ALBANY, Ga. -- As the Dougherty County School System's spring break begins, the district still faces much work to right the troubled district, which has been constantly battered over the past two years.
With issues ranging from looming disciplinary tribunals, Federal Title I problems, an internal free and reduced meal (FRM) probe, a dispute with Albany State University over the future of Albany Early College, school closures, E-rate reimbursement issues and a slew of possible non-contract renewals this month, Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely has a crowded plate sitting before him.
But it's better than it was.
"Let's put it this way," Mosely said, "We're still in a pretty deep hole. But on the bright side, we're no longer digging down, we're digging up."
The system's troubles have been well documented, beginning with a Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) cheating scandal in 2009, followed by the FRM fraud arrests of Board member Velvet Riggins and former Morningside principal Gloria Baker in late 2011.
Riggins was acquitted by a jury last year and Baker faces an April 29 hearing before Dougherty Superior Court Judge Willie Lockett.
Many of the system's current woes stem from those two issues, which brought increased state and federal scrutiny into the county.
So, where does the system stand today?
After the Riggins and Baker situations the Georgia Department of Education ordered the DCSS to review it's FRM application process. Child nutrition expert Ruth Gordon, hired at the behest of the DOE, was brought into oversee the process.
The system reviewed the applications from its 2,400-plus employees who had filed for FRM assistance. According to sources, 16 were found to have filed fraudulent applications involving 21 children.
Mosely will have to review these case before recommending dismissal, suspension or nothing at all.
Resolving the FRM application process to the state's satisfaction is key to another issue:
The District owes Albany Water, Gas and Light more than $400,000 for federal E-rate payments which were halted last year after the District's Title I expenditure problems came to light.
Federal E-rate money is used to pay for wireless Internet networking and other technology related expenses.
The School Board recently approved $60,000 monthly payments to WG&L to clear up the arrears.
The utility has been carrying the school system's E-rate debt while the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) and school officials try to resolve their FRM issues.
FRM numbers are used to determine the percentage of federal funding the system receives. Once the FRM situation is resolves, USAC will reimburse the district.
TITLE I MONEY
The district has already reimbursed the state more than $700,000 for questionable federal Title I, Part A expenditures for FY11, FY12 and FY13.
Mosely and new Interim Title I Director David Coley are hoping that the state DOE had finished their review. But as the state has shown over the past few months there are no guarantees they are satisfied.
All monies reimbursed to the DOE have come from the District's general fund reserve.
Mosely's biggest challenge could be in deciding which employee contracts he will recommend not be renewed. Contract renewal letter should go out late this month. Non-contract renewal letters have to go out by May 15.
Sources say Mosley may recommend the non-renewal of as many as nine of the system's 26 principals. A number of assistant principals, administrative staff and teachers could also be on the non-renewal list.
And that leads us to ...
Faced with a slew of probable appeals from CRCT suspensions (by the Professional Standards Commission), FRM discipline and contract non-renewals, the School Board last month unanimously approved creating a pool of retired educators for use on tribunals in disciplinary hearings over the next several months.
The three-person panels are expected to cost $1,500 per day, but will be able to handle the expected workload which would be logistically impossible for the BOE.
The Board would then simply vote up or down on the tribunals recommendations.