Four area school districts audited

Liliana Castillo

Four area school districts were audited by the New Mexico Public Education Department over the last 10 days.

Initial findings were released Thursday.

Based on a review of 10,000 files from 34 districts across the state, Portales Municipal Schools was cleared of all issues along with seven other districts.

Clovis Municipal Schools and Fort Sumner Municipal Schools was cited for minor reporting compliance issues along with 12 other districts.

Nine districts were identified as needing a more expansive audit, including Melrose Municipal Schools

Over the last year, the number of new students in New Mexico has increased by about 1 percent and the same time, the number of funding units associated with those students increased 116 percent.

“This audit is about transparency for our taxpayers and appropriate services for our students,” said Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. “What we found in this audit is what we expected to find. Many of the districts had legitimate numbers with only a few small, understandable errors. However, we also found large, systemic problems that we need to examine further.”

The PED has requested the services of the Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education group based out of Utah to work with the 9 school districts selected for additional audit measures. The TAESE group is expected to visit those districts to work with them over issues of compliance and present recommendations back to the department by the end of October.

Skandera spoke with superintendents by phone Wednesday about the results of the audits.

Melrose Superintendent Jamie Widner said MMS was given a telephone audit and he feels that contributed to the district being listed as needing further auditing.

“I think the PED had incorrect data to start with to get us on the list,” Widner said. “I wasn’t able to provide what they needed for a telephone audit. If they had come here, we could have taken care of it.”

Widner said his phone audit took place on the Good Friday, a holiday for most districts. He was told he hadn’t provided the correct information, but without a staff, there was little he could do about it.

“I didn’t want to call my staff in on Easter weekend. I made that decision. If I hadn’t, we might not be in this situation but I made it. We called Tuesday with more information and were told it’s a done deal,” he said.

Widner said numbers reported from their 3- and 4-year-olds programs grew over 200 percent and that exponential growth is was landed Melrose on the list.

“I truly believe everything is here,” he said. “Had they been here, if they’d done an on-site audit like they did on a majority of the schools, we wouldn’t be on the list.”

CMS Superintendent Terry Myers said the district’s issues were related to record keeping issues.

“Basically, we had some child’s folders that didn’t have schedules in them. In one folder where there was a compliance issue, we didn’t get a review done in time,” he said.

Myers said CMS has a high student mobility rate, high rate of children who move in and out of the district, and that contributed to the mix-up in records.

Myers said though the compliance issues are small, the district will correct them.

Myers said the PED will inform each district what needs to be done to fix any issues in the coming weeks.

Fort Sumner Superintendent Patricia Miller said the PED found that one student with an individualized education plan could have needed additional testing.

Miller said Fort Sumner and most districts on the east side of the state have a memorandum of understanding with ENMRSH, which provides special education services prior to entering public school. When a student transitions from one program to the other, ENMRSH, Local Education Authority and the district officials meet to decide of the student needs further testing.

Miller said the PED wants the MOU changed, which will affect MOU’s ENMRSH has with all districts in eastern New Mexico. Miller said Fort Sumner used guidance documents from the PED to create the MOU.

“We believe that our MOU is in compliance with federal law and compliance documents,” she said.

Miller said the PED also had on record that Fort Sumner had two 3-year-olds last year and six 4-year-olds last year. Miller said she isn’t sure where the PED got that number because her staff reported five 3-year-olds last year.

Miller said of the nine records the PED asked for, the smallest was 19 pages and the largest was 55 pages long. The district faxed the records to the PED from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We don’t have a super duper fax machine in Fort Sumner. We have a $49 fax machine that does the job,” she said.

The PED will also launch a review of enrollment figures reported by charter schools, Skandera said. Charter schools will be notified by today if they are the subject of an initial review.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.