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Education Desk: Feb. 26, 2014

Audit of Federally-Funded Programs at SCUSD is Mixed Bag

After undergoing a Federal Program Monitoring (FPM) audit at the end of last year, the good news is that Santa Clara Unified is in compliance with three of the seven programs that the FPM reviews for compliance with the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, Asst. Superintendent of Instruction Tanya Fisher told the school board at the Feb. 13 board meeting.

The bad news is that it’s out of compliance in four others. And the district has 45 days fix it, or risk losing federal money for all the programs. The district receives about $5 million in federal funding, according to budgets published on the district website (tinyurl.com/qa8w6ec).

Federal and state laws require California to monitor the implementation of categorical programs – i.e. money that is appropriated by the federal government for specific educational programs – operated by local educational agencies – LEAs, typically school districts. California’s FPM office decides on reviews using a combination of information including academic achievement, potential financial risk, and thoroughness of data reporting. Every year, the FPM picks 120 LEAs for a physical audit. This was the first time SCUSD has had this type of audit, Fisher told the board.

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The categories reviewed are: before- and after-school programs, compensatory education, career technical education, migrant student education, English language learner programs (ELL), and education equity. The audit looks at policies and procedures, program monitoring, and financial reporting.

The district met the mark in after-school programs, career technical education, and migrant student education. However, the auditors found SCUSD “out of compliance” with regard to compensatory education, English language learner programs (ELL), education equity, and uniform complaint procedures. Further, inconsistencies and lapses were found in some of the financial reporting for these programs.

The most significant problems the auditors found were in ELL programs that were mostly procedural.

The only academic problem the auditors found was a lack of “catch up” instruction strategy to bring ELLs up to their appropriate academic levels while they were learning English.

On there procedural side, there were discrepancies between financial reports at different levels, and in developing and approving each schools’ Single Plan for Student Achievement – SPSA, a school’s plan for continuous improvement of student performance – budget.

SPSAs are developed in coordination with School Site Councils (SSC) – which include teachers, classified employees, and parent and student volunteers. The findings will likely require every SSC to review their site plans, noted district finance chief Mark Allgire.

Trustee Ina Bendis noted that “very early in my tenure [she was elected in 2006] we received bunch of SPSAs [in which] the budget from every school was different from … what they had,” she said adding, “I think that was a lot of principals choosing who’s going to be on the School Site Council rather than informed people who want to.”

Further, the audit found that schools weren’t classifying local matching funds for these programs correctly. Finally, the district needs a process and set of criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of its ELL program, as well as reclassifying students as English-proficient.

Fisher is working with district staff and New Directions for Academic Achievement – a San Diego-based non-profit whose specialty is helping districts and schools escape from California’s “program improvement” status – to address the findings, improve program and reporting structures, and create district infrastructure to support EL programs.

Other corrections include updating policies and procedures to reflect new state and federal legislation about anti-bullying, gender discrimination, and safe schools; and procedural changes that ensure that SPSAs address the needs of specific targeted parts of the student population.

Fisher said that she didn’t attribute the problems to any bad intentions, but rather to the need for ongoing guidance and instruction for the multitude of people involved – SSCs, parent groups, and school staff – about the specific reporting requirements for these programs.

At the same meeting, the board also approved a new staff position, partly to closely manage these programs. “There’s an integral position that’s missing in a district this size,” noted Fisher.

Understanding Common Core

There are several short, easy-to-watch video on the SCUSD website explaining the Common Core Standards in visual terms that anybody can understand, including an interview with SCUSD Assessments Coordinator Bill Conrad. You can reach it from the news section of the landing page or go directly via tinyurl.com/kfxx9kc or the SCUSD YouTube Channel, tinyurl.com/scusdvideo.

Another resource for insight into international education and pedagogical trends, ideas and statistics is British research firm Pearson’s website, The Learning Curve (thelearningcurve.pearson.com).

Pearson is the company that informed the world a few years back that the best-educated students in the world came from Korea and Finland – countries with diametrically opposed educational systems. The website offers a repository of case studies, video interviews, interactive graphics, and country profiles.

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