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Delaware / Education / STEM

Delaware STEM Academy could lose its charter before it even opens

A majority of the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee has voted in favor of pulling the New Castle school's charter. Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky will make the final call on June 16.

A Delaware STEM Academy booth at a mall. (Photo via Facebook)
Correction: The current secretary of education is Steven Godowsky, not Mark Murphy, as was previously reported in this story. (6/8/16, 4:24 p.m.)

Two years after granting a charter to Delaware STEM Academy (DSA), the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) is moving to reverse its decision due to what it says are the overwhelming number of risk-factors besieging the school — including low enrollment, faculty recruiting troubles and unreliable funding.
The school, which plans to implement a STEM curriculum “using engineering, environmental science and energy service as a basis for learning,” was unable to open as scheduled in its New Castle location last year and received a one-year extension from then-Secretary of Education Mark Murphy. It plans to open in September but may not get to open its doors to the 124 students who are currently enrolled.
On June 2, five of the seven voting committee members of CSAC voted in favor of a recommendation for revocation, while two abstained, since they had not attended the CSAC initial meeting. A final public hearing was held Tuesday evening. Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky plans to announce his final decision on June 16 at the State Board of Education Meeting.
DSA hoped that CSAC would wait until August to render their decision, according to a June 6 CSAC report, but the voting members of CSAC argued that August would be far too late for parents to relocate the currently-enrolled students to other schools if DSA did lose its charter.
Read the report
On its Facebook page, DSA encouraged supporters to come out to the public hearings. “The future of the school is at stake!” reads an email blast featured on Facebook. The school also plans to host an open house Thursday.
We were unable to reach DSA executive director Brett Taylor.
Charter school woes are not uncommon in Delaware, which NewsWorks called one of “the nation’s most charter-heavy states.” In December, CSAC shut down Wilmington’s Delaware Met mere months after it opened. Delaware’s state auditor has found multiple instances of charter operators misusing state funds. In 2015, state representative Charles Potter introduced a bill that would place a moratorium on new charters in Wilmington so that the state could develop a plan for charter growth. 
Here are some more of the reasons why CSAC has lost its confidence in Delaware STEM Academy, according to the report:

  • DSA has an approved enrollment of 250 students, with a requirement of 80 percent (200 students). To date, DSA has only enrolled 124 students.
  • DSA has a revenue stream that relies heavily on one-time sources. Karen Field Rogers, Deputy Secretary of Education and voting member of CSAC, said she had “great concerns with the financial viability of the charter [as] DSA’s financial viability is contingent upon everything going right,” according to the report. All but one of the voting members agreed with Rogers’ assessment at the June 2 CSAC meeting. Taylor, the school’s executive director, believes the school’s board of directors can raise $200,000 in donations this year, according to the report. 
  • DSA has ongoing problems with recruiting adequate staff and faculty. Taylor said that DSA would have “a lean and mean staff” with “all hands on deck.” Yet DSA’s organizational chart shows curious staffing choices like an administrative assistant serving as a guidance counselor.
  • DSA will likely not be able to adequately support students with special needs and will not be able to deliver IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings within the required 60-day window.
  • Programs that had been agreed upon in the original charter will not be available or at least not immediately. Such programs include CTE (Career and Technical Education), physical eduaction, foreign languages and many electives.

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