Auditors question records, funding for Franklin Pierce alternative learning program

State auditors contend the Franklin Pierce School District may have received more than $106,000 in over-funding for its alternative learning students during the 2012-13 school year.

An audit report released last week said the district failed to document required monthly evaluations of more than 200 students enrolled at Gates High School during two months during that school year, resulting in overpayment.

State regulations require that districts conduct monthly evaluations of students in alternative programs to claim funding for the following month.

Frank Hewins, superintendent of the Parkland-based school district, said the district is actually going beyond state requirements by using a twice-weekly student evaluation system.

“We submitted our disagreements with their findings,” Hewins said. “Our interpretation is that we are over-reporting.”

Auditors said the required documentation was missing for the months of September 2012 and January 2013. They said that means they must disallow funding the district received for each of the subsequent months.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) will decide if the district must pay the money back, or if the amount could be reduced.

In its response to the audit, the school district explained how it tracks Gates students. It issues a new written learning plan for each student at the start of each six-week term during the school year, and the learning plans are reviewed at the end of each term.

In addition, the school employs Project Pass, which monitors student progress twice a week. Every Tuesday and Thursday, teachers receive a list of which students are not passing or are in danger of not earning credits. They then meet with struggling students.

“Our interpretation follows the logic that communicating and meeting face to face with the student two times per week regarding the progress per their (learning plan) exceeds the requirements set forth in the rules,” the school district wrote. It says that providing both twice-a-week evaluations and intervention time with a teacher goes “above and beyond the letter of the law.”

District officials report that, since the implementation of Project Pass, students are earning more credits and passing state-mandated tests at a higher rate. In 2013, a record 78 students graduated from Franklin Pierce’s alternative program.

Auditors said that documentation for the two months in question was not the same as documentation for the other months. But the district argues that state rules don’t specify that evaluation methods must be consistent.

Audit manager Cheryl Thresher said auditors must have written evidence to support what the district says it’s doing.

The district said it will work to ensure there is “a piece of paper” in student records that’s consistent each month.

Auditors will review the issue in the next scheduled audit of the program, which will occur at the end of the current school year.