Over the past five years, the Iowa City Community School District has spent $1.5 million from its general fund to partially fund community education programs, which instead should have been funded from the School Infrastructure Local Option sales tax approved by voters in 2007.
Each year beginning in 2007, $300,000 in SILO funds has been allocated to the Community Education Program. However, the money could not be accessed until an advisory council and an official Community Education Program were in place, which did not happen until earlier this month. Community education programs include all services that the district is not required to provide, such as family resource centers, before- and after-school programs, summer programs and mental health services.
With district officials unaware that they first needed to establish an official Community Education Program to access the SILO funding, the programs were paid for out of the general fund.
Joan VandenBerg, coordinator of youth and family development for the district and the co-director of the Community Education Program, said this week that the allocation of SILO funding for the programs was the responsibility of the district’s business office, which was headed by Paul Bobek until he resigned in January.
School Board President Marla Swesey said the misstep is not unlike other situations the district has encountered in the past, and she hopes they can be avoided in the future.
“We want to move forward and we want to have everything put in place so that we don’t have those kinds of problems again,” Swesey said. “I think we are on the right path.”
Because of legal restrictions, however, SILO money that was supposed to have funded the programs from 2007 to 2010 cannot be repaid to the general fund, said Leslie Finger, director of business services with the district, who has consulted with the district’s lawyer.
While the district was working with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to receive pediatrician help at school-based medical clinics in 2010, officials realized the Community Education Program did not meet all federal and state requirements to use the SILO funding, said Susie Poulton, director of health and student services and co-director of the program. Poulton took over responsibilities for community education after Associate Superintendent Jim Behle left the district in 2010.
Even after the discovery in 2010, VandenBerg said she still assumed about half of the Community Education Program’s funding was coming from the set-aside SILO fund and the other half was coming from a mixture of grants, general fund money and other sources. She said she had no reason to think the SILO funding was not in place.
“I managed the family resource center budget, and I thought that money was being drawn down from SILO. I was not aware that it was being drawn from the general budget,” she said.
In June 2010, the School Board voted to create the Community Education Program after receiving a memo from the district’s attorney outlining the need for an official CEP to use the local-option sales tax money.
It was not until a few months ago that the district became aware that funding for the programs still was coming from the general fund, Superintendent Steve Murley said.
As a result of the Synesi report, a third-party audit of district operations released in January, the district is actively working to make changes to its procedures, Murley said.
“As we begin to put systems and standard operating procedure in place, things like this come to light,” Murley said. “And once they come to light, then it gives us an opportunity to ensure that our procedures can better monitor the funds that come in.”
The Community Education Districtwide Advisory Council, which will oversee the Community Education Program and make recommendations regarding the program to the board, met for the first time last week, 18 months after the initial discovery that an official program was needed. VandenBerg attributes this 18-month lag to the turnover in district administration, including both the superintendent and the assistant superintendent.
Murley said the most important thing is that the district has provided, and continues to provide, programs to assist students in need.
“What this essentially has done is inverted the process,” he said. “We funded the programs initially from our general fund and now we’ll fund them from those dollars that are available under SILO and that will extend the life of these programs beyond the expiration of SILO itself. I believe that what that does is ensures that our students will continue to have access to these programs that we’ve created to provide the level of assistance that we know that they need.”
VandenBerg said that because the money cannot be repaid to the general fund, the Community Education Program plans to use some of its money to create and support programs that otherwise could be funded by the general fund.
“What we are looking to do is to align some of our other resources a little differently. I think there is a way that this will still meet our district needs, just for how we are distributing the funds,” she said.
The advisory council now has the equivalent of $600,000 to spend on community education programs annually until SILO funding ends in 2017, VandenBerg said.
“It sounds like it actually might be a good thing for all these programs because now they have a longer way of having that funding help them,” Swesey said. “We’ve had the programs for a long time, but now the money is coming from the right place to help them be sustainable for a little while longer anyway.”
With the extra funding, VandenBerg said she and Poulton will recommend that the advisory council continue supporting Family Resource Centers and also support 21st Century Extended Day programing over the next five years.
VandenBerg said she is unsure where funding for the Community Education Program will come from after SILO expires in 2017 but having programs in place will make it easier to find funding streams.
Moving forward, VandenBerg said the advisory council plans to assess the needs and resources in the community and work to provide coordination between programs.
“I think sometimes in a district of our size, we don’t always have the big picture of what we are doing to meet those non-academic needs of students, those barriers to learning,” she said. “I think we want to get a better picture of what we have and what we need.”
Article source: http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20120227/NEWS01/302270017/District-corrects-funding-error-programs