Does Anyone at OSPI Care about Appearances?

Apparently not, at least when it comes to charter schools.  My second batch of public disclosure e-mails raises more troubling questions.

In my first batch, I explained how a couple of other districts' lawyers were worried about running afoul of state law in signing interlocal documents to allow students within their district borders to have an ALE with Mary Walker School District.

This batch reveals more concerns from other people. Among them was the overarching role of Washington State Charter Schools Association.

Who are they?

WSCSA is a non-profit that supports and provides services to Washington state charter schools who are members. Their funders are the Gates Foundation and others but they don’t reveal that at their website. Members of their Board include two people from LEV, one from DFER, one from Washington Roundtable and Jim Spady who actually started the whole charter school movement in Washington State.

Under Policy and Advocacy
Providing guidance to the Washington State Charter School Commission, the Washington State Board of Education, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction

Based on what? Not one person on that board seems to be a charter expert (at least hands-on.)  Why would the Charter Commission, the BOE or OSPI turn to them for “guidance?”  They are basically a charter cheerleader group that has data on its members.

The Charter Commission hired the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for guidance and at least that group seems to have experts.  But again, they, too, are a non-profit that sprang up to support charters and among their funders are the Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation.  (At least they have the grace to put their funders on their website unlike the Washington State Charter Schools Association.)

So what did the OSPI e-mails reveal?
A LOT of organizing from the WSCSA via Rekha Bhatt, their Director of School Services.  In a December 21, 2015 e-mail to OSPI she says:
It might be best for Cathy and I to connect with Lillian directly to tag-team and coordinate future trainings and topics. Let me know if this works on your end.
"Cathy" is Cathy Frommer, a former Charter Commissioner (like MWSD's superintendent, Kevin Jacka who hired Frommer to manage some of the charter student work for MWSD.)

Legal counsel for OSPI, Dierk Meierbachtol repeatedly reaches out to the WSCSA about the on-going situation which seems odd as WSCSA is a private entity.

OSPI's ALE Program Manager, Lillian Hunter, sent this e-mail in early December:
Hello All:

Thank you for the follow up Sue. I wanted confirmation that the follow up activities for these new schools are approved and orchestrated by the public school district and not by the Charter School Association. This is a unique situation and our actions will be likely be subject to future scrutiny. As such, we need to exercise due diligence as these former charter schools are transitioned into the public school arena.

I am happy to continue providing support as needed. On that note, I would appreciate a contact list of key individuals at the new schools for the purposes of introducing myself and the Digital Learning Department (ALE).
Then, on December 21st, she writes to Sue Isaacs at MWSD:

Hi Sue,

I'm mildly concerned that the Charter School Association is leading the training on ALE compliance. Were you aware of this? Is Mike Jennings no longer helping you? The powerpoint presentation was worrisome - hugely overwhelming with possible misinformation.

As I stated below, I am happy to assist the Mary Walker SD as you absorb these students into the public school system. I'm concerned about mixed messaging with regard to compliance in the ALE setting with the Charter School Association stepping in to conduct training. Is this part of your agreement with them?
Please advise. 
What the training was about was creating the individual learning plans for each ALE student. I find this quite confusing because why would MWSD look to a charter cheerleader org for this kind of training?

Also, as I previously reported, OSPI bent the ALE rules so that the individual student plans requirement for each ALE student didn’t have to be in place right away. One OSPI e-mail on December 21, 2015, shows that OSPI gave former charter schools until Feb. 1st. (I’ll have to ask if that actually happened.)

The worry continues:

In light of a significant state auditor findings for a number of ALE programs in the past, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction requested funding from the state legislature for a program compliance monitor position. The request was granted in the 2014 supplemental budget as outlined in ESSB 6002.

The intent of this endeavor is help programs understand the pertinent laws, rules and regulations related to ALE. Hopefully, this work, conducted in collaboration with ALE programs, will help those programs identify areas for improvement and avoid potential, costly SAO findings in the future.
 Mike Jennings, a consultant hired for the charter student work for MWSD, writes to OSPI staff:
I also understand that Mary Walker, ESD101 and the IT services contractor for some of the schools will work together to create a student demographic export that can be loaded into Skyward, the SIS that Mary Walker uses. I know that this import is limited to just the student/guardian demographics, but is enough for Mary Walker to generate the P223 and other apportionment reports. However, this is not enough data to generate the year end reports. Specifically the percentage of Online, OffSite and OnSite Courses report. It's also not enough to generate the Highly Qualified Teacher tracking reports. I understand that SPI has granted a one time extension of the requirement that WSLP's be in place and approved before a student can be counted on the P223 and subsequent December and January funding.
 Then he asks some very big questions:
  • Has SAO passed judgement on the one time WSLP approved and in place extension? Per their review of the extension, will this year's converted Charter School's WSLP's pass an audit if the approval date is between December 1st and January 31st and Mary Walker received apportionment funding for December and January?
  • Will Mary Walker be required to use CEDARS to generate the Online, OffSite and OnSite course percentage report? Or, will they be able to calculate that manually and submit?
  • Will Mary Walker be required to populate the Highly Qualified Teacher tracking tool from CEDARS? Or can they populate it manually?
The answer was no, the SAO didn't weigh in because they do audits at the end of a process, not the beginning.  My prediction is the SAO is going to find A LOT wrong with this process on all sides.

One item that seemed to be a source of amusement is that after all the student transfers were done, they realized they didn't have parent contacts.

The only contact info that MWSD got initially was the district contract person.
Seems a bit serious that for some portion of time, there were no noted parent contacts for a single new ALE student at MWSD.

Other concerns:


From: Doug Gill []
Sent: Tuesday, December 01, 2015 9:57 AM
To: Sue McIsaac
Mary Ellen Parrish and I would like to discuss the special education implications for including current charter schools as potential ALE programs in Mary Walker School District. Please provide me with a good time and number to call you today, preferably after 11:30 am. Thank you very much. We look forward to speaking with you.

Douglas H. Gill, Ed. D.
Assistant Superintendent
Special Education Operations
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)

(Oddly, the reply was never part of what I got.  Maybe they spoke by phone.)

As well, there was this terse e-mail from Sue Isaac of MWSD:
Mary Walker School District does not intend to revise the December 1, 2015 P223, P223H, and ALE enrollment reports. We are unable to revise the November 1 Special Education count either. I apologize for the late notification.
As well, it appears that the former charter schools will probably NOT be reporting on their K-3 class sizes since "ALE programs are not required to report their K-3 class size."

There was also some discussion about whether the students at these former charter schools will be taking the SBAC.  There is some level of time (about 80%) that has to be met in order for ALE students to have to take the SBAC.  Summit's students - being homeschooled - do not have to take it.  From OSPI:
Students can be enrolled in different programs at the same time, based on the amount of time they spend in each program. For example, students can be both homeschooled for part of the day and attend an ALE for part of the day.

Here are some different scenarios and testing expectations for each. Please note, testing requirements are based on student-level information:

· Students enrolled in ALE at least 80% full-time are expected to test for federal accountability purposes, no matter where they spend the other portion of their day.

· Students enrolled in ALE less than 80% full-time, and who attend a regular public school for the other portion of their day, are expected to test for federal accountability.

· Students enrolled in ALE less than 80% full-time, and who receive home-based instruction or attend a private school for the other portion of their day, are not expected to test for federal accountability.
I am going to ask about this when we get closer to testing season.

Also to note, there seems to be a vagueness about what these former charter schools are.  OSPI says they are "contracted providers" that are public schools.

Those "schools" are under the "control and oversight of MWSD."  That will be interesting to see what, if any, "control" MWSD exerts over them.

There were two interesting documents from this batch.  I am withholding one of them in order to offer it to some media sources first(it's actually not about charter schools but is fascinating nonetheless.)  But here's the other one.

It is a spreadsheet about MWSD costs for the ALE progam and payments from OSPI.  Here's the e-mail that it was attached to:
From: T.J. Kelly []
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 2:01 PM
To: Sue McIsaac
Subject: Charter School ALE Analysis


I wanted to share the attached spreadsheet with you. I am trying to compare the increase in funding that Mary Walker will realize if students currently enrolled in charter schools enroll in Mary Walker as ALE students, with the loss in small school bonus revenue that the district will see.

The first page of the attachment takes charter school AAFTE through November and uses the running start rate to estimate the impact on revenue 3100 for Mary Walker, while at the same time comparing the estimated original funding in the charter school’s budget versus what those students would generate going forward.

The second page calculates the estimated losses in small school revenue and then compares those losses to the increase in ALE funding to come up with a break even indirect rate. This essentially would be the percentage of contracted ALE revenue that the district would need to retain to breakeven before considering additional admin or data reporting obligations.

Have you done an analysis like this previously? Does what you see in the attached file makes sense?
After reading all these e-mails, it seems clear that many people were scrambling to make this work. And, putting in a lot of time to get it done. That is all good and well but, at the same time, it seems fairly clear that not everything was being done according to law, rule and regulation and that, yes, some people raised red flags, expressed worry and yet, on they all went.

It will interesting to see what the view of the SAO will be. My experience with the State Auditor's office is that they are a fairly sober bunch and not ones to take in a sob story and say, "Sure, that's fine."


NO 1240 said…
"This batch reveals more concerns from other people. Among them was the overarching role of Washington State Charter Schools Association."

NO kidding! Bill Kiolbasa of the Washington State Charter Association was working in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, OSPI and a national charter school organization. Whether any of this is legal is anyone's guess, but I'm strongly leaning towards illegal.

I 1240 was declared unconstitutional and Kiolbasa kept the deal moving with an enormous amount of support from the "Gates Machine":

Gates provided the MWSD with $150K to cover legal expenses and they hired Strategies 360 to handle the PR.

Considering the fast and loose maneuvers that were being used, I was not surprised to see that Kiolbasa has a history of dealing with audit issues:
Anonymous said…
Echoing the above. Plus WA OSPI screwed a whole lot of public school teachers over with their highly qualified teacher debacle and how they are coded in CEDARS. But the charter school/ALE TFAers will get a free pass? Nice.

NO 1240 said…
"One OSPI e-mail on December 21, 2015, shows that OSPI gave former charter schools until Feb. 1st. "

It appears possible that students in existing charter schools may be truant. No worries, though. I'm confident Dorn will straighten things out. Dorn needs to be removed from office.

Kevin Jacka was a former Charter Commissioner and he took the unprecedented step of receiving millions of dollars via his small school district of 500 students to fund unconstitutional schools.

Cathy Fromme is another former Charter Commissioner. It is possible that she is doing consulting work to move students into MWSD ALE.

This, is the start of charter schools in Washington State. If is only going to get worse.
NO 1240 said…
Clearly, the Washington State Charter Association is concerned about the appearance of THEM orchestrating this deal.
Anonymous said…
Just as a point of clarification, Cathy Fromme was a staff member of the Charter Commission.

--Fed Up
Lynn said…
One of the rules for providing an Alternative Learning Experience is:

k) "Substantially similar experiences and services" means that for each purchased or contracted instructional or cocurricular course, lesson, trip, or other experience, service, or activity identified on an alternative learning experience written student learning plan, there is an identical or similar experience, service, or activity made available to students enrolled in the district's regular instructional program:
(i) At a similar grade level;

(ii) At a similar level of frequency, intensity, and duration including, but not limited to, consideration of individual versus group instruction;

(iii) At a similar level of cost to the student with regard to any related club, group, or association memberships; admission, enrollment, registration, rental or other participation fees; or any other expense associated with the experience or service;

(iv) In accordance with district adopted content standards or state defined grade level standards; and

(v) That is supervised, monitored, assessed, evaluated, and documented by a certificated teacher.

Excel Charter School offers a String Orchestra and every student receives daily strings education.

SOAR Academy students (grades K and first this year) take a daily dance class.

Rainier Prep students take inquiry classes in which they can learn to make a movie, write a blog, design a website, program a robot, or build a rocket, among other high-interest challenges.

Is Mary Walker providing these opportunities to the students enrolled in their regular instructional program? If not, they cannot pay for them in their ALEs.
Charlie Mas said…
Lynn, an interesting point. Of course the requirement of an identical or similar experience only extends to those activities identified on an alternative learning experience written student learning plan. MWSD can easily comply with this requirement by keeping all references to orchestra, dance classes, and inquiry classes out of the written student learning plans. Since they have yet to produce any such written plans, they haven't crossed this line yet.

I have to wonder, also, who would enforce this regulation and what consequences, if any, would befall those who violate it? My guesses - and they are only guesses - are that OSPI has the duty of enforcing this, they they will utterly refuse to do so, and that there will be no consequences whatsoever. You know, just like every other regulation that OSPI has the duty to enforce.
Charlie Mas said…
Can you imagine the actions of a different OSPI - one that was actually concerned about doing its duty to enforce the RCW and WAC?

In that parallel universe, an effective OSPI would have been assuring compliance with the law by taking the lead on helping MWSD comply with the law. And it would be all of the law - ALE law, truancy law, Special Education law. They would have demanded quicker action and they would have been the ones to deliver the guidance, training, and instruction to MWSD instead of leaving it to the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

Instead, we have an OSPI that hangs back, issues waivers, turns a blind eye to violations, and passively watches while events unfold.
NO 1240 said…

Chad Magendanz's drivel:

Magendanz claims public schools tend not to experiment. Finally, we're seeing an admission that charter schools no longer have 1300 students. Lastly, Magendanz claims "a lot of donors have done considerable work.." Perhaps Magendanz does not understand that Bill Gates was the major contributor and Steve and Connie Ballmer threw $250K into a PAC.

Magendanz claims the Lottery Dollars are untainted. When, in fact, general dollars will flow into the Opportunity Pathway account.
Catherine said…
Magendanz - refused a tour I offered him RE innovative public schools in the area. When I spoke with him - he had NOT A CLUE about a single alternative or innovative programs anywhere in the state. He also has had some pretty scary beliefs about what would help ADD & ADHD kids. He was a long time MSFT employee, so his blind allegiance to the Gate and Balmer surprises me not one bit.

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