BOCES to again distribute funds

Officials confident measures taken to avoid future issues

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— The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educa­tional Services will be allowed to disburse federal No Child Left Behind funding during the 2010-11 school year, according to an April 5 letter from Colorado Department of Education Dep­uty Commissioner Robert K. Hammond.

The state Department of Education had revoked the local organization’s ability to disburse those funds in November. The revocation was for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year and was the result of BOCES’ budgetary problems. The federal title program funding instead has been disbursed directly through BOCES’ member districts.

The punishment was the result of BOCES’ failure to distribute more than $777,000 in federal title program funds owed to its member districts during the 2008-09 school year. BOCES officials said the funds were instead used to pay the organization’s operating costs.

BOCES is a cooperative agency that provides state-mandated special education services to about 550 students in six Northwest Colorado school districts, including Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt.

A letter to BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker in November stated its ability to disburse the funds was taken away for several reasons, including:

■ Inability to assure No Child Left Behind funds are being properly accounted for, managed and used

■ Use of No Child Left Behind 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 No Child Left Behind expenditures

■ Violation of the federal “Case Management Improve­ment Act” applicable to federally funded programs

■ Accrual of interest on federal funds

On Monday, Hammond said BOCES’ steps since November were enough to warrant the change of course.

“Basically, they’ve complied with everything we asked and have a corrective action plan,” Hammond said. “We can see they’re on the right track now.”

Toothaker said BOCES has instituted a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t again have the financial issues that surfaced last year.

In addition to the untimely payment of federal title funding, BOCES revealed last September 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. BOCES used federal stimulus funding for special education to help make up for last year’s deficit.

Some of the new accountability measures cited by Toothaker include: presentation of monthly financial statements to the BOCES board, district superintendents and finance staff; the creation of a finance oversight committee composed of a representative from each district that meets quarterly; Toothaker meeting weekly with Finance Director Chloe Flam and Special Education Director Robin Tschider to discuss the budget, and Flam’s receiving of training from the Department of Education.

Toothaker presented a preliminary 2010-11 budget of about $2.9 million at the March BOCES board meeting. She said the budget is down from about $4 million this year.

The budget re­­duction is in part because of about 120 fewer special education students receiving services from BOCES, Tooth­­aker said. She said other budget measures included a 10 percent cut to central office costs; reducing special education services while meeting the needs of current students and federal and state requirements; reducing professional development, supplies, discretionary spending; and freezing salaries for the second consecutive year.

Hammond’s letter included a caveat. Although BOCES can resume disbursing federal title funding to the districts, the Department of Education gave each district the option of continuing to receive its funds directly from the state.

Toothaker said South Routt has indicated it will receive its funding from BOCES, while Steamboat will continue to manage its own funds directly from the state. She said Hayden hasn’t told her what it would do next year.

The letter also stated, “CDE re­­serves the right to periodically request evidence related to the Northwest BOCES’ financial matters.”

“It’s gotten itself out of the problem so to speak,” Hammond said. “They’ve been through a difficult time, so we’ll be monitoring them. I can’t say how closely. What we’re trying to do is provide them with the necessary support and training.

“When someone gets in that much trouble, we try to help them as much as we can.”

Toothaker said she feels “very confident” that the action BOCES has taken will prevent last year’s financial issues from happening again.

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