The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services will not be given federal No Child Left Behind Act funding for title programs to disburse to its six member school districts.
A letter Wednesday from Robert Hammond, the deputy commissioner of the Colorado Department of Education, stated that the funds would be distributed directly to the districts instead of through BOCES.
Ordinarily, federal title funds for programs, such as improving the academic achievement for the disadvantaged and training and recruiting principals and teachers, are distributed by the federal government to the state Education Department and on to BOCES. Then, BOCES distributes the funds to districts.
Last spring, the Steamboat Springs School District notified the Education Department that it had not received its share of $777,000 in federal title funding owed to the member districts. The department told the district that those funds had been given to BOCES. BOCES used the money for operational costs.
BOCES is a cooperative agency that provides state-mandated special education services to six school districts in Northwest Colorado, including Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt.
According to Hammond's letter, the decision to cut BOCES out of the disbursal process will affect the 2009-10 school year, and an evaluation to determine whether to continue distributing federal money directly to districts will be made April 30. The action was taken amid the Education Department's ongoing review of the financial situation at BOCES, the letter stated.
Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the Education Department told the superintendents that the districts might start receiving the federal funds directly from the state. Cunningham said she didn't think the Education Department had a choice.
"It's radical action," she said. "It's very, very serious. I have not seen this before."
Education Department spokesman Mark Stevens said the action taken toward BOCES was uncommon.
"I think it's safe to say it's very unusual," he said. "I can't say for a fact it hasn't happened before. It's very unusual."
The letter gave five reasons for giving the federal title funds directly to the districts instead of through BOCES:
- Inability to assure NCLB funds are being properly accounted for, managed and used
- Use of NCLB funds to support special education and other programs at the Northwest BOCES
- Failure by the Northwest BOCES to timely reimburse member districts for their 2008-09 NCLB expenditures
- Violation of the federal "Case Management Improvement Act" applicable to federally funded programs
- Accrual of interest on federal funds
The letter stated that "assisting individual districts with the fiscal management" of the federal funds would lead to more timely reimbursements this year after BOCES' "failure" to reimburse districts last year.
"I think it's concerning, but I think for the rest of this school year, the districts will be able to manage the funds and move forward," BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker said.
This is the first formal step the Education Department has taken related to BOCES, which has been struggling with financial issues.
In September, BOCES revealed that it had overspent its 2008-09 budget by nearly $317,000 and needed to increase assessments for services in 2009-10 by more than $481,000. Assessments for the 2009-10 school year originally were presented in May, when the districts were drafting their budgets.
BOCES plans to use federal stimulus funding for special education to help make up last year's deficit.
Toothaker has proposed using the same funding and making budget cuts to help reduce this year's increased assessments for services. Toothaker told member districts that BOCES would cut them checks for the $777,000 in federal title program funding when they pay this year's assessments.
Hammond's letter stated that BOCES must resolve its "current fiscal issues" to be considered for providing services to the districts in 2010-11.
"We definitely want to resolve the issue, and I think we are," Toothaker said.
Toothaker said because the money flowed through the districts anyway, programs it funds for students wouldn't be affected.