ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany Herald has obtained a Sept. 7 letter from the Georgia Department of Education Title Programs Division to Dougherty County School Superintendent Joshua Murfree in which the DOE says the department "has determined that the DCSS has ongoing financial and programmatic findings surrounding the appropriate implementation of federal education programs."
The letter, from Title Programs Director Margo DeLaune, goes on to say, "(I)t has become clear that the GaDOE Title Programs must take (the following) corrective action for the District or run the additional risk of oversight by the U.S. Department of Education (US ED)."
The situation stems from a May 24 complaint investigation team visit to the DCSS seeking documentation on questionable Title I, Part A expenditures and Free and Reduced Meals (FRM) numbers.
FRM numbers are used by the state to disburse federal program funding throughout Georgia. Last year more than 82 percent of the Dougherty school system's 16,000 public school students qualified for FRM, and state DOE officials said they had reason to doubt the accuracy of the numbers turned in by the district.
In addition, the state is demanding the reclassification or repayment of $134,626 in questionable Title I expenditures from FY 2012 and has given the DCSS until Sept. 28 to comply.
At stake is more than $12 million in federal funding for FY 2013 -- nearly 10 percent of the system's FY 2013 budget -- which remains frozen until the DOE is satisfied with the system's responses.
The state found "concerns surrounding the financial management and program implementation practices of the DCSS. Findings included, but were not limited to, lack of internal controls in Title I, Part A expenditures, contracts, procurement, and monitoring; inadequate policies and procedure for various fiscal processes; and supplanting of federal funds. The GaDOE's Title Programs Division has also found systemic problems with program noncompliance."
The state has instructed the DCSS to hire two individuals of the state Department of Education's choosing to oversee Title I, Part A expenditures and procedures, and to monitor and oversee FRM applications and procedures.
The latest letter also states that at minimum the DCSS must:
- Provide the GaDOE-approved individual with office space and equipment and access to Title I, Part A documents and databases.
- Fully participate in the development and implementation of a specific corrective action plan.
- Implement the corrective plan with fidelity.
- Respond to all directives in a timely and appropriate manner.
- Work closely and collaboratively with on-site GaDOE staff liaison.
- Maintain an open dialog with GaDOE Title Programs Division staff.
- Commit federal Title I, Part A financial resources to cover the costs associated with the hiring of the GaDOE designated staff to assist the district with the implementation of their Title I, Part A program.
- Acknowledge that as any additional areas of concern are determined to exist, there may be added corrective actions to the Corrective Action Plan for DCSS.
"Failure to comply with the corrective actions as agreed upon by the DCSS could result in the withholding of federal funds, a high-risk designation or both," the letter concluded. "This would result in yearly monitoring by US ED, quarterly monitoring by the GaDOE and quarterly reporting to the US ED for a three-year period. Moreover, if DCSS is designated as high-risk, public notice of DCSS's high-risk status would be published in the Federal Register."