Audit shows wrong claims for alternative education program

EUGENE &

A state audit released this week found that school districts in 2003-04 wrongly claimed at least $318,000 in state school funds for students attending four publicly funded alternative education programs, including two in Eugene.




Another $807,000 in school funds was distributed to the programs that academic year as a result of "questionable" practices by districts, according to the Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division.




Will Garber, deputy director of the audits division, said he could not provide details about which districts are implicated or how much money each program inappropriately received until next week.




But an official in the audits division told The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene that HomeSource, a home-schooling resource center in the Bethel district, and the Martin Luther King Education Center, a collaborative program for students referred through the courts, were among those audited.




John Aarons, a supervisor with Lane County Department of Youth Services, said referrals to the MLK Center go through the Lane Education Service District. He said he didn't have details of the audit.




Paula Praus-Williamson, founder and chief operating officer for HomeSource, said the center had a chance to review preliminary findings from the audit but she hadn't analyzed the final report. "We don't know how much of (the money in question) applies to us," she said.




Both she and Bethel Superintendent Colt Gill said it was surprising that the department would seek reimbursement, given that most of the practices identified as inappropriate followed advice given by the department itself and only rescinded in 2005.




"We could not have started without them directing us how to do it," said Praus-Williamson, who launched HomeSource in 1995.




Randy Harnisch, policy adviser with the state Department of Education, said his agency had not yet been given the details.




"What I can tell you is the staff is going to be sitting down to meet and discuss our next steps on this in the middle of next week," said Harnisch, whose department asked for the audit more than two years ago due to concerns about how districts were handling alternative education referrals and funding.




Among the audit's findings:




"" Districts claimed nonresident students without the necessary referral forms or consent from home districts.




"" Districts made inaccurate student counts due to flawed attendance tracking and faulty calculations.




"" One public program inappropriately considered unlicensed assistants and interns as instructors, which inflated the per-pupil funding calculation.




The audit recommends that the department seek reimbursement of at least the $318,000, and possibly the additional $807,000.




In a response included in the audit, the Department of Education said it "generally" agreed with the findings and would seek reimbursement of the full $1.125 million.




The audit also recommends that the department periodically verify district claims for funds; develop policies requiring districts to gather and maintain accurate data related to state school fund claims; and clarify policies regarding consent and use of assistants to determine instructional group size, which is a basis for different levels of funding for alternative programs.




Harnisch said the department has already corrected many of the questionable practices described in the audit, due in large part to stepped-up scrutiny of alternative education.




"I think this just verifies that the actions that we took were legitimate," he said.




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Information from: The Register-Guard, http:www.registerguard.com

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