Jul 18, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterLegislative committees met this week in Riverton to evaluate the quality of educational opportunities on the reservation.
The Joint Education Committee and the Select Committee on Tribal Relations of the Wyoming Legislature met Monday at the Little Theater at Central Wyoming College to discuss the current status of education for the American Indian population in Fremont County and determine better opportunities.
Chairmen of the JEC are Sen. Henry Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Goshen, and chairmen of the select committee are Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, and Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete.
Compliance and funding
The committees heard from David Holbrook, the federal programs division director of the Wyoming Department of Education, on the monitored activity of Fremont County School District 38 in Arapahoe. The district receives grants from the U.S. Department of Education under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act while the WDE acts as a monitoring agent to ensure the district complies.
The monitoring was done through audit documentation and on a site visit done in the fall of 2012 and spring of 2013, respectively. During the nine years the monitoring occurred, the department reported a "significant number of out-of-compliance findings."
The monitoring done in the 2011-12 school year resulted in more than 50 out-of-compliance results, the largest number of findings for the district in the nine years it has been monitored.
Holbrook said the WDE is drafting a monitoring response letter that includes placing the district into a "high risk grantee status" and would require monthly reports on compliance issues during the next school year. The WDE plans to provide technical assistance to correct the issues.
The district received more than $500,000 in Title I A funding and nearly $130,000 in Title II A funding for the 2011-12 school year. For the 2012-13 school year, the district also accepted Title III and Perkins funds, which it had rejected the previous school year.
WDE interim director Jim Rose said the department discussed the issue with the district's school board and determined the school had a capacity issue and a high staff turnover rate. The district has had four superintendents since 2007, and Rose described the business manager position as a "revolving door."
"(It's) not based on a lack of resources, it's a lack of capacity," Rose said to committee members. "People need to be trained to carry out these duties."
The board suggested consolidating districts or forming a memorandum of understanding to use another district's resources or personnel.
"I don't know that a consolidating approach is going to solve anything," he said. "They need more people. They need stability."
"If we can't figure a way out of this, we may have to consider consolidating," Teeters said.
Rose said the department has considered hiring outside consultants to assist the district.
Rose said other issues were brought up during meetings with the department and the district's school board. He said that with the attempt to improve some areas of the school, other factors like poverty and unemployment also need to be acknowledged.
Sen. Jim Anderson of the education committee agreed that when children can't afford to eat, schools shouldn't expect them to focus fully in school.
It also became clear that retention is an issue because, Rose said, eighth-graders choose to attend schools other than the Arapahoe Charter School, making it difficult to improve the system.
"That handicaps their efforts to increase their graduation rate," Rose said.
He added that some board members were engaged in discussion, expressed interest and "honest commitment" while others didn't speak at all but "very desperately want things to change."
Holbrook reminded the committees that some parents have a negative attitude toward education that stems from an era when children were sent to boarding schools and were prohibited from speaking their own language.
"We have a long way to go, but we can go towards a positive change," Holbrook said. "We have to start working with parents so they can see the value of education."
Holbrook agreed to support the effort and pointed out the planned Wind River Job Corps Center will be a significant contributor to the county and young people. Information also will be made available Aug. 8 at a college and career fair for high school students in the county.
Graduation rates, attendance
Other monitoring done to school districts includes the OMB Circular A-133, also known as the single audit.
Any non-federal entity that spends $500,000 or more a year in federal awards is subject to the single audit, which is used to demonstrate to the federal government that the district is properly using federal funds and is complying with laws and regulations.
When District 38 did not complete the annual financial audit for a fiscal year within the time given, WDE had to suspend federal funding until it was completed. The audit -- completed by an independent auditor -- needed to be completed by Nov. 15 and filed with the State Department of Audit and Education on or before Dec. 15, following the end of the audited fiscal year.
Funding resumed after Lovelett, Skogen & Associates, P.C., the district's accounting firm, provided a copy of the fiscal year 2011-12 financial reports for the district.
WDE is reviewing the reports and establishing a "corrective action plan" that will be implemented following the audit findings.
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