A south-central Iowa school district is one step closer to being forced to shut down after the State Board of Education voted Thursday to continue it’s review of the organization. A financial review of the Russell School District in Lucas County showed the district is projected to spend $500,000 more than they are authorized to spend, which prompted the state board to begin what’s called a phase two review. That review turned up many more problems.
Education Department director, Judy Jeffrey, says the vote to move forward puts the district’s accrediting "in jeopardy." Jefferey says that means they will move into the next phase of the process to sit down with the school board and superintendent to outline "the serious deficiencies that we have found in this school district, and to work with them to see what should be the next course of action on their part."
Among the other deficiencies found in the department review: teachers teaching courses they weren’t certified to teach, missing or incomplete personnel records and a fleet of school buses that failed state inspections 69% of the time. Jeffrey says some of the deficiencies are "probably correctable" in the near future, while she says some are "much more serious", such as the projected budget deficit and managing the financial future of the district.
Jeffrey says the state board will move rapidly "because we are committed to making sure that those students in that school district receive the highest quality education, and we don’t want to interfere, we want to promote that." Jeffrey says the trouble in the Russell district came to light in the reporting of the district’s budget problems, the more intensive review was the first under new state guidelines.
Jefferey says they asked the legislature for a change, because they had not authority to take a district’s accreditation because of financial affairs, and this is the first district to fall under that new authority. Jefferey says there are other districts that have reported a negative budget balance, but she says the way the districts respond to the problems is important. She says this was an example where the district had not followed through on their corrective action plan approved by the school budget review committee, and that led to the phase two review.
Jefferey says technology has improved and allowed the state board to do a better job of reviewing the records of school districts. Jeffrey says she hopes this is a signal for the school districts that have not been paying attention to their oversight responsibilities, that the state Board of Education and Education Department take their responsibilities very seriously to hold the school district responsible to state regulations and providing the best education possible to students.
Another issued raised by the board, was the Russell district’s rate of open enrollment out of the district of 43% in the 2006-2007 school year — the state average is 5%. The Russell district listed an enrollment of 154 students for this school year.