Tuesday, July 10, 2018

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 10: Accountant Who Helped Pa. Cyber School Founder Nick Trombetta Commit Fraud Sentenced To Prison Time

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Accountant Who Helped Pa. Cyber School Founder Nick Trombetta Commit Fraud Sentenced To Prison Time

“Charter skeptics in both cities also worry that school choice benefits engaged parents while leaving more and more disadvantaged kids clustered in traditional public schools. “We’re going to have to figure out a larger fight, a larger way, a larger strategy to educate the children of the city of Pittsburgh,” said Pittsburgh School Board member Sala Udin at a recent meeting. “All of the children. Not just those who are siphoned off into choice. What about the ones you leave behind? They’re our children too.” Whether you think school choice helped Philadelphia stave off worse losses over the last 20 years or not, just about everyone seems to agree that the next 20 will be vital.”
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh: five charts and two families at the center of the school choice debate
WHYY/Keystone Crossroads By Avi Wolfman-Arent and Sarah Schneider, WESA July 10, 2018
Mike McGrenehan thought he was headed for a life in the suburbs.
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, not far from the city limits, McGrenehan always figured he’d marry, have kids, and ship off to the open spaces of suburbia. The “McMansion push,” he called it. He moved to Montgomery County when he and his wife first married, but it never quite felt like home. “When we left, we were out on an island,” he said. After a few years, they moved back to Northeast Philly, had three kids, but reached another turning point when their oldest turned five. Where would their kids go to school?

Editorial: Call special session on redistricting
Time is not on the side of vastly improved governance in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers skipped town for an undeserved 12-week vacation recently, in a cynical ploy to let the clock kill badly needed reform of the state’s crooked process for drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries. Lawmakers themselves draw those boundaries after each census, invariably drawing them for their own benefit rather than to create the fair, competitive elections that are necessary to air ideas, engage the electorate and create truly accountable government. Earlier this year the state Supreme Court found that the state’s 18 congressional districts had been gerrymandered to the point that they violated the state constitution’s requirement for fair elections.

Local control is here: New Philly school board holds first-ever meeting
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer  @newskag |  kgraham@phillynews.com Updated: JULY 9, 2018 — 9:46 PM EDT
Local governance of the School District of Philadelphia is here.
To applause and cheers, the city’s new, nine-member Board of Education held its first public meeting on a “historic” Monday night, as Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. termed it — seven months after Mayor Kenney announced the city was taking back control of its schools. A crowd that roundly booed the School Reform Commission, the board’s predecessor, seemed to welcome the new governing body with open arms and enormous expectations. The board seemed to distance itself from the SRC, moving itself closer physically to the audience, vowing to hold meetings around the city, and informally meeting with members of the public after the formal session. “You are the hope for this community,” Rich Migliore, a retired Philadelphia educator, said in public testimony. His voice choked with tears. Newly elected Philadelphia Board of Education Vice President Wayne Walker and President Joyce Wilkerson share a light moment
Its first order of business was electing leaders. Joyce Wilkerson, a former SRC chair with long government experience, was unanimously elected president. Wayne Walker, an expert in nonprofit management and corporate turnarounds, was elected vice president by a 5-4 vote.

New Board of Education holds inaugural meeting, elects former SRC chair as its president
Forty speakers address the new Board in nearly four-hour meeting, some putting them on notice that they will continue to be vigilant watchdogs.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa and Avi Wolfman-Arent July 9 — 10:19 pm, 2018
In its inaugural meeting, Philadelphia’s new Board of Education expressed fresh optimism while turning to a familiar face for leadership. By a unanimous vote, the nine board members chose former School Reform Commission Chairwoman Joyce Wilkerson as the first board president in this new era. Though some members worried aloud about the optics of choosing the former chair of the SRC as their new leader, they were ultimately won over by Wilkerson’s knowledge, know-how, and integrity, they said. Mallory Fix Lopez, who nominated Wilkerson, said that as a parent, she was skeptical of the “big, bad SRC.”  But she — and other board members — said they came to “develop incredible confidence in her leadership.” Wayne Walker was elected to serve as the board’s vice president by a 5-4 vote. Walker’s backers cited his business experience, believing he’ll help the district chart a smart financial course. Four members, including Wilkerson, backed Julia Danzy, a lifelong government worker in human and social services, citing the need for someone who had first-hand experience with the myriad challenges faced by the District’s students and their families. But all of this, played out in public, was amicable.  In many ways, the nearly four-hour meeting felt familiar.

“It’s not like the SRC was the problem, and the new school board is the solution.”
Former SRC members reflect on the body's legacy, offer advice to the new school board
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa July 9 — 4:38 pm, 2018
As Philadelphia transitions from governance by the state back to local control, it is useful to recall what precipitated creation of the School Reform Commission in the first place. Michael Masch is in a unique position to talk about this: he was a member of the old Board of Education, subsequently served on the SRC, and at different times has served as the chief financial officer for the city, the state, and the School District. “The origin of all this was an argument on behalf of [former Superintendent) David Hornbeck that the Philadelphia public schools did not have enough money to deliver an acceptable education to the students who were supposed to be served by the District,” he said. To dramatize what he termed an injustice, Hornbeck threatened drastic action, namely, spending what he felt was necessary on enough teachers, counselors and other resources until the District ran out of money. Hornbeck’s approach, in Masch’s words, “was to spend the district into oblivion, create a crisis, and God knows what he thought was going to happen.” What happened was Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and the legislature created the SRC, a five-member body with a majority of gubernatorial appointees, to replace the nine-member Board of Education.

Ex-CPA who helped Nicholas Trombetta in PA Cyber scheme gets prison term
By TORSTEN OVE Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tove@post-gazette.com JUL 9, 2018 4:42 PM
A former certified public accountant who helped the founder of PA Cyber Charter School shield millions of stolen taxpayer dollars from the IRS is headed to federal prison for a year and a day. U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti on Monday imposed that term on Neal Prence, 62, for his role in a complex fraud conspiracy with Nicholas Trombetta, who will be sentenced later this month. The judge gave Prence less time than prosecutors wanted but also rejected a defense request for probation, saying as an experienced accountant he knew he was committing a crime. "This was done knowingly," she told a courtroom packed with Prence's family and friends. "It's really very sad." Prence, of Koppel in Beaver County, reluctantly pleaded guilty in 2016 to helping Trombetta hide the money he systematically siphoned from the Midland cyber school he created.
Trombetta pleaded guilty to the same tax conspiracy.

“The figure lurking behind all of these proceedings is Nick Trombetta, who is said by the government to be the mastermind and chief beneficiary. He will be sentenced on July 24.”
Accountant Who Helped Pa. Cyber School Founder Commit Fraud Sentenced To Prison Time
KDKA-TV July 9, 2018 at 6:04 pm
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A former accountant who helped the head of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School commit fraud will serve prison time. The money was supposed to go to educating kids, but the government showed that PA Cyber founder Dr. Nick Trombetta funneled some $8 million in public money into bogus entities and then into his own pocket. “We allege that this was a conscious, intentional scheme to steal public money that was to be used to educate our children,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said in 2013. There was a corporate plane, luxurious homes and sprawling real estate holdings, and $1 million in cash. To help hide those gains, Trombetta employed the services of accountant Neal Prence. On Monday, Judge Joy Flowers Conti sentenced Prence to a year in prison for his role in covering it all up after he pleaded guilty to one count of tax conspiracy.

Accountant in PA Cyber school fraud case gets 1 year in prison, must pay $50K
Trib Live by NATASHA LINDSTROM  | Monday, July 9, 2018, 6:57 p.m.
The Beaver County accountant who proved “instrumental” in helping Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School’s former CEO siphon $8 million in public funds will spend one year and one day in prison, federal prosecutors said Monday. Neal Prence, a 62-year-old certified public accountant from Koppel, also must pay $50,000 in restitution — about 11 percent of the $437,000 in tax loss he caused the Internal Revenue Service, court records show. Prence pleaded guilty nearly two years ago to tax conspiracy for his role in enabling Nick Trombetta, PA Cyber’s founder and former CEO, funnel millions of public dollars into shell accounts available for personal use. “As a CPA, Prence knew what he was doing was illegal,” Chief U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti said during the sentencing hearing, as reported by U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady. Between 2006 and 2012, Prence conspired with Trombetta, of East Liverpool, Ohio, to divert and conceal money that was supposed to be spent on the public school and its students instead to entities created and controlled by Trombetta. The money ultimately ended up at Avanti Management Group — “where Trombetta had free access to the funds,” Brady said.

Reprise 2013: Unsealed records show PA Charter Cyber School investigation began with inside sources
Federal agents probing the dealings of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta started with two informants, expanded to review interactions among some 20 companies and nonprofit entities and turned up a trove of details about the perks of what they called "a pattern of undisclosed self-dealing." A 68-page affidavit and search warrant inventories unsealed Thursday indicate that when two former associates of Mr. Trombetta came to the FBI in late 2011 or early 2012, there was little constraint on his private use of funds that flowed from school districts, to the cyber school, and then through a series of nonprofit and for-profit entities, including Avanti Management Group. Mr. Trombetta assigned expenses large and small -- from travel costs to the purchases of a plane, a Florida condominium and two houses -- to Avanti and other indirect recipients of the school's funds. "During the spring break season of 2012 Trombetta required Avanti to pay for air transportation for Trombetta's daughter and two friends to travel to the [Florida] condo for spring break," wrote the FBI and IRS agents who authored the affidavit, dated July 11, 2012. On the following day, the two agencies executed search warrants at Mr. Trombetta's office at PA Cyber's Midland headquarters and that of his then-secretary, Brenda Smith; the Koppel office of his accountant, Neal Prence, who was also indicted last month; the homes of his sister, Elaine Trombetta Neill, who faces tax charges, and of their mother; and the East Liverpool, Ohio, office of Avanti.

Guest Column: Invest in high-quality Pre-K to save on prison spending
Delco Times By John Booth, Times Guest Columnist POSTED: 07/09/18, 8:54 PM EDT
John Booth is a licensed psychologist working in the correctional field since 1984. He is John Booth the chief psychologist at the State Correctional Institution Chester. Find the report “Pre-K Key to Cutting Pennsylvania Prison Costs and Boosting School Success” at www.strongnation.org/FightCrimePA.
Children learn to trust their environments through a process that happens at a very young age. In a healthy family, parents or caretakers put time and energy into their children. They make sure their children are safe, and provide needed limits, direction, affection and attention. These adults shape things so children can grow up trusting the environment and the people around them. For many people who land in jail, trust is a very big issue. They may have grown up in environments that were unpredictable, chaotic, and perhaps abusive. The stress of such an upbringing can interfere with the development of trust and with a child’s performance in school. Simply surviving the unpredictability and trauma takes up the child’s attention and energy. A lack of support or dysfunction at home often has a negative impact on school performance, and may result in behavioral or emotional difficulties that complicate the educational process. The possibility of suspensions, expulsions and dropout tend to increase. This process may eventually feed people into the criminal justice system. Early intervention in the form of quality kindergarten and Pre-K services helps compensate for instability at home, providing children with needed support, boundaries, positive attention and healthy routine. If children interact with competent and caring adults in a safe school setting, they have another opportunity to form the capacity to trust and can concentrate on learning instead of just surviving.

Why focus on Lancaster County's youngest kids could break cycle of poverty
Lancaster Online by JEFF HAWKES | Staff Writer July 9, 2018
Joy Lapp, a home-visiting teacher, graying and trim, joined 4-year-old Immanuel and his sister, Gigi, 2, on their living-room floor. The kids leaned against Lapp as she read to them. They laughed when she barked like a dog in the story. And they vied for attention while busy with a lesson involving Popsicle sticks, cotton balls and glue sticks. When Lapp got up to leave after 45 minutes, Immanuel didn’t want her to go. Grinning, he blocked the door, arms spread.Lapp is a government-funded family development specialist serving 16 families with young children, and her work exemplifies the latest thinking on how to strengthen low-income families, promote school readiness and disrupt intergenerational poverty.Head Start and other high-quality, preschool programs play a vital role in leveling the playing field for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds. But some experts say more benefit may be gained by reaching even younger children and their parents. Because children in poverty fall behind more affluent peers at an early age, even pre-kindergarten can be too late to help them catch up.

“Executive sessions are closed-door meetings that can be held by school boards and other governing bodies for certain specified reasons, like particular personnel matters, real estate transactions, collective bargaining and litigation. Adding discussion of security measures to that list makes sense, area school officials said.”
New law allows school boards to discuss security in executive sessions
Intelligencer By Chris English Posted at 5:37 AM July 9,2018
The discussions must fall within certain parameters, a media attorney said.
Area school board members are welcoming a new state law that allows them to discuss certain matters of security in executive sessions. Senate Bill 1078, co-sponsored by state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-6, of Bensalem, was signed into law last month by Gov. Tom Wolf and added to the Pennsylvania School Code. It’s another tool that can be used to protect the safety of students, Council Rock school board President Jerold Grupp said. He said he and other Council Rock board members had asked for such legislation soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and two years after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. “While I am thrilled that this has finally come to fruition, I am saddened that this has taken almost 17 years since it was specifically requested by the Council Rock school board in the immediate wake of Sept. 11, 2001,” Grupp said. As a practical matter, school boards didn’t discuss security protocols in public, anyway, Grupp conceded. However, the new law gives them the latitude to discuss certain security measures as a group in executive session without fear of breaking the law, he added.

East Penn School Board's 'parental rights' debate over LGBTQ videos continues
Harrison Cann Of The Morning Call July 9, 2018
Emmaus students, parents and local advocates from either side of the aisle spoke to the East Penn School Board Monday night to dispute whether the district should release a series of LGBT videos shown at Emmaus High School in April. Addressing board members over the anti-bullying videos, members of the public continued a debate in the district that’s garnered attention from state and national “religious freedom” groups. William Bassett, a rising senior at Emmaus, said the videos were shown to spread awareness, not bully others. “Showing videos of gay and lesbian couples getting married isn’t bullying,” Bassett said. “I agree that pushing the homosexual agenda shouldn’t be allowed. These videos didn’t promote that.” Rev. Andrew Damick, a pastor at St. Paul’s Orthodox Church in Emmaus, said the question isn’t about the topic of the video, but “liberty of religion.” “I believe anything that is shown publicly should be subject to parental notification. We should control what our children are being shown as part of the curriculum and in school,” Damick said. Statements by both parties were met with applause from either side in attendance. While opposing groups have clashed over the videos being shown, the issue boils down to if the videos are educational material that is subject to parental review, or if they are student work, which is not. Prior to the public section of Monday’s meeting, school the board met in executive session “regarding personnel pertinent to testimony of parents about violation of the PA State Statute for ‘Parental Rights.” Pennsylvania code states schools must adopt policies to ensure parents and guardians have the right “to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs.”

Pennsylvania commits to preparing more computer science teachers
Medium.com Jun 27, 2018
Pennsylvania just committed $20 million to increase opportunities in computer science. In the recently enacted budget, Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly supported new state funding for computer science education and related professional development. The $30 million PAsmart initiative will provide $20 million in competitive grants to support new and expanded K-12 computer science and STEM programs, including training and professional development for teachers, and will focus on addressing access and outcomes gaps for historically underserved students, including students of color, girls, English Learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students. Bringing more computer science opportunities to Pennsylvania students is a key initiative of Governor Wolf. “Throughout my term, I have fought hard to invest in education and job training so children and workers have the skills to succeed and strengthen our economy,” said Governor Wolf. 

Community Schools: Increase in partnership with Gompers
The Hawk by Luke Malanga 5 months ago
Community School recognition for local grade school
Samuel Gompers School, the K-8th grade public school located right next to the university in Philadelphia’s Wynnefield neighborhood, was declared a community school by Mayor Jim Kenney in July 2017. “Being affiliated with the mayor’s office in addition to the school district of Philadelphia, I just feel like we have at our fingertips more resources and just more people that can help us to tap into the resources,” said Phillip DeLuca, principal of Gompers. The community school status allowed the Philadelphia Mayor’s office to assign a community school coordinator, Rennie Parker, to assist in implementing the outcome of a needs assessment completed by Gompers. “We’re now having the initiative of collaborating with different organizations and different nonprofit agencies to create what we call a ‘one hub solution’ for people to be involved in the community,” Parker said. St. Joe’s education unit has had a long-standing relationship with Gompers through Weekly Service tutoring and Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs. Gompers’ community school recognition will now allow St. Joe’s to further its initiatives and focus on the needs of the school.

Trump Nominates Brett Kavanaugh, Son of a Teacher, for U.S. Supreme Court
Education Week School Law Blog By Mark Walsh on July 9, 2018 9:20 PM
Washington - President Donald J. Trump on Monday night named Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington with a relatively light record of rulings on education, to succeed Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kavanaugh, 53, has served since 2006 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court that rules on much litigation involving the federal government, although it has only one K-12 school district in its geographic jurisdiction—the District of Columbia public schools. But Kavanaugh has ruled on a few K-12 and youth-related issues over his 13 years on the federal appeals court, including special education, drug testing of educators, and childhood vaccines.
"Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law," Trump said in his White House announcement.

Setback for Vouchers, Charter Schools in Puerto Rican Court's Ruling
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on July 9, 2018 9:37 AM
The Puerto Rican government's push this year to increase school choice has been at least temporarily tripped up by a judge's decision. Superior Judge Iris González ruled that private school vouchers violate Puerto Rico's Constitution, Primera Hora reported. In addition, González declared in the ruling released last Friday that only the University of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico's municipalities may operate "alianza" schools, which are intended to be similar to charter schools. If this latter decision is ultimately upheld, prominent charter groups on the U.S. mainland would be excluded from operating alianza schools.  Earlier this year, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed into law major changes for the U.S. territory's schools, including the creation of vouchers for students to attend private schools, and the creation of "alianza" schools. Rosselló and Secretary of Education Julia Keleher have said the new school choice programs will expand the scope of educational opportunities, especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria. However, the island's teachers' union challenged the new measures in court, calling both vouchers and alianza schools unconstitutional. A spokesman for the government said it would appeal the ruling, which was issued through Puerto Rico's Court of First Instance, and indicated it was unsurprising that such big changes for education were drawing such resistance. The island's Supreme Court has not yet issued a final decision on the constitutionality of vouchers and any limits on alianza schools.  A separate fight is taking place over the government's plan to close more than 260 traditional public schools on the island, close to a quarter of all such schools in Puerto Rico.

PA Superintendent of the Year nominations requested by July 27th
PASA and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) are seeking nominations for 2019 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year. Candidates will be judged on the following criteria: leadership for learning, communication, professionalism and community involvement. The nomination deadline is Friday, July 27. For more information, visit the AASA website, 

Apply Now for EPLC's 2018-2019 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Applications are available now for the 2018-2019 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). 
With more than 500 graduates in its first eighteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.
Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders. Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization. The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 13-14, 2018 and continues to graduation in June 2019.
Applications are being accepted now.
Click here to read more about the Education Policy Fellowship Program.
The application may be copied from the EPLC web site, but must be submitted by mail or scanned and e-mailed, with the necessary signatures of applicant and sponsor.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Fellowship Program and its requirements, please contact EPLC Executive Director Ron Cowell at 717-260-9900 or cowell@eplc.org.

Nominations for PSBA’s Allwein Advocacy Award due by July 16
PSBA Website May 14, 2018
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform. In addition to being a highly respected lobbyist, Timothy Allwein served to help our members be effective advocates in their own right. Many have said that Tim inspired them to become active in our Legislative Action Program and to develop personal working relationships with their legislators. The 2018 Allwein Award nomination process will begin on Monday, May 14, 2018. The application due date is July 16, 2018 in the honor of Tim’s birth date of July 16.
Download the Application


SAVE THE DATE for the 2018 PA Educational Leadership Summit - July 29-31 - State College, PA sponsored by the PA Principals Association, PASA, PAMLE and PASCD.  
This year's Summit will be held from July 29-31, 2018 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, State College, PA.

2nd Annual National Black Male Educators Convening, Oct. 12-14, Philly
Teacher diversity works. Increasing the number of Black male educators in our nation’s teacher corps will improve education for all our students, especially for African-American boys.Today Black men represent only two percent of teachers nationwide. This is a national problem that demands a national response. Come participate in the 2nd National Black Male Educators Convening to advance policy solutions, learn from one another, and fight for social justice. All are welcome. Register to attend. Nominate a speaker. Propose a workshop. Sponsor the event.

Save the Dates PASA/PSBA School Leadership Conference – Hershey, Oct. 17-19, 2018 
Mark your calendar! The Delegate Assembly will take place Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, at 2:30 p.m.
Housing now open!

Our Public Schools Our Democracy: Our Fight for the Future
NPE / NPE Action 5th Annual National Conference
October 20th - 21st, 2018 Indianapolis, Indiana
We are delighted to let you know that you can purchase your discounted Early Bird ticket to register for our annual conference starting today. Purchase your ticket here.
Early Bird tickets will be on sale until May 30 or until all are sold out, so don't wait.  These tickets are a great price--$135. Not only do they offer conference admission, they also include breakfast and lunch on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. Please don't forget to register for your hotel room. We have secured discounted rates on a limited basis. You can find that link here. Finally, if you require additional financial support to attend, we do offer some scholarships based on need. Go here and fill in an application. We will get back to you as soon as we can. Please join us in Indianapolis as we fight for the public schools that our children and communities deserve. Don't forget to get your Early Bird ticket here. We can't wait to see you.

Any comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.

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