legal opinion today giving Delaware Governor Carney the right to use executive privilege for a council designed to improve family services in Delaware.  In other words, they are allowed to hold non-public meetings and invite whomever they choose with no one the wiser.  The Attorney General’s office agreed with Carney’s office because of a very bad “separation of powers” clause in state law. Continue reading “Governor Carney’s Office Cites “Executive Privilege” With Family Services Cabinet Council FOIA Complaint”

Smyrna Update: Board Meeting Tonight & Patrik Williams Evades Transparency

The Smyrna School District Board of Education is meeting tonight for what they are calling a “reorganization meeting”.  Meanwhile, Superintendent Patrik Williams has flat-out responded to my two requests for the email addresses of the Smyrna board.  I actually called most of the members earlier today, but none of them picked up.  I did not leave messages.

What kind of school board, in this day and age, does not provide email addresses?  Seriously?  Patrik Williams seems to think he doesn’t have to provide those even though he is the secretary for their board.  What is the point of having just phone numbers if no one picks up?  Most Delaware school boards and even charter boards provide email addresses for their board members on their website.  I know he saw my request for this because he responded to me on another matter.

At the board meeting tonight, I expect a decent crowd.  The board may discuss discipline issues including votes on current issues, former students, and potential litigation according to their agenda.  They do have other items on their agenda.  Most school boards go into public session at the start of their meeting and then adjourn to go into Executive Session.  Then they return and go through the public agenda.  Time is allotted for public comment this evening.  Bring tootsie rolls if you wish.  The meeting will begin at 6pm at the district office in Smyrna at 82 Monrovia St.

J’s mother will be there along with others who are not happy with his situation and how the district handled it.  I will be there.  You should too.

 

Delaware’s Tax Structure 20 Years Ago Was MUCH Higher Than Proposals Coming Out Now

Thank you to State Rep. Trey Paradee for posting this on Facebook.  I didn’t even live in Delaware back in the late 1990s.  Paradee also said Delaware was swimming in money back then.  We are not swimming in money now though.  We are drowning in debt.  We paid the piper and now our legislators are realizing far too much that overspending and not enough oversight has created one hell of a mess in The First State.

Many of us are extremely upset right now.  We see cuts and tax increases.  We hear joking around on the audio of the House.  We see the blame game going back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.  We see a perfectly good bill which would generate $43 million in revenue for the state just dying on the vine.  We see services our elderly and youth get being completely evaporated and diminished.  We are pissed.  We are tired.  We are Delaware.

For legislators who are seeing the back-and-forth on social media right now, they can see our anger.  They need to.  They need to know we the people are not happy on both sides of the aisle.  These are our children and grandparents.  Husbands and wives.  Families.  Schools.  The elderly.  The mentally ill.  The disabled.  The volunteers.  Where is this budget bill?  Let the people see it and weigh in.  Why are you so afraid of transparency?  Maybe, just maybe, one of us common people could propose ideas with a fresh outlook that none of you even thought about.  That is a true democracy.

As JFC Sacrifices The Sick, The Children, and The Poor, General Assembly Leadership Drops The Ball

I am getting very sick of the political games in Dover.  Very sick.  We have the Joint Finance Committee cutting programs left and right, with House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle continuing to bicker over raising taxes or having more cuts.  We elect these people to do what is right for Delaware, not to kick the can until the next election.  They continue to use the most vulnerable citizens of Delaware in their political football games: the students, those who are sick or rely on state assistance, and those who live in poverty.  Enough.

In a Delaware State news article, JFC Co-Chair Melanie Smith brags about needing only $60 million in “soft cuts” while Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf says further cuts would be “drastic“.  Do these two even talk to each other?  They are in the same damn party.  Meanwhile, we have Senator Greg Lavelle preaching from his pulpit wanting the state to have even more cuts.  But both sides are not giving serious thought to State Rep. John Kowalko’s bills which would raise taxes on the wealthy of Delaware.  Hell, they spit in our faces in the House by passing the very ridiculous estate tax appeal last month.

Delaware Republicans, let’s get one thing straight: prevailing wage will NEVER happen as long as the Democrats hold power in the House and Senate.  It is a pipe dream.  Delaware Democrats, the Republicans will NEVER allow you to raise taxes on the wealthy.  Delaware citizens, we are screwed.

I believe they are making these “drastic” cuts in the JFC to cut to the heart of Delaware.  By going after the most vulnerable of Delaware citizens, they are hoping the legislators will cave and come up with some sort of short-term compromise to fix the budget.  Governor Markell left the station, but not without spending our way to prosperity.  But guess what, the bill came in for that spending and we have treated the state wallet like an ATM without any limits.

In Delaware, we have this insane tendency to vote the SAME people into office every election.  While there are some very good State Reps and Senators filling the halls in Dover, I fear we have reached a stalemate in Dover.  For far too many of our legislators it is about one thing: holding on to power and the next election.  The Delaware Way has become a steaming pile of horse manure.

Governor Carney and his office have shown no sign of getting rid of this stink in Delaware.  My recent FOIA complaint against Carney’s office over the Family Services Cabinet Council generated a response from his office.  Because the Attorney General’s office is still working on the legal opinion for this, all I can say is the response is one of the most insulting things I’ve read in my entire life.  It reeks of corruption and deals made behind closed doors.  The solution, which is Carney’s way of saying “Don’t mess with me Ohlandt, cause I will do what I want no matter what” screams of the very thing I have grown to expect in Delaware.  It evaporates hope and replaces it with a bad taste that no mouthwash could replace.  I can’t wait until this legal opinion comes out to the public so they can see firsthand what I am talking about.

Our children, poor, and sick should not be held hostage because these lawmakers think they can do what they want.  In the State News article, Matt Bittle discussed the decision by the JFC to hold off on meeting until later in June.  Bittle writes:

The move, an atypical one, minimizes public backlash and concern in response to spending reductions and gives the caucuses more time to come to an agreement on tax increases.

I disagree with this.  The public backlash is just beginning.  I see more discussion about what is going on with the budget this year than I’ve seen in years.  The very ugly move by the JFC yesterday on not allowing the cut sheets from yesterday to be released to the media or the public is the shadiest thing I’ve seen in my entire time blogging.  In response to cuts already made, I’m sure their phones and emails were lighting up like a Christmas tree.  Get over it.  It is your job to listen to your constituents, not to stifle their voices.  When you play games with people, don’t get upset when they voice their concerns over it.  Last I heard, freedom of speech was still a real thing.  Last I heard, we elected you to balance the budget, not to keep it from us.

Because of loop holes in state code, there are no-brainer ways to raise revenue in this state that are impossible because of budget allocations.  We could raise the gas tax but that would only go towards the transportation fund.  How about shifting that in state code so it would go to the general fund?  I would support a ten cent raise in the gas tax if it would dig us out of this mess that the General Assembly created in the first place.  It is things like that which make it impossible for me to give the General Assembly more than a shrug when this time of year comes around.  They need to think outside of their very small boxes and get creative.  Because I am sure they will get the same salary, benefits, and pensions.  Meanwhile, I know I am going to have to pay more for getting less in Delaware as will every single citizen in this state.  Except some of those really rich people who will bully legislators into making sure their shared sacrifice is palatable to their over-stuffed bank accounts.

I believe in Delaware.  I believe in the people of Delaware.  I don’t believe in our very corrupt state government who throws away their conscience in favor of lobbyists and back-door deals.  I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican.  The very second you replace a moral with some incentive, you have failed in your duty as an elected official.  That isn’t integrity.  It isn’t honesty.  It is the Delaware Way.

 

The Day Transparency Truly Died In Delaware

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee told a packed room they would not be releasing lists of budget cuts to the media or the public today.  This is truly disheartening.  Does this mean we can only rely on what is said verbally at their meetings?  Yes, I published a full list of the cuts up until yesterday.  But I assumed that information is public and never questioned once that it shouldn’t be.  I guess the Delaware Joint Finance Committee doesn’t want the public weighing in on all their cuts.  James Dawson with Delaware Public Media released the following tweet today in response to this:

As well, the JFC decided it won’t meet again this week to give the General Assembly time to come up with some revenue raising legislation.  To date, the JFC has cut $80 million from the budget with about $140 million left to go.  To say the situation is becoming serious would be an understatement.  Once again, Dawson released a tweet about this:

I attended probably the last third of the meeting today.  Since no sheets were released, I have nothing new to report.  I will rely on the mainstream media for that as they were in attendance the whole time.

When Governor Markell was Governor of Delaware, I complained about the lack of transparency constantly.  It doesn’t look like our JFC and Governor Carney’s office learned the lessons from the prior administration.  The people of Delaware deserve better than this.

 

About That Administrator Count Article…

I am never writing an article about administrator cuts ever again!  But seriously, after getting thrown on the fire for my post yesterday about school administrator counts and my suggestion that some should be cut, I am going to take a different approach to on this.  I appreciate the feedback from dozens of you on here and on social media.  To that end, I spoke with Tammy Croce, the Executive Director of the Delaware School Administrators Association today down at Legislative Hall.  She indicated the information I got was not correct, nor is the Delaware DOE’s information.  She said there are inherent flaws in the data reporting system and there is bad data out there.  She gave me a very good suggestion which I plan to take her up on.

I don’t mind posting information I receive from others, but I will be doing more homework on it in the future prior to posting it.  Perhaps the answer to this is somewhere in the middle.  It was not my attempt to badmouth every single administrator and to indicate they all suck.  I know tons of admins and they work their butt off morning, noon, and sometimes evenings.  I do know of some who got there through the buddy system and they really shouldn’t be there.  It is a complicated issue.  But I heard you loud and clear on Facebook, and you know who you are.  But let’s try not to get insulting and attempting to make me look like an idiot.  I have never pretended to get everything right, and when it comes to education, the transparency needs to drastically improve.  If you want to raise taxes on citizens to pay for education, than we as taxpaying citizens deserve to know where that money is going.  That is the unstated contract when taxpayers pay for our schools.  I wish more people would demand to know where the money is going!

I wish there were NO public education cuts.  I wish we knew where every penny the existing money is going towards.  I wish every district would list their admins along with job descriptions on their website.  I wish a lot of things.  What I can’t stand though is advocates for one district assuming the article was solely about THEIR district.  It wasn’t.  But when those same advocates kept questioning me on social media, I asked specific questions about their district and they either didn’t know the answer or didn’t want to provide it.  If you are going to defend something, please be prepared to back up your defense, that’s all I’m asking.  And as much as I may want to, I can’t go to every Citizens Budget Oversight Committee meeting.  To be honest, I can’t really get to most education meetings like I used to.  If they are close to where I live, that is one thing.  But trekking up to Wilmington all the time?  Not an option for me.  Which is why I try to have a social media presence with this blog, which I do on my own time, unpaid.

This is the part about education that baffles me.  Our state and our schools demand full transparency regarding our children: health records, test scores, academic progress, where they live, who they live with, discipline records, etc.  But when it comes time to demand transparency surrounding the adults in education and where the money is going, we fall far short in this state.  If you want to get mad, get mad.  To be frank, I expected much more  public outcry over charter schools keeping their share of the educational sustainment fund.  To me, that is a much more important issue than all this admin count discussion going on.

If anyone would care to assist, please reach out to me and we can swap ideas.

Governor Carney Shuts Out The Public With Family Services Cabinet Council And Screws Transparency & FOIA In Delaware

Delaware Governor John Carney is embarking down a very dangerous path.  I assume this is in response to my article last month about how the first meeting of the Family Services Cabinet Council was closed to the public.  Governor Carney rescinded his Executive Order #5 to create Executive Order #9 which established new wording in recreation of the Family Services Cabinet Council:

In accordance with the common law privilege protecting executive communications concerning the deliberative and policy-making processes, the records, investigations, internal communications, deliberations and draft work product of the Council shall be confidential and may be disclosed only at the direction of the Governor.

What kind of nonsense is this John Carney?  A Cabinet-level council, and you deliberately shut any discussion this group has out of the public eye?  The very term “deliberative and policy-making processes” demands it be open to the public.  You are full of it Governor Carney.  Your campaign promise and the part on your inaugural address about an open state government was a complete and utter lie.  We both know what will happen in these meetings.  Stop pretending you are a Governor and not a corporate puppet to the special interests that want to turn education and the workforce into their own molding.  I am done listening to anything you have to say.  With the stroke of a pen, in response to my article about transparency in your office, you have shown your true colors once and for all.  Shame on you Governor Carney.  You have destroyed FOIA in Delaware with this action by essentially excluding any of your Cabinet members on this charade of a Family Services Cabinet Council.  They can cite executive privilege in any FOIA request by stating it is tied to the activities of this council.  And with one line on this, you have made damn sure you can invite anyone to the party and protect them as well with no oversight or transparency whatsoever: “…and such others as the Governor shall invite.” But we will NEVER know who those others are, will we.  Open government my ass.  Dictatorship is more like it.

 

Governor Carney Is NOT Letting The Sunshine In!!!!

In February, Delaware Governor John Carney brought back the Family Services Cabinet Council through Executive Order #5.  Many in Delaware thought this was a good thing.  But apparently transparency took a backseat to this return.  The group met on Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 in a meeting that was closed to the public and press.  What is the point of this council if it is not able to be seen by the public?

I discovered this when I was looking at the Governor’s public schedule last week.  I also view the Delaware Public Meetings Calendar and did not see this on there.  I would have attended this meeting had it been made public but I never had the chance.

For a council that is responsible for recommendations for so many issues in Delaware, I am shocked they wouldn’t let the public in on it.  To that end, I emailed Governor Carney’s staff about this gross oversight on April 6th.  Over a week later and NO response.

This is the kind of crap I would expect from former Delaware Governor Jack Markell.  I truly hoped Governor Carney would be different.  But I am not seeing that marriage between the state and the public.  Especially with a council as important as this one.  So what are the areas this council covers that Carney doesn’t want the public to hear conversation about?

If this council isn’t open to the public will we ever see any minutes from their meetings?  Attendance?  Who else is invited?  What they are even doing?  I urge Governor Carney to answer these questions and make this council open to the public.  Delaware got an F for transparency and came in 49th out of 50 states in an evaluation of public transparency at the end of 2015.  That should have ended on January 17th, 2017, the day Governor Carney swore his oath of office and promised the citizens of Delaware he would listen to the people.  I expect more from you Governor Carney!

For those who have been following this blog the past few years, I have written many articles about the eventual goals of the corporate education reformers and this council seems to be moving things along in that direction.  Especially when it comes to strengthening the “public-private partnerships”.

The mission of the Council shall be to design and implement new service alternatives for school and community-based family-centered services, and otherwise act as a catalyst for public-private partnerships to reduce service fragmentation and make it easier for families to get supportive services.

In a nutshell, this is inviting non-profits into our schools.  While some may see this as a step in the right direction, I am hesitant to think this is the cure for what ails the youth of Delaware.  Every single time a company, whether it is for-profit or non-profit, comes into our schools, it is siphoning money away from students and into the more than welcoming hands of corporations.  With that comes bad education policy because the corporations only make money off education if there is something to fix.  The measurement of what needs to be “fixed” is the standardized test, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  If there is one thing we have learned in Delaware it is the Smarter Balanced Assessment is very flawed and their consortium is extremely non-transparent and secretive.

Carney was also instrumental in getting the whole Blockchain thing going in Delaware.  If you want your children to morph into drones in the Common Core/personalized learning/digital tech/stealth testing/digital badge environment than please ignore this article.

As citizens of Delaware, we need to demand transparency from Governor Carney.  Please call the Governor’s office today.  The Dover office phone number is (302) 744-4101 and the Wilmington office phone number is (302) 577-3210.  Or you can email him here: Email Governor Carney

Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?

Last Friday, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques responded to a post I put up on Facebook concerning the Delaware State Auditor’s office.  One of his replies was news to me as well as everyone else I asked about this reveal. Continue reading “Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?”

FOIA Complaint From Newark Legislators Puts University Of Delaware In The Hot Seat

Several Newark, Delaware legislators submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the Delaware Attorney General’s office last Spring.  The response to the complaint came out today.

State Representatives Paul Baumbach, John Kowalko, and Ed Osienski, and State Senators Karen Peterson, David Sokola and Bryan Townsend felt the University of Delaware violated FOIA with the posting of an agenda about a change to their bylaws.  The Attorney General’s response opined the Board of Trustees at the University did violate FOIA by not posting a specific resolution they would be voting on in the agenda.  The AG’s office stated even if the public had some knowledge of what could be happening it still falls on a public board to give notice of the proposed action item on an agenda.

As a result of the FOIA complaint, the University Board of Trustees will vote again on the bylaws at their December board meeting.  The AG opinion wants the board to have an open and public discussion surrounding this vote.

I have been hard on Sokola in the past, for what I believe are good reasons.  I wish he would demand the same transparency from charter schools.  Have you ever seen some of their board agendas?  I hardly ever see any action items on them even though they constantly vote on items.

Fraud & Cover-Up Evade Transparency Through Attorney General Matt Denn’s Office

defoiadeclaration

A pungent stench is coming from Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act.  When the Delaware Attorney General’s office gets the facts wrong on a response to a FOIA complaint, the only way for a Delaware citizen to correct those errors is to file with the Superior Court.  Which costs money and fills the state coffers.  Can someone please remind me why I pay taxes for a state where our Governor feels “sunshine is the best disinfectant“?

The response I received two days ago from Matt Denn’s office stems from my FOIA complaint and the Delaware Dept. of Justice’s response to that FOIA which came out on October 28th.  The Delaware Pathways Steering Committee did not publish their first meeting anywhere and I filed a complaint.  Considering the DOJ is still working on a FOIA complaint I submitted last March, it seems there was a rush to put the matter concerning Governor Markell’s Executive Ordered Delaware Pathways Steering Committee to bed.

When I emailed Denn’s office to reevaluate the FOIA response the same day, I didn’t hear back from anyone.  On Tuesday I sent an email to Matt Denn asking for any type of response to my October 28th request.  On Wednesday, I received the below email from Kim Siegel, Denn’s FOIA Coordinator.  I did edit out part of the email which covered a separate matter I am working on with Denn’s office.

From: OpenGovernment (DOJ) <OpenGovernment@state.de.us>
To:
Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent:
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 4:04 PM
Subject:
October 28, 2016 determination

Dear Mr. Ohlandt, 

Attorney General Denn has asked me to respond to the issues raised in your December 6, 2016 e-mail.  Your e-mail makes reference to an October 28, 2016 determination by the Chief Deputy Attorney General in response to a FOIA petition regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee.  Under the Delaware Code, a petitioner who is dissatisfied with the outcome of a FOIA determination by the Chief Deputy Attorney General may “appeal the matter on the record to Superior Court.”  Therefore, if you wish to appeal the determination, that is the mechanism under Delaware law by which to do so.  

Sincerely,

Kim Siegel, MPA
Legislative Affairs Manager

FOIA Coordinator
Delaware Department of Justice

So if I am understanding this correctly, when a citizen alleges a public body has violated FOIA, which is the law, the public body can skirt around the law and give false information.  But when the citizen calls them out on it, through a request for appeal, suddenly the DOJ decides the law is important.  The mechanism for appeal is not fair at all to a citizen looking for transparency.

What is the point of a Freedom of Information Act request if the agency looking at it refuses to look at all the facts from both sides?  This is typically how it is done- a party files a complaint with the facts as they know them, the DOJ sends the complaint to the party that had the FOIA complaint filed against them, the defending party sends a response, the DOJ sends the defendant agency’s response to the accuser, and then the DOJ rules on the complaint.  I have had FOIA complaints in the past that dragged out because the DOJ wanted more information.  Apparently, that was not the case with this complaint.  The DOJ Chief Deputy Attorney General came out with this FOIA response in record time without any chance of obtaining more information on the matter.

governorsunshine

Official Delaware Bullying Report Shows Too Many Schools Are Fudging Numbers And Reasons For Bullying

The Delaware Dept. of Education officially released their 2015-2016 school bullying report.  The report has a lot of good information, but how they lumped certain schools together is just wrong.  One thing to keep in mind is that these reports only reflect what is submitted to the Delaware DOE through the eSchool tracking system.

Charter schools are listed in two categories: those in New Castle County and the rest that are in Kent and Sussex counties.  For the vo-tech school districts, they are listed as “technical” schools.  Which is ironic because there are more students in each vo-tech then in Delmar School District.  As well, the Vo-Techs are all high schools.  The report does not give a breakdown of schools or the grades for the students.  Those are pretty important parts which would give a more accurate picture about what goes on with bullying.

What this report does not reflect is the amount of times teachers may want to submit a bullying report but they are ignored by administration at the school.  Or if bullying is weighted less in an incident over something like offensive touching (most likely fighting) so a bullying incident is not reported by the school.  I believe if a fight starts because of bullying, that should be recorded as well.

The actual report by the DOE lists the alleged incidents over the past five years separately from the substantiated incidents.  This does not give a reader an accurate reflection of true trends within a district or the DOE’s own self-created “districts”.  For as much as the DOE brags about their data capabilities and need for tracking data, this report is lacking in a great deal of information.  Luckily for you, I spent a few hours breaking it down and putting it all together.  The first number for each year is the alleged number of bullying reports submitted by the school.  The second number is the amount of those reports that were substantiated as bullying.  I have some insight after the numbers…

Appoquinimink

12-13     233        73          31.3%

13-14     164        24           14.6%

14-15     237         32           13.5%

15-16     304        35           11.5%

Brandywine

12-13     108        93          86.1%

13-14     63          79           125.4%*

14-15     37          37           100%

15-16     49          21           42.9%

Caesar Rodney

12-13     211        32           15.2%

13-14     118        40           33.9%

14-15     75          14           18.7%

15-16     103        27           26.2%

Cape Henlopen

12-13     42          19           45.2%

13-14     39          13           33.3%

14-15     77          26           33.85

15-16     53          18           34.0%

Capital

12-13     80          28           35.0%

13-14     58          25           65.8%

14-15     51          18           35.3%

15-16     28          15          53.6%

Christina

12-13     130        65           50.0%

13-14     114        38           33.3%

14-15     183        65           47.1%

15-16     134        55           41.0%

Colonial

12-13     248        44           17.7%

13-14     97          37           38.1%

14-15     81          63           77.7%

15-16     116        50          43.1%

Delmar

12-13     90          10           11.1%

13-14     0              6              0 0.0%*

14-15     58          3              5.2%

15-16     25          2             8.0%

Indian River

12-13     215        39          18.1%

13-14     150        25          16.7%

14-15     92          21          22.8%

15-16     252        51          20.2%

Lake Forest

12-13     49          37          75.5%

13-14     30          12          40.0%

14-15     34          1             3.0%

15-16     58          12          20.7%

Laurel

12-13     18          23          127.8%*

13-14     37          18          48.6%

14-15     28          12          42.9%

15-16     27          16          59.3%

Milford

12-13     116        20          17.2%

13-14     31          26          83.9%

14-15     37          15          40.5%

15-16     43          23          53.5%

Red Clay

12-13     596        121        20.3%

13-14     453        132        29.1%

14-15     415        102        24.6%

15-16     428        61          14.3%

Seaford

12-13     28          16          57.1%

13-14     17          18           105.9%*

14-15     34          8              23.5%

15-16     40          21          52.5%

Smyrna

12-13     69          13          18.8%

13-14     47          18          38.3%

14-15     57          20          35.1%

15-16     55          19          34.5%

Woodbridge

12-13     34          8              23.5%

13-14     15          10           66.7%

14-15     4             1              25.0%

15-16     25          9              36.0%

Technical Schools (the three vo-tech school districts)

12-13     44          36           81.8%

13-14     30          67           223.3%*

14-15     18          67           372.2%*

15-16     37          42           113.5%*

Charters: NCC

12-13     89          9              10.1%

13-14     107        22           20.6%

14-15     134        28           20.9%

15-16     125        17           13.6%

Charters: Kent and Sussex

12-13     46          27           58.7%

13-14     72          22           30.6%

14-15     54          10           18.5%

15-16     69          20           29.0%

 

State Totals

12-13     2446      713         29.15%

13-14     1642      632         38.49%

14-15     1706      543         31.8%

15-16     1971      514         26.1%

 

Okay, first off, what the hell is up with the Vo-Tech numbers?  How can you have more substantiated bullying incidents and less actual reporting of alleged incidents?  It doesn’t make any mathematical sense whatsoever.  And the fact this has continued for three years in a row, someone at the DOE is dropping the ball.  Or the DOE messed up the report.  If it is the former, why isn’t the DOE giving technical assistance to the vo-techs on how to accurately report bullying?  If it is the latter, come on guys!  I’ve been asking for this report for weeks but you need to check your numbers.  Aside from the vo-techs, any of the above entries with an asterisk next to it shows the same mathematical anomaly.  With all due respect, John Sadowski runs the school climate and discipline unit at the DOE and I have always found him to be very helpful when I look for information.

I don’t trust a lot of these numbers.  I don’t believe many of our schools are actually reporting everything to the DOE.  Nor do I believe a lot of the substantiated numbers.  I will give a margin of error for students filing false claims or parents overreacting.  But not that big of a margin!  In the first year of this required reporting, I can give some slack as schools tried to figure it all out.  But it is three years later so there should be no excuses.  I don’t like the downward trend in substantiated bullying that is happening as a state, especially in districts like Red Clay, Appoquinimink and the New Castle County charters.  I don’t like the lack of consistency across the districts and charters.  I don’t believe any of the substantiated numbers that are below 35%, and that is stretching the credibility factor on my part.  I’ve always felt many schools in our state do less than the bare minimum when it comes to bullying reporting.  This report proves it.

What makes the reporting given by the schools even more unbelievable is the listed reason for the substantiated bullying incident.  “Peer Attention” and “Other” make up over two thirds of the listed reasons.  That sparks of laziness on the school’s part.  Almost anything could be put into those categories.  But they fail to capture a true reason for the victim of the bullying and why a bully would target someone.  For all the anti-bullying campaigns in schools, if we can’t get accuracy in the reporting of it we won’t be able to eradicate bullying unless we truly understand what is going on.  We need honesty and fairness.  If schools are operating in an environment of fear in reporting truthfully with bullying, then we need to tackle that as well.  But no school is doing anyone any favors by not reporting what is actually happening.  And if teachers continue to be ignored by administrators over bullying reporting, that is something legislation should take care of as soon as possible.

bullying5yrreasons

Here is the actual report issued by the Delaware DOE:

 

 

Indian River Has A Referendum In One Week. Where Is The Audit Investigation?

Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner promised the citizens of Indian River School District the audit investigation his office is working on would be released before their referendum.  I assumed it would be released at least a week before the referendum to give the citizens in the district enough time to digest it.  I pray to God his office does not release it the day before to soften the blow.  We all know there will be some very serious stuff in there.  We know something happened in this district.  A chief financial officer with a checkered past in another district doesn’t get put on leave and then “resign” a month later unless something very serious went on.  When is Delaware going to stop playing this game?  When will full transparency actually happen in this state?  I feel citizens should have at least a week for this so perhaps the district should put in a request with the Delaware Dept. of Elections to postpone the referendum.

You Have Two Choices Next Tuesday: Vote For Sean Goward Or Pray For Delaware

goward

John Carney…no.  Colin Bonini…no.  Sean Goward…YES!  Next Tuesday, do the right thing and vote for Sean Goward for Delaware Governor.  There isn’t another choice.  It is essential.  If you want to hear another four years of useless sound bites coming from a Governor that is just following the script and Delaware students losing out even more, then I suggest you begin praying for the future of Delaware.  I think Bonini and Carney are nice guys.  But Governor material?  No.  Politicians?  Yes.  But we desperately need something different in Delaware.  We need someone who will take the bull by the horns and really shake things up.  Someone who will clear the rot in the foundation of this state.

I’ve met Goward a couple of times.  I’ve had long conversations with him.  Back in September, I posted an article where I asked 32 really tough questions on education to the Governor candidates.  All but Carney responded.  He wanted to wait to come out with his “education platform”.  I read that document.  It was a love song for the Delaware Dept. of Education and Rodel and their big plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Bonini’s responses to my questions were okay in some areas, but his schtick about failing schools based on standardized test schools is unacceptable given everything he should know by now about Delaware education.

But Goward?  He gets it.  He understands the absolute crap being foisted on Delaware students and teachers.  He knows about all the corporate education reform going on.  He accepts that Delaware has a lot of issues as a whole and we need to clear out the rot.  When I hear people complaining about things in this state, and not the usual political/corporate jargon thrown around, but the real issues and problems, I see Sean Goward as being the best person to lead this state.  We need radical change.  Our two-party system just plain doesn’t work anymore.  I would love to see a come from behind third-party candidate like Sean Goward actually win next Tuesday.  He is Libertarian.  Who cares?  In the end, does the label matter more than the person behind the label?  What that person stands for?  Their inner integrity?  Labels aren’t getting Delaware anywhere.  Party loyalty is crippling this state, as well as our country, more than anything else.

I’m asking you to take a chance on Sean Goward.  I’m asking you to take a chance on a better Delaware.  A more transparent state that people can actually be proud of.  We need someone who won’t bend to lobbyists and corporate interests.  Someone who will lead this state based on the will of the people, not those who throw pies in the sky with ten year visions.  Our children deserve better than the other two guys.  Our families do.  Our state does.  Vote for Sean Goward on November 8th.  Vote for a leader of the people.

The Delaware Pathways Docs… Open Your Eyes Delaware And See The Manipulation…

Yesterday, the Delaware Attorney General’s office opened up Delaware to the world of the Delaware Pathways.  Granted, this had to come in the form of a FOIA complaint from yours truly.  But feast your eyes on all the big plans rolled around this initiative.  An initiative so big Governor Markell had to issue an Executive Order when the General Assembly said no thanks to legislation creating a Steering Committee around the Pathways gig.  Given how much is tied into this thing: Common Core, the state assessments, millions upon millions of dollars of state funding, outside businesses, all three of our major colleges, etc., is it any wonder this group has tried to keep things hush as long as they can?  All I can say is whenever Rodel gets involved, something goes wonky with transparency.  So what is “Work-Based Learning” and “Working To Learn”?  The answers lie within.  If you oppose this, let your voice be heard now.  I do not believe it is a coincidence at all that Delaware will be handing in the first draft of their Every Student Succeeds Act state plan in the next few days.  Between this and the ESSA state plan, with all the smoke and mirrors involved with that, NOW is the time to be extra vigilant.  Read every single word in these documents.  Every.  Single.  One.

Attorney General Opinion On Delaware Pathways Steering Committee Issued Today Is Sloppy, Inconsistent, & Incorrect

On October 7th, the Delaware Pathways Steering Committee held their first meeting with no public notice or an agenda put up 7 days prior to the meeting as required by Delaware state code.  In August, Delaware Governor Jack Markell issued an Executive Order creating this public body.  The only reason I found out about it was due to tweets from the Rodel Foundation and Mark Brainard of Delaware Tech.  I promptly filed a FOIA complaint on October 11th.  Seventeen days later, the Delaware Attorney General’s office has already responded to the FOIA complaint.  To put this in perspective, I filed a FOIA complaint last March which just had the Attorney General opinion issued last week.  BI submitted another FOIA complaint around that same time period and there has been no official opinion released from the Attorney General’s office.  But Alison May from the Delaware DOE did respond in record time with their side of the complaint, but she has before.  So why was this FOIA complaint rushed?

Below is my original request, the acknowledgment from the Attorney General’s office, the Delaware DOE’s response to the complaint, and the opinion on the FOIA complaint issued today.  As well, I am including an email that was still in draft form disputing the facts provided by Alison May in the Delaware DOE’s response.  I truly believed I had more time given the turnaround time on FOIA complaints coming out of the AG’s office but this one had a lightning fast response.  Given the below findings and other inconsistencies with their opinion, I believe this was a very rushed job they wanted to put to bed fast.  But that opens up a whole other can of worms…

Original FOIA Complaint, issued 10/11/16

From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 9:23 AM
To: OpenGovernment (DOJ) <OpenGovernment@state.de.us>
Subject: FOIA Complaint

 

 Good morning,

I am submitting a FOIA complaint in regards to the newly created Pathways Steering Committee.  This body came out of Executive Order #61, issued by Governor Markell on Thursday, August 11th, 2016.  While there was nothing anywhere indicating they were holding a meeting, tweets appeared on October 7th suggesting the body met as a group.  This is a state group, created by an elected official.  Yet there was no posting of the meeting or an agenda.  Attached are screen shots of the tweets posted by Mark Brainard and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  

I take this violation very seriously.  For a group that is supposed to be all about students, I find it ironic they would operate in secrecy with no ability for the public to attend.  This does not translate into anything close to an open government.  

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

9 Crosley Court

Dover, DE 19904

On October 12th, the Delaware Attorney General acknowledged receipt of my FOIA Complaint

October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

VIA EMAIL

 

Mr. Kevin Ohlandt

9 Crosley Ct.
Dover, DE 19904
kevino@yahoo.com

RE:     October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

Dear Mr. Ohlandt:

            This will acknowledge receipt of your correspondence regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee (the “Committee”), received on October 11, 2016, alleging certain violations of the open meetings provisions of Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. §§ 10001-10007 (“FOIA”). We treat your correspondence as a petition for determination pursuant to 29 Del. C. § 10005.  We are forwarding your correspondence to the Committee’s counsel, asking that they respond to your allegations by October 19, 2016.  When we have received the Committee’s response, we will determine whether additional information from either party is required and decide what further action, if any, is appropriate.

Very truly yours, 

                                                                        /s/ Kim Siegel

                                                                        Kim Siegel

                                                                        FOIA Coordinator

KS/ks

cc:        Danielle Gibbs, Chief Deputy Attorney General (via email)

            Michelle E. Whalen, Deputy Attorney General (via email)

            Meredith S. Tweedie, Esq. (via email)

The Delaware Department of Education’s Response to the FOIA Complaint, 10/19/16

Issued today was the official opinion from the Delaware Attorney General’s office:

16-IB23 10/28/2016 FOIA Opinion Letter to Mr. Kevin Ohlandt re: FOIA Complaint Concerning the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

This is the draft I was working on to send to the Attorney General’s office that I believed I had more time to formulate:

October 26th, 2016

Good afternoon Ms. Siegel,

In reviewing Alison May from the Dept. of Education’s response to my FOIA complaint from October 11th, in the letter provided from her on October 19th, she states the following:

…and the draft minutes of the October 7th meeting (attached hereto, along with the other documents discussed at the meeting) will be posted online by the end of this week.
In doing an extensive search this afternoon, I have not been able to see anywhere in the State of Delaware, on the Delawarepathways.org website, or any such place on the World Wide Web where Alison May’s assurance of transparency actually took place.
This attempt at a good-faith effort on the Dept. of Education’s response to the complaint seems a bit odd considering this does not exist.  And while I know the Governor is not obligated to publicly report on where he speaks publicly, the fact that no documentation exists anywhere in regards to this meeting on the internet aside from I wrote about it on Exceptional Delaware and a few tweets from those associated with this group, I find that to be very suspect.  While Ms. May states “this was an oversight on the part of the involved State agencies and organizations and not an intentional effort to circumvent FOIA requirements” in her response, the very minutes she attached to the DOE’s response indicate Luke Rhine from the Department of Education would be in charge of coordinating staffing.  And since Alison May from the Dept. of Education was the responding party for the response to the complaint, that leads me to the belief that the Delaware Dept. of Education would have been the State Agency to fulfill FOIA requirements for a public body.  Since they did not, I take issue with Ms. May’s response about not coordinating with other state agencies and do not believe that to be a true statement. In regards to the reasoning for not making this meeting public to the citizens of Delaware, a statement of “oversight” bears little meaning in the contextual framework of following state code.
In a prior FOIA complaint of mine against the Delaware Dept. of Education, #15-IB12, Danielle Gibbs, the Chief Deputy Attorney General wrote:
The DOE provided no explanation as to why the notices and agendas were posted less than seven days in advance of the meetings, and it concedes that the postings did not comply with FOIA.  The DOE also explained that no action was taken by the AFWG at either meeting.  The DOE apologized and said it would “endeavor to determine the agenda of any future AFWG meetings as of the time of any required public notice of them, and include the agenda in any such required notice.
The notices and agendas for the AFWG meetings held in September violated FOIA because they were not posted at least seven days in advance of the meeting as required by 29 Del. C. §10004(e)(2).  We find that these errors were technical violations that did not negatively affect substantial public rights.[17]  Therefore, we find that no remediation is required.”
Given that the words “substantial public rights” means no action was taken at those meetings, it was during a regulatory process for Regulation 103 where key issues concerning that regulation would have been discussed at the AFWG meetings.  So in a finding that “substantial public rights” did not apply in that situation with pending legislative action, I take issue with that.  As well, in the attached minutes from the minutes for the Pathways Steering Committee, there is talk of legislative action and a discussion with the Delaware General Assembly.
In FOIA Complaint #13-IB05, issued October 1st, 2013, citizens filed a complaint against the Charter School Reform Working Group in regards to having closed-door meetings not open to the public.  In that Attorney General opinion, it states the following:
By letters dated July 31 and August 1, 2012, the Governor extended invitations to a number of individuals to participate in the Working Group as representatives of several public bodies, including the General Assembly, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, and various private stakeholder groups (the “Invitations”).
While that opinion was an appeal to an earlier complaint, it states the following:
On June 10, 2013, you filed this appeal seeking access to the Working Group’s meeting minutes.  We received a response on July 11, 2013.  The response indicates that the Working Group did not consider itself to be a “public body” within the meaning of section 10002(h), due primarily to the informal nature of the Working Group.

FOIA, with certain exceptions not relevant here, establishes a public right to inspect all “public records” and requires that all meetings of public bodies be open to the public.4   FOIA’s “open meeting” provisions call for advance notice to the public of all public meetings and require public bodies to prepare and make available to the public agendas for and minutes of their public meetings.5

Section 10002(h) provides substantial guidance as to the types of entities and bodies encompassed within the phrase “body of the State.”  That concept, as used in FOIA, includes, among other things, any “group . . . appointed by any . . . public official of the State” that was “impliedly or specifically charged” with making recommendations.9   The Working Group was a “body of the State” within the meaning of section 10002(h).

But the key part from this opinion rests on the following and is key to my own FOIA complaint:

First, this Office consistently has rejected arguments that FOIA’s applicability hinges on adherence to formalities in the creation of a public body, lest FOIA’s goals of openness and government accountability be subverted.14

This was where my draft ended which I fully intended on doing further research on in the next week.

Now here are my issues with the Attorney General’s response to the FOIA complaint.  First off, in Alison May’s response from the Delaware DOE, she said it was under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s control to issue the agenda.  However, in the link on the FOIA complaint, we see an Agenda created on 10/17/16, ten days after the meeting, and it was issued from Governor Markell’s office, not the Delaware DOE.  Furthermore, if this was indeed a public body, why was there no agenda item for public comment?  As well, the minutes submitted by Alison May in the DOE’s response to the FOIA complaint are actually different than those that appear on the Googledrive website.

In the original minutes, submitted with Alison May in the Delaware DOE response to my FOIA complaint, it states the following:

Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;

Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;

But in the minutes on the Googledrive for the steering committee, it said this:
Mr. Rhine will conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;
Mr. Rhine will develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;
While the two items look very similar on the surface, the action of taking out Dr. Brainard from the updated minutes which were created on October 24th by Luke Rhine, which the Googledrive suggests that no action was directed to Luke Rhine, the main Delaware Dept. of Education representative, when in reality it was.  This change is substantial.  The opinion issued today states that no action was taken at this meeting so the perception that no “substantial public rights” violations occurred by not making a public body meeting public is visibly changed between the two meeting minutes.  As well, if the Delaware DOE is the state entity that answered the FOIA complaint and is in charge of posting information about it, why is there absolutely nothing on the Career and Technical Education portion of their website?
We are also expected to believe the minutes and agenda they presented are accurate when they were created at the earliest, six days after the meeting, and at the latest, seventeen days after the meeting:
dtccgoogledrivepathways
As well, the response from the Attorney General’s response today shows a link to a website that was not included in the original DOE response to the complaint which means there was further communication between the Attorney General’s office and the parties to which I issued the FOIA complaint against.  In all other FOIA complaints I have submitted, I have been a party to those communications every single step of the way but not with this one.
The Deputy Attorney General who wrote this opinion, Danielle Gibbs, handled a FOIA opinion from a complaint I submitted in 2015.  She made sure I received all communication from the Delaware DOE on that every single step of the way.  But this time I guess I wasn’t so blessed.  She actually wrote in the FOIA opinion issued today:

Moreover, as you note in your Petition, certain members of the Committee published photographs of its meeting on social media either, contemporaneously or immediately following the meeting. We find this to be inconsistent with an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions. We see no evidence of an intent – by the Governor or any other Committee member – to circumvent FOIA. Nor do we see an ongoing pattern of FOIA non-compliance which might warrant extreme remedy.

Here is a newsflash for the Attorney General’s office: having a non-profit foundation and a member of the committee post tweets about a non-transparent meeting of a public body issued by a Governor’s Executive Order, does not point either way towards an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions.  What it shows is someone tweeting.  So to give this extra bearing in a legal opinion about something that was already established to be under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s responsibility is misleading at best.

When you go to this website, there are also extensive plans and reports, involving millions upon millions of dollars of funding.  I would think that would be crucial for the public to see.
pathwaysstrategicplan
To see these large amounts of funds being talked about over the next three fiscal years, please go here: DE Pathways Priority 4 Funding Plan 10/6/16.  Feast your eyes on this document, created on October 6th, one day prior to the Steering Committee meeting.  Furthermore, the two entities planning this funding are not even state agencies, they are 3rd party non-profit companies: United Way of Delaware and the Rodel Foundation.
We have three entities involved with this FOIA complaint: the Delaware Dept. of Education, Governor Markell’s office, and Delaware Technical Community College.  How did the college get involved?  If you look at the Googledrive, the website is listed as:
This is a Del Tech website.  Why is Del Tech storing the minutes for this when it is supposed to be under the authority of the DOE?  And why is Markell’s office issuing the agenda (ten days after the fact)?  When I do a Google search for the past month using “pathways” “steering committee” “dtcc” and “minutes”, nothing comes up on the search.  So how would anyone be able to find these minutes without seeing them in a response to a FOIA complaint?  Even if I take out “dtcc” and replace it with “Delaware” nothing comes up.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the meeting minutes even discussing minutes or where these minutes were to be stored for public consumption.  I believe this to be a very sloppy response from all parties involved and further contend this Pathways Steering Committee is not making a good faith effort with transparency.  By allowing this public body to be open to the public, all three parties involved seemed to have communicated extensively with each other after I filed a FOIA complaint.  I will also add that additional communication provided by the other parties to the Delaware Attorney General’s office needs to be provided to me by the Delaware Attorney General’s office post haste.  The Attorney General opinion states it reviewed the website of the Steering Committee but the only way they would have been able to review that was by getting a link for it.  Since there is no viable way to search for this Steering Committee through internet search engines, I contend they were given this website by someone involved with it.
This Pathways Steering Committee, that is making gigantic decisions about students, in secondary and post-secondary setting, with plans for huge amounts of money at state and local levels, is all about substantial public rights.  When the General Assembly decided not to move forward with the Pathways Steering Committee as sponsored by Senator David Sokola with Senate Bill 277, Governor Markell took it upon himself to issue an Executive Order to create this committee.  When our Governor doesn’t get his way with the General Assembly, it seems he has the authority to bypass that with Executive Orders.
What is the point of a FOIA complaint if the Delaware Department of Justice, under the control of the Delaware Attorney General, has no ability to do anything substantial or with any consequences in regards to a FOIA complaint?  Why did they rush through the opinion on this FOIA Complaint without really checking into everything?  Why was there (in my view) an intentional attempt to lock me out of communication concerning this FOIA complaint when that has not happened in the past?  These are the things I want answers for, as well as Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn himself to issue a statement that this public body has to reconvene their October 7th meeting so the public is well aware of this Steering Committee that is deciding the future of thousands of Delaware students with significant amounts of taxpayer funds.
Updated, 4:53pm, 10/28/16: Since I finished this article, I can now see on the Delaware DOE website where they did a link to this on their website.  But it is filled with completely wrong information, as seen below.  First off, this is not a “task force”, it is a “steering committee”.  Second, it was not passed into law on June 14th, 2016 through Senate Bill 277.  It became law through Governor Markell’s Executive Order #61, issued on August 11th, 2016.  Senate Bill 277 was released from the Senate Education Committee on June 15th, 2016, but it never came up for a vote with the full Senate and the bill died as of the end of the 148th General Assembly on July 1st, 2016.
dedoetaskforces

The Kathleen Davies Mystery Deepens As Charter School Petty Cash Letters Come Out & Many Charters Get Sue-Happy

Delaware is missing one of the key players in transparency thanks to a deliberate campaign orchestrated by one or many.  Because of this, it may have cleared the way for many charter schools to launch a lawsuit in Delaware.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams exclusively released the letters sent to five Delaware charter schools about their petty cash practices last night.  They showed some very extreme violations of state code.  As well, letters were sent to four other state agencies.  These letters were sent by Tom Wagner, the publicly elected Delaware State Auditor, on June 21st to the following charter schools:  Odyssey Charter School, Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy, and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  The state agencies Wagner sent letters to addressing the petty cash violations of state code were the following: Department of Education (Secretary Godowsky), Department of Finance (Secretary Tom Cook), Division of Accounting (Director Kristopher Knight), and the State Treasurer (Ken Simpler).  These letters were never publicly released from Tom Wagner or the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Originally, this was an audit inspection and that report would have been released.  But before that happened, the Delaware Auditor of Accounts top official, Kathleen Davies, was put on leave last spring.  Now we can clearly see why.

Before I get into the results of the letters to the five charter schools, we need to look at motive.  The key to any mystery is “Who benefits”?  That benefit could be the ability to keep something hidden or being able to reap some type of positive outcome from the situation.

We have so many who could have done it: Ann Visalli, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Kendall Massett, Senator David Sokola, Charlie Copeland, Nick Manolakos, and others as well.  We can’t forget the potential role Greg Meece may have contributed either.  State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett are very tight and the DOE is in the same building as the Auditor of Accounts Office.  It could be a combination of any of these people.  It could have even come down from the very top, Governor Markell himself.

Out of all these entities, one of them leads the pack in Delaware when it comes to offering charter schools advice and protection.  That would be the Delaware Charter Schools Network, led by Executive Director Kendall Massett.  When it comes to charter schools, I have no doubt Kendall is in a key position to communicate issues to charter school leaders.  Some charter schools are run by ex-legislators in some sort of capacity.  Former State Rep. Nick Manolakos is the Head of School for Odyssey Charter School.  Delaware GOP Chair Charlie Copeland is the President of the Board of Directors for Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security.  Both are prominent Republicans in Delaware.  Many on the Sussex Academy Board of Directors are also Republican.  Odyssey Charter School and Delaware Military Academy clearly had the most egregious of petty cash violations out of the five charters.  I can imagine the pressure on Tom Wagner from all sides could easily have prompted his decision to make Kathleen Davies go away.

 

Odyssey Charter School:

  1. petty cash fund not approved by State Treasurer and checking account used for petty cash not approved by State Treasurer
  2. 53 petty cash checks over state limit of $500.00, totaled $303,451.65
  3. 57 debit transactions from petty cash account over state limit of $500.00, totaled $326,574.05
  4. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $88,979.83

Delaware Military Academy:

  1. had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian
  3. checks signed with two signatures but each check signed by Account Custodian who can’t sign checks
  4. 30 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $114,111.08
  5. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $20,589.31
  6. failed to provide receipts or invoices for check of $1000.00 for “lunch start-up costs”

Charter School of Wilmington:

  1. had no written polices and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliations done by Account Custodian, was performed by Chief Financial Officer who was not the Account Custodian
  3. no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
  4. 13 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $11,228.90
  5. had debit transaction from petty cash account for $4,000, well over the $500 limit, which was transferred to another CSW account
  6. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $6,174.10

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security:

  1. had no written policies and procedures for petty cash
  2. never had account reconciliation done by anyone, including the Account Custodian
  3. no checks signed with two signatures, only signed by CFO who was not the Account Custodian
  4. 8 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $6,440.11

Sussex Academy:

  1. 5 petty cash checks over state limit of $500, totaled $16,377.05
  2. maintained petty cash account over $5,000 limit, average monthly balance was $26,689.95

 

So let me get this straight.  Kathleen Davies was working on finalizing this report, showing five Delaware charter schools breaking the law, but she got put out to pasture?  And all the charters got was these “don’t do it again” letters?  That were NEVER released to the public, until now?  And look at the cc: on the letter to Godowsky.  All charter school leaders and board presidents.  My theory that Kathleen Davies was put on leave for bogus purposes is actually proven in the letters to the charter schools.  As the News Journal wrote, Ann Visalli with the Office of Management and Budget followed up on a complaint by unnamed individuals at the Auditor of Accounts Office.  As a result, Davies was placed on leave (six months after the tip was submitted to OMB) because she failed to use a procurement card for travel purposes and went through the also-existing state reimbursement program.  But in the letters to the charters, that standard doesn’t seem to exist because Wagner writes:

We also recommend using a State-issued procurement card (PCard) or direct claim through First State Financials when possible.  Regardless of the method of payment, supporting documentation must be maintained for all transactions.

So by Wagner’s own advice to the charters, what Kathleen Davies did is perfectly acceptable.  She followed the procedure.  Maybe not a preferred procedure, but a procedure nonetheless.  Which makes Ann Visali’s actions a complete and utter crock.  A complete and utter lie meant to disgrace the one person at the Auditor of Accounts office who was doing their job, and doing it well.  But no, instead we get these non-transparent letters from Tom Wagner.  And he has the gall to ask Godowsky to collaborate with him on “an event” to make sure all the charter schools know this, even though their leaders and board presidents were included in the letter to Godowsky?  How much more special treatment and hand-holding do the charters need to understand the law?  Do they need circle time to get this right State Auditor Wagner?  This obvious fraud going on in our State Auditor’s office is completely out of control, matched only by that of the Department of Education.

This whole debacle comes down to this: someone or maybe even a group of individuals is protecting charter schools in Delaware.  They have enough power and clout to make things disappear or just focus on other aspects surrounding it to cloud the issues.  We are seeing this with the charter school lawsuit and I have to wonder if the petty cash information was not made public because of that looming timebomb.  One can only assume the charters were given some type of direction in their process for having the DOE review exclusions districts submit for their local funding formulas.  They clearly knew the results before the districts did as evidenced by the emails between the finance office of the DOE and charter school leaders.  They also had to have known there would be some major blowback from the districts and advocates for the districts based on that.  If not, they are complete and utter idiots who truly underestimate the will and resolve of people in Delaware traditional school districts.

This is my new working theory: the charters knew they would wind up filing suit on the local funding formula.  I think they knew Godowsky was intentionally kept out of the loop on this and when the public found out about the new charter bills going out to the districts with very elevated amounts, Secretary Godowsky would be forced by public pressure to reverse course.  As a result, they would be free to sue the Christina School District and the Delaware Dept. of Education for something they wanted to happen in the first place- a big, fat, and juicy lawsuit.  They knew the only thing that could happen for them to get more money would be to create the conditions for a lawsuit to happen.  Which they did.  Delaware is a very corrupt state.  If people don’t see that in this day and age with everything I’ve written, along with many others, they need to get their eyes checked.  There are good people, fighting the good fight, but they are overpowered and outnumbered by those who are either corrupt or lend their ears to those who are corrupt.  If some cities get a moniker of “Sin City”, then Delaware clearly qualifies for the “Sin State”.

But the charters and their friends had to clear a very real obstacle in their road to the lawsuit.  One Kathleen Davies.  The same person who was doing the petty cash audit along with other charter school audit inspections.  One of those inspections was a tip I sent to the auditor’s office on Newark Charter School and their failure to submit non-profit 990 tax forms to the IRS.  While they met the criteria once upon a time for being exempt from filing their 990 tax returns, they knew the conditions which allowed for those exemptions no longer existed.  Something the IRS issued very strongly worded guidance to all American charter schools that participate in these exemptions.  NCS knew they could not look like a victim in a lawsuit against their feeder pattern district if that audit inspection came out.  It had to disappear.  We all know true compliance with properly making sure all our schools in Delaware are truly funding student needs is an exercise in futility, despite what the law already requires.  But an audit inspection into NCS’ finances would be a much deeper probe.  It could have offered a great deal of transparency with their money and what they are doing with it, far past the scope of their annual audit or what appears in their financial statements.  But given the pull they seem to have, with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee (Delaware Senator David Sokola), to some extent the Chair of the House Education Committee (State Rep. Earl Jaques), other members of the Delaware General Asssembly, select members of the Delaware Dept. of Education, lobbyists, and companies within the Newark area, I could easily picture Greg Meece being able to rally enough force to make things happen in regards to Kathleen Davies.  Once again, I stress, with utmost importance, this is only a working theory of mine and is not grounded in documented fact.  I imagine a paper trail that could conceivably supporting this working theory would not materialize no matter how many FOIA requests I might ask for.

Lest we forget, as clearly documented in the above-linked News Journal article, Senator Sokola was the prime sponsor on a bill meant to give charter schools more authority over the choosing of their annual auditors as opposed to the State Auditor of Accounts office.  This was in complete contrast with Rep. William’s original bill which would have had the auditor’s office doing the job.

She publicly supported Williams’s bill over an alternative proposal from Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, which would strengthen the rules charters have to follow in picking auditors but leave them with the authority to do so.

Eventually, Rep. Williams and Senator Sokola compromised on a charter school audit bill but the charters still get to pick their own auditor.  What the new bill also accomplished was any charter school under investigation by the State Auditor of Accounts office would also be audited for that fiscal year by the Auditor of Accounts.  By making the petty cash audit turn into letters instead of a full-blown inspection report, those five charter schools will not get a full financial audit by the Auditor of Accounts office this year.  There are also other stipulations in which that office can do a full financial audit on a charter, including the following, based on the text from the signed House Bill 435.

Has failed to maintain a current status with the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filings, if said filings are required of that charter school.

All of this legislative language serves to expose charters who do not comply with the law.  But discovery of something like an exemption of an IRS 990 filing not being practical based on the current conditions of the only Delaware charter school in the state to not file said return, would come from something like an audit inspection of the school.  Something that is not happening from the Auditor’s office because they got rid of Kathleen Davies and my request to them seems to have vanished into the ether.  Even though I provided clear documentation to John Fluharty about this.  Granted, the Office of Management and Budget received a “tip” from other officials in the Auditor of Accounts office with the allegations of Davies “not following procedure” with travel expenses in November of 2015, the OMB did not act on this until the petty cash audit neared completion and the NCS 990 audit would have been under way.  As well, there was the pulling of Davies’ September 30th Enrollment inspection which was reworked by Wagner and released in September.  That report was released two weeks before Davies was put on leave.

At a bare minimum, the Auditor of Accounts office and the Office of Management and Budget must be made accountable for their actions regarding Davies.  If she was put on leave for something as trivial as not following suggested procedure while charter schools run amok with their petty cash accounts and the results of which were not made public, even if it was switched from an inspection to non-transparent letters, we have a major conflict of interest going on here.  This conflict of interest reaches to the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  As the charter authorizers of these five charter schools, they failed to even publicly broach the subject going on four months since the letters went to them, much less put the charter schools on formal review to address the financial violations of their charters, as they have the ability to do so under Title 14:

  • 515 Oversight and revocation process.

(a) The approving authority shall be responsible for oversight of the charter schools it approves.

(b) In addition to the review required by § 514A(a) of this title, the approving authority may notify a charter school of potential violations of its charter and submit the charter to formal review to determine whether the charter school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures pursuant to subsection (f) of this section.

Both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Board President, Kenneth Rivera, were well aware of the situation because they were included in the letters sent from Tom Wagner.  Bloggers like myself exist because of what amounts to severe issues with education in Delaware.  Our state has, is, and will continue to fail the most important stakeholders in education, the students themselves, because they fail to adequately provide oversight to make sure our schools do the right thing.  Instead, Delaware does its level best to cover up issues with no transparency and institutes polices and measures that have no basis in reality.  They are what outside interests want.  These “poverty pimps”, corporate education reformers, ed tech charlatans, and those hiding behind the cover of “non-profits” and “community organizations” should not be involved in education at all.

This is what I want to see: Kathleen Davies immediately reinstated, the original charter school petty cash audit inspection completed, and any other pending charter or district audits done with fidelity.  As well, anyone else who played a role in this absolute cover-up and smear campaign against Davies needs to be named and held accountable for their parts in this.  As State Rep. Kim Williams asked, who audits the auditors?  I believe it is time to find out.  It is past time the feds got involved in Delaware’s finances.  Corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse are rampant in Delaware.  If left unchecked, as it has been for some time now, the situation will only wind up costing the taxpayers of the state even more money than they have already doled out without even realizing it.

In the above picture, the people in the “Brady Bunch” format are as follows:

Top- Kendall Massett, David Sokola, Governor Markell

Middle- Tom Wagner, Kathleen Davies, Nick Manolakos

Bottom- Charlie Copeland, Secretary Godowsky, Ann Visalli

Big Issues In Indian River: Upcoming Referendum, Pending Audit Inspection, Federal Discrimination Lawsuit, and A Shrinking Budget

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The Indian River School District has seen better times.  While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office.  Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to.  As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.

Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office.  But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details.  I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.

“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”

On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:

The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.

But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:

More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).

Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year.  In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review.  After that it will be released to the public.  Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum?  That could be important for many reasons.  If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no.  If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated.  As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.

The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:

If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.

But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district.  There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week.  On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River.  Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy.  According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:

The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.”  The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.

As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me.  Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts.  And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out.  While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.

It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.

 

Why Is The State Of Delaware Not Posting FY2017 State Employee Credit Card Transactions?

So much for transparency in the First State.  Delaware Online Checkbook has been updated faithfully with July FY2017 transactions.  But for the State of Delaware Online Credit Card transactions, nothing.  It is now September 13th.  What is the holdup?  Are the citizens of Delaware not entitled, by law, to know what employees of the state are spending on procurement cards?  Is there something they don’t want us, the taxpaying citizens of Delaware, to know?  This should have been up on this website by August 15th.

When we have an Auditor of Accounts office not showing transparency behind an employee put on a very bogus leave of absence and certain inspections are either revised or canceled it makes me very concerned about how our state pretends to be transparent.  Actions speak louder than words, and this is just another countless example of Delaware being non-transparent to its citizens.  Once again I have to ask: Who watches the Watchmen?

decredcardtransactions