/Noxubee County School District in danger of state takeover

Noxubee County School District in danger of state takeover

Nonprofit Mississippi News: The state is now closer to intervening in Noxubee County’s School District. State education officials have declared that an extreme emergency exists. At Wednesday’s Commission on School Accreditation meeting, members argued that the North Mississippi district violated federal and state laws. District officials offered pleas for a second chance. The commission unanimously declared that a severe emergency exists in the district, putting students at risk. The matter will be discussed by the State Board of Education on Thursday. The 200-page investigation audit that was conducted by the state Department of Education between June 25 and July 3 this year was the focus of the discussion. The audit found that the district was in violation of 26 of 32 state accreditation standards. Since school was not in session, the state was unable to verify that Noxubee had met certain standards regarding school day practices. The audit identified issues in budgeting and financial practices as well as reporting data to state officials. It also highlighted teachers who were not licensed or working in the wrong endorsement areas and students being allowed to graduate without meeting graduation requirements. Paula Vanderford, MDE Chief for Accountability, said that the audit was initiated by a request from the district’s chief operations for financial assistance. Carey Wright, the state superintendent, ordered an investigation into the school district. Vanderford explained the violations to the commission, and stated that the department was concerned about the district’s ability to make payroll over the next few months. She also said that officials did not create proper instructional management plans and document the professional assistance offered to teachers or administrators. The commission was most concerned about the finances of the district. Noxubee County had not submitted the required annual financial audits for the fiscal year ended Wednesday to the office. Michael Miller, a member of the commission, stated that everyone knows it was coming. “So how can we go two to three years without submitting one?” Noxubee officials attributed the failure to submit the annual audits to the independent auditor they had hired. They told the commission that they have since cut ties and hired a new auditor. They anticipate being caught up in all their financial audits by March 2019. Roger Liddell, Noxubee County superintendent, made a simple request to the commission: more money and time. While he accepted full responsibility for the violations, he also claimed that many of the findings had been corrected. Albert Williams, Noxubee’s school board chair, echoed his views and said that the district needed help and understood its financial difficulties. Williams stated, “We will be glad, happy to roll up our sleeves in order to make this happen.” Williams said, “With MDE’s support, we can make it happen.” Liddell stated that this was inaccurate and untrue. “I don’t know who would say that.” The district received its second consecutive F accountability rating in October 2017. Four of the district schools received an F rating. Liddell presented the argument that his schools experienced drops in test scores as a result of the state’s changing state tests year-to-year. He also pointed out that the district was only a few points away a D accountability rating last year. The state education officials recommended that Noxubee County be transferred to the state-run Achievement Schools District one month after the F rating. Although the ASD isn’t yet operational, the 1,500-student area can be transferred if the state board agrees that there is an emergency and the governor declares a national emergency. Jackson Public School District was in a similar position last year. In September 2017, both the state board and the commission declared an emergency in the district. It was up to Gov. Phil Bryant was left to decide whether or not to declare a state emergency. Instead, he declared the Better Together Commission, which is still working with the district. The State Board of Education will now decide what happens to Noxubee. They will meet on Thursday and follow the same process. The governor will also be notified if the board declares an emergency situation. Phil Bryant will decide if he signs a declaration of emergency, which would trigger a state takeover. Noxubee’s state board would take its place and dissolve the school board.