Mr. Harmon went on to discuss a double-sided sheet with "Average Class Size" on one side and "Large Grant Carry Forward: FY09 to FY 10". On the class size, he made a big deal out of how much work had to be done to...separate out the Special Ed and Bilingual kids from the class to get the average class size. Really? We have computers and stuff and this is a lot of work for someone? Interestingly, high school class sizes, for core subjects, have lower minimums and maximums than any other grade level.
On the grant carry forward - I don't get it. Title One, almost $1M for K-5 summer school and Early Learning Institute which I know nothing about. Then for LAP, almost $330K, for STEM planning year, MAP professional development and 6-12 summer school. I'm sure none of this is illegal but boy is it unseemly. Money meant for low-income students for their school year learning is diverted elsewhere. I don't care if what it is diverted for is worth it, the money should have gone into the classroom. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said they are reallocating the money to schools because past spending hasn't shown results. It made no sense to me. She also said something about having to underspend on large grants to hold a reserve for "salary equalization and sick leave subs". Teachers, could you help me out here?
Michael asked if it was safe to say that we held back LAP money that we could have distributed to schools for STEM? Mr. Harman said, no we held them back to carry them forward. Oh.
Then there was a discussion about the WSS. Michael said that they have been cutting budgets since he had been on the Board and they need to have a discussion about what are enough resources for schools. "If we are being honest, we have become more and more dependent on self-help money (PTA)." 74% of PTAs, according to a PTA survey, pay for staffing and so that doesn't feel like we are providing that base level of staffing support. He said he wasn't worried about affluent schools or Title One schools but those schools in the middle that don't have enough F/RL and also don't have enough capacity to supplement budgets. (italics mine).
Sherry said she was uncomfortable with the flux in schools individually. "We need to daylight that."
Michael asked (and keep in mind the WSS was on the agenda) about the changes in WSS year to year? He was told they didn't have that number with them. Apparently the cost of a teacher this year from last year went down slightly and yet central office staff costs went up.
And from the "I told you" file: we don't have any real idea where the money is coming from to reopen the schools. Okay? The BTA levy money doesn't just magically appear. And so they were discussing where to get the money internally (because it is cheaper than borrowing it externally). They might "redirect" it from BTA II (so if you are on the end of the list for BTA II, your project might just get put on hold for a longer while) or use the reserves or the CEP (capital eligible projects - too long to explain but I don't think this will solve it all). So eventually, the money will come from BTA III but for right now, it'll come from some other pot of money that we really shouldn't be touching.
Michael said he thought the sales of surplus property could cover this. Wasn't there over $18M worth of property sold? He was told some of the money went to SBOC( when, for what?) and some deferred maintenance issues. (BOARD! ask for details and accounting. Where did all that money go?) Michael said he hadn't seen any accounting and it had been awhile. He was promised answers. Sure.
And then we come to the really, really upsetting and bad news. Once again, we have an SPS department, this would be the ELL and Bilingual Department, screwing up royally.
There was an audit of the Native American program (I think by the State Auditor but I'm checking.) Apparently, the district "misstated" the number of Native American students and used I.D. numbers that weren't for SPS students. (No, I don't know if this is for the Native American K-12 program at Wilson-Pacific or across the district.) Native American students get some sort of funding from the Department of Education. So now, we have to pay back the money we got over two years which is roughly $170K per year. Another finding of this audit was that they did not set up a parent advisory committee as required (big surprise - the district not doing public engagement with parents).
Michael, doing a slow burn, "Who is responsible?." Lots of shuffling of paper, unclear what controls were not followed, person in that position now gone (and I assume their supervisorwas , Carla Santorno, also gone), blah, blah, blah. The upshot is that someone used id numbers for people/students? from Canadian tribes. "It's unfortunate and costly, " said Mr Harman.
Interestingly, Michael said, out loud, that it sounded like this approaches fraud. Sherry jumped in and said well, we don't know, was there intent? Then, she says that she had met with with some Native American parents who said the program wasn't very robust and they were concerned.
To recap: we now have to pay back roughly $340K that we don't have. Someone used i.d. numbers of people not even IN this country to get money. Parents in the program don't feel like the program is working. So the district took in more money than it was supposed to for a program that isn't robust. So what was the money spent on?
Peter babbled on about going forward and controls and Mr. Harman said all the forms are being validated and cross-checked BUT the "double-whammy" is that the new person has focused all his time on this so our numbers could be late to the feds and we get moved to the bottom of the pile. So, basically, the district might have to find the funding for the actual Native American students we do have SOMEPLACE else (he said about $85k). Where? Just tell us where?
So there you have it. Our district at work. You know what? I hope the district gets just raked over the coals for this. There is something very wrong here and now we all get to pay and those students weren't even getting the program they deserved. Oh and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson left the room before this got announced and it happened on her watch.
(You heard this story here first. Linda Shaw from the Times was there but left the room before this discussion to talk to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I called one reporter but frankly, I was flummoxed at who might really care and do some solid reporting.)
(Update: I spoke to someone at the State Auditor's office. They are doing an audit on the Native American funding issue and it should be out in a week or so. It doesn't appear to be fraud. The district may get off the hook (slightly) as sometimes the feds negotiate a lower sum for repayment or no repayment at all. However, we still have to fund the existing students which seems to be an issue. I'll try to find out how this all ends because it seems like it may take months to resolve. I am still dismayed and troubled by how this happened and for two years.)
- Michael tried mightly to get answers. But my solution is to keep on asking until you do.
- The Board is not getting the information they need or ask for in a timely manner. (And FYI, the final date for introducing the budgets - June 16th, with a public hearing soon after and then adoption on July 7th, the dead of summer. That works out well for the district, doesn't it?)
- The Board needs to get a spine. All of them and right now.