A Juneau School District complaint panel found the district needs to improve its management and oversight of grants and increase board training following a complaint filed by the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 70.
The school board unanimously approved the complaint, and thereby its recommendations this week at its meeting.
ANS filed a complaint against the district, alleging improper use of federal Transitions II grant funds. Those funds are to be spent on enhancing education primarily for Alaska Native students. The group took issue with the district changing what they would spend the grant funds on after it received the grant, specifically on the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. The group said a large number of Native students would not be served by this program. ANS was one of the key partners in applying for the grant with the district.
ANS expressed concerns the district doesn't have adequate oversight of grants and requested an external audit over the use of Transitions II funds and recommended the board receive more training on equity and oversight in grant fund usage.
The district board of education has a panel that deals with complaints, which consists of board members Ed Flanagan, Sally Saddler and Andi Story.
The panel found that AVID is a program that can make a difference for Alaska Native students, even though the original intent of the program was not targeted primarily toward those students. The results of the program, however, have been an effective tool in helping Alaska Native students and others improve academic success. The panel believes the use of the year two grant funds for training and startup costs are valid because they believe it will assure "long-term positive gains and success for Alaska Native Students," the report said.
"The panel further finds the training for staff was done in a way that will be embedded in the district's on-going operations beyond the scope of grant funds," it said.
The panel stated while about half of the grant funds in year two have been invested in AVID, the district also contributed $50,000 toward the program. It also states to date, 60 percent of the 88 students in the program are Alaska Native.
It also found most of the services outlined in the grant application are being provided, despite the fact the grant was awarded after the beginning of the school year - making a fully faithful implementation impossible, the report states. It also states the funds received were less than expected, increased personnel costs were higher than requested in the grant, and some staff identified to be hired with the grant had resigned.
Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said the district spoke with the federal grant authority to make sure their changes would be appropriate for the grant dollars and changes were approved by the federal grant authority.
Saddler said many of the issues that caused the change in implementation were caused by factors outside the district's control.
The panel found the district "failed to implement the grant advisory committee outlined in the original grant and did not communicate grant changes in a timely manner with local grant partners who helped develop the grant."
"The district needs to improve the management and oversight of grants in support of Native student achievement, to ensure accountability and fidelity to the purpose and intent of grants," the report states.
The panel did not recommend an external evaluation, but instead recommended internal management controls be developed and implemented.
The panel recommended the board to direct the superintendent to work on six areas in grant oversight, largely to do with communication and grant effectiveness. The comments reflect earlier statements made by the panel.
It also recommends the board get more training, put in internal management steps and working on reviews for other areas that use grant funds.
The panel's final recommendation was to evaluate the end of year two of the grant before year three begins. If the number of Alaska Native students being served by the program is not the majority, then the board would need to have the superintendent reallocate the percentage of funds used for AVID and get more money from other funding sources.
Scandling said funds like this have never been targeted exclusively toward Alaska Native students. At Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School, grant funds are used for Tlingit language classes, employability skills and other programs, which never have all-Native participants. They also host a summer camp, which had about 60 percent Alaska Native participants. Scandling expects that to be fairly common since the proportion of Alaska Native students in the district is about 63 percent.
Board member Mark Chaote said he's pleased and excited about AVID's implementation.
"On the one hand it's important to identify populations who need support and help," he said. "We also have to pick up the kids in the middle."
Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said the most important lesson learned here is to communicate with the stakeholders right away.
"There were some mistakes made, and we can fix them," Gelbrich said. "AVID doesn't need advocacy, it speaks for itself. One of the clear things that we know is that we have had limited success in our work with way too many Alaska Native children for way too long. At some point, we have to decide we have to do something different than what we're doing and AVID is that. We have to implement this program with absolute fidelity. Period. The focus here is as many Alaska Native children as possible in the program."
Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@ juneauempire.com.