Pencader charter parents call to arms!

Updated 6:45 p.m.

Some Important Information about Pencader’s Status 

Dear Parents, Staff, Students, and members of Pencader’s community:

          Today, as I’m sure you know, we had our meeting with the  Charter School Accountability Committee as part of the process in the Formal Financial Review.  To say it did not go as we hoped or expected would be a huge understatement.  Let me explain a bit about how we thought this process would work.

          At the Preliminary Meeting in May DOE representatives asked us about three of what they call “Charter Criteria.”  (There are 14 but they had concerns about 3)  Criteria #1 focuses on the governance/school board of the school.  Criteria #8 is about the financial viability of the school and Criteria #9 is something of a summary criteria speaking to the administrative operations of the school.  There we no concerns with the other 11 criteria.  They were considered “met.” About 10 days after our meeting we received a letter from John Carwell, Charter Chief, outlining the criteria and listing some 5 documents we needed to provide to show that we were in compliance with Criteria #1 and #9.   In the letter outlining their expectations for a response for us they listed 6 documents necessary to show compliance with Criteria #8.

          We compiled a binder of approximately 66 pages of documents, many notarized to show proof of compliance. We presented all of this information by the deadline they gave us which was last Monday. I can tell you that Dr. Lewis and I worked carefully and faithfully to answer the items posed to us by DOE and in every instance we supplied the information requested.

          Today’s hearing was the opportunity for the Committee to respond to our documentation.  It was clear to us that members of the Committee had not read our materials, or at least had not read them carefully.  We were told not to include expected funding from Federal Grants we applying for, yet DOE then stated that we should have had that documentation ready for them. This does not even include the Consolidated and Race to the Top Grants that the State is already providing.  These funds alone will provide Pencader with several hundred thousand dollars in Federal monies. We believe that with careful monitoring of finances Pencader can be operating in the financial black by June, 2012.  That is ONE year away. Nowhere in our documentation did it say we were cutting the music program…what we did say, was that due to the minimal number of students registered in the program, that we would change that position to a part time position to also include an Art Teacher. Clearly, DOE did not actually read our material.

          It is very disconcerting to realize that the Charter Office of DOE is using the Formal Review process to punish Pencader School’s students and teachers for the negligence of a previous administration of Board members and school leaders.  That is simply unfair.  I was a career teacher, spending many years in Delaware public schools and my belief had been that the Department of Education was there as a resource and a help to schools, teachers and students.  Today I realized this is not the case at all.  No help was ever offered, suggested, or given to Pencader.  Clearly Pencader had financial problems for many of the years of its existence, and clearly DOE should have been aware of this fact.  If they were, they ignored it, and now, rather than help us find a solution they decided the easiest way to “fix” the problem is to simply erase it.  How very sad.  How inappropriate for our kids.

          There is still one more phase of the Formal Review process and that is the public hearing which takes place at the Townsend Building in Dover on July 13, from 5-7 pm.  I am hopeful that parents, students, teachers and community members will stand up and speak for Pencader.  I would like to believe that the people of DOE will listen because they are whether they realize it or not, recommending that a very good school with a strong academic program be closed because of the negligence of some people no longer connected to the school.

          I have one more question that I’d like an answer to: If a new governing body and a new administration takes over a school and it is March or April of the school year and that new set of leaders finds horrendous financial problems exist, how in the world can a plan be created and implemented to solve those problems and make everything whole by June of that same year?  We proved to DOE that we could run Pencader next year with no financial problems ever arising again and they refused to pay any attention.  Shame on them.  DOE refuses to help us.  Shame on them.

          Is this the same DOE which helped Christina out of a similar but much, much larger problem?  Aren’t charters public schools?  Shame on DOE for forgetting that.


Harrie Ellen Minnehan

President, Pencader Charter Board of Directors

14 responses to “Pencader charter parents call to arms!

  1. Wow – reading that gives me a major case of deja vu… Sounds EXACTLEY like Reach’s meeting in Tuesday. And as long as Cruce is allowed to run the DOE with no accountability and/or transparency, this type of laser-focused incompetence is to be expected…


  2. Tammie Sylvia

    My overall perception is that DOE has no concern for Pencader students and families, or for the dedicated staff of this charter school. As an educator, taxpayer, and voter, I am appalled and dismayed by the incompetence and callousness displayed at the meeting yesterday by various committee members. In my mind, a prerequisite for ANY role in education is a concern for the children being served, no matter whether one’s job is outside of the classroom or not. I saw no evidence of that displayed in the formal review meeting held yesterday in Dover.

    My specific concerns are the following: 1) Why were my tax dollars used to fund a bailout of Christina School District, to the tune of 21 million dollars, granted by DOE, yet Pencader Charter High School is threatened with closure for a fraction of that amount? I know that Christina is not the only district to receive financial help from DOE using my tax dollars, but I will not go into that here. Is not DOE’s job to support troubled schools? The department demonstrated its commitment to the larger districts by providing financial assistance in times of financial trouble, so I want to know why there is a double standard where charter schools are concerned, and I want DOE to answer these questions.

    2) Pencader Charter High School consistently outperforms high schools in the Christina School district. I am proud to say that a member of the third graduating class is attending Brown University, an Ivy League school. How can DOE shut down an academically viable charter school over mistakes made by previous management? Former school leader Brad Catts has been let go, there is a new leader in place and the board has been reconstructed. The school is clearly working on its financial issues and needs time to correct the problems.

    3) Why does DOE have the right to bring up issues in a committee meeting that are not germane to the financial issues, and request documentation for information that was not requested in the first place? For example, committee members questioned academic ‘issues,’ that turned out to be non-issues, had they bothered to check their own computer systems. This meeting was supposed to address financial concerns. I was stunned at the lack of professionalism repeatedly displayed at this meeting by this so-called committee, from being late to the meeting, to asking the audience to sign on to a sheet dated June 7 with Reach Academy’s Formal Review information on it. It seemed to me that the outcome was predetermined at this point.

    As I said in my earlier comment, the school is academically viable and consistently outperforms other schools in the area. The school director and board president are not mind readers and cannot possibly provide information that was never requested from the committee in the first place. I am also concerned that despite assurances from top-level DOE officials and politicians, the ‘game’ seems to change at each step in the process. It is difficult, if not impossible, to hit a moving target. DOE needs to stop the game-playing and start showing some real concern for the students and families of Pencader Charter High School.

    4) Bottom line, I am a teacher, taxpayer, and a voter, and I am dismayed at the ‘game’ that is being played at DOE with regard to Pencader Charter High School. I want answers to these questions; particularly, I want DOE to come clean with the ‘hidden agenda.’ As you have probably surmised by early my earlier comments, I do not like to play games, nor do I want to see this government agency playing with the Pencader staff’s livelihood, nor the lives of Pencader students and families. I want and demand answers. I also want DOE to realize that ultimately, they answer to ME and every other taxpayer in this state, as well as the students they serve. The Charter School Financial Review committee members would do well to remember their place.

    In conclusion, it is time that the Delaware Department of Education is held accountable for their actions where charter schools are concerned. It is time for the game-playing to end and for this government agency to come clean with its hidden agenda.
    A Concerned Citizen Who Votes


  3. On May 16, 2011 I wrote Senator Sokola, Chairman of Senate Education Committee asking him to obtain a legal opinion to determine if DDOE was in compliance with 14 De. C. Section 122 (b) (11). To date I have received no reply from Senator Sokola. {A copy of my letter to Senator Sokola was provided to our Governor, Lt. Gov. and all members of the Senate and House Education Committee members, no reply from them either.}

    As justification for obtaining a legal opinion to determine if DDOE was in compliance with 14 De. C. Section 122 (b) (11), I provided Senator Sokola a copy of the one document published by DDOE titled; “Revenue Budget.” This one page document contains 7 lines for reporting all income. Upon receipt of this one document which I requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, I asked DDOE, “Am I to conclude from your reply, it is the position of DDOE that the attached speadsheet meets the requirements of 14 De. C. Section 122 (b) (11), they replied, “Yes.”

    DDOE was charged with the implementation of this law which reads as follows; “Requiring a “uniform” series of forms and blanks for keeping and reporting of all financial accounts, the annual school budget and all educational records and providing a series of forms and blanks for the same; and determining a standardized format for district and charter school’s financial reports, which shall include, but not be limited to, the current budget and expenditures, encumbrances and remaining balances by budget component. District and charter school financial reports shall be posted monthly on the district or charter school web site and shall be provided in writing upon request. Any reporting or positng shall be consistent with state law..”

    If a district or charter school has financial management problems, and if DDOE has failed to comply with 14 De. C. Section 122 (b) (11) and if DDOE has failed to comply with 14 De. C. Section 1508. Citizen Oversight of District Finances, than what are the consequences on DDOE?

    If requested I will provide Pencader Charter Board of Directors a copy of my letter to Senator Sokola, copy of emails with DDOE, copy of document published by DDOE titled: “Revenue Budget,” and my letter to the Governor and Lt. Governor on the lack of accountability and transparency of how and where public funds are being used.


  4. “We don’t want to do it. It’s a difficult role to say we’re going to shut this school that’s doing a great job with the kids.” – DAN CRUCE



  5. Harrie Ellen Minnehan

    I find it curious that a year ago when Pencader was facing the same financial “hole” as Dan Cruce calls it, the school was not put under Formal Review but rather it was granted a charter renewal for five years and given a green-light to seek a loan! Of course the people running it then were the ones who ran it so deeply into the ground. This year when a new administrator and new governing body has taken over DOE wants to slam the doors. We have a lender prepared to deposit funds for us but for some unknown reason the wire transfers keep getting refused! I’ll have to check and see if Christina ran into similar problems with their $20M interest-free loan from the state.
    Another curiosity is that I was told by a committee member just days ago that “all you need to show is that you will not be in this financial place a year from now.” We did show that. “So what?” is now my question. Such callousness.
    Adults should not play games with educational matters. These people were entrusted with guaranteeing that Delaware’s students receive what Vision 2015 calls a “world class education.”
    We were working on that, but I guess it is just another “so what?” question.

    Harrie Ellen Minnehan
    President, Pencader Charter Board of Directors


  6. It appears that this process goes as follows – DOE puts a school on formal review and issues a preliminary report, with the expecation that all issues within that preliminary report are FULLY RESOLVED by the time that school submits its response. Criteria/expectations for those resolutions are subjective, at best, and there is no true accommodation for the school to rebut. This is beyond ridiculous.

    A process like this would be entirely unacceptable in the private sector. It’s only acceptable in our state government if we allow it to be… Our votes must speak volumes.


  7. KidAdvocate

    It is evident that DOE is out to sink Reach and Pencader. Are they just asking these schools to submit more and more documents so that they can watch us spin our wheels? And isn’t it interesting that the public hearings for both school aren’t until JULY? All so carefully calculated by DOE so that they can get themselves off the hook.
    I have a warning for DOE…WATCH OUT! The parents and staffs of these schools are strong and are going to fight until the end. It won’t be as easy as you think to get rid of us. We have played your game for too long. We have been patient and responded to all your requests…and you did not even bother to review all of the documentation you pressed us to present before the hearing! That is a slap in our faces and will not be tolerated.


    • kilroysdelaware

      The fact remains these schools are a mess as a result of failed leadership. Keep an eye on the Sunday News Journal re: Reach. However, both these schools are under new leadership and have a plan.

      The real disconnect here is DEDOE has become a political extension of Governor Markell who would love nothing more than a political appointment in Washington. DEDOE should be an active partner in assisting these school to get on the right path. Lack of transparency is the real downfall of these schools and DEDOE didn’t help matters by not insisting charter schools have a the required citizens budget oversight committee trained and in place before the schools open (future charter schools). For existing that opened before passage of HB119 August 2009, there is not reason why they don’t have the committees in place. DEDOE plays the law in closing these charter schools but ignores the law in making sure those committees are in place.

      The bottom-line is Jack Markell is calling the shots. He could easily say give both these schools probation and technical insistence to get them back on track. Now is the time to stop being mad at DEDOE and be mad at Jack Markell, Markell has taken control of Delaware schools but send his DEDOE trolls out the do the dirty work. Markell needs to show Washington he has the courage to close failing schools. But in all fairness Reach and Pencader has failed from the management end. But like I said, they need to be the partner in education they claimed to be and help these school get it right.

      Parents I am hear to tell you the only way to give these schools another chance is in your hands. One person like me is a pain in the ass. Three people are a nuisance. 100 people are a concern. But 1000 people can move mountains. Between these two schools with over 800 students surely they can mustard 1000 adults to take to the streets and protest or bug the shit out of their legislators.


  8. No it is not the same DOE that helped CSD, this DOE is the one that brazenly distorted our board’s effort to enact a DOE approved PZ plan with fidelity, lied to the public, terrorized us with an 11 million dollar threat, and sent out henchmen and women to destroy us in the press. That’s the DOE you are dealing with.

    Shame on them is right.


  9. i’m an alumni to the school and i’m saying the things that most of us think but would never say because we have conformed to whats “cool”…..even though we swear we hate the school we all know we truly love it and if not we can still credit the school for developing/helping us to be who we are as individuals…we have grown so much over our years there and i think that other students/future students deserve the same opportunity


  10. Tammie Sylvia

    Response from Gov. Markell’s office received today:

    Thank you for writing Governor Markell with your concerns for Pencader Business and Finance Charter High School. I can tell from your letter that you are passionate about the school and the proceedings of the formal review process. Others like yourself have written to share their thoughts and personal experiences regarding Pencader. It has been greatly appreciated.

    A key issue in this matter remains: Pencader must have a plan in place to provide long-term financial sustainability. If the school continues to operate at a significant financial shortfall requiring loans and major cuts, its ability to provide a quality education will be effected.

    Please know that I will share your specific concerns with the Governor for his review.
    Again, thank you for your email.



  11. Supporting and promoting mediocrity is shameful.

    Poor administration, financial incompetence, and the lowest SAT scores in the state are all compelling reasons to close down this group of misfits at once.