At Monroe High School, students pay $25 to take music classes, mostly for the workbook and cleaning of loaned instruments. At Sky Valley Education Center, Monroe’s large alternative school, there is no workbook and families come up with instruments on their own, so the class is free.
That’s a problem for the state.
Last week, we reported on a state wide audit of alternative education programs, including Monroe’s, that found that on the whole, money wasn’t being spent directly in accordance with state law, and that the Monroe School District was disputing the state’s interpretation of that law.
This week, having obtained the school-by-school breakout of the state’s audit of spending in parent-partner schools, of which Sky Valley Education Center is one, we are able to see how Monroe fared, and what was the nature of the disputed spending.
In a recent audit of the state’s largest alternative education programs, of which Monroe’s is the third largest, the state found that state-wide, about 45 percent of money spent on classes offered in partnership with the community didn’t meet state legal requirements.
Those classes differ from classes taught by regular teachers.
One of the ways parent-partnership programs like Monroe’s Sky Valley Education Center provide education opportunities to enrolled students is to hire community educators such as parents or contracted people to teach, under the supervision of a licensed educator, classes in their particular skills.
So if the parent of an ALE student happens to be skilled at taekwondo, she could offer to teach an elective physical education class in that sport.
A trained educator would work with her to make sure the class met the requirements of a physical education class, and then students could sign up to get their physical education or elective credits taking that class.
Or, if SVEC students develop an interest in robotics (they have) the district would be free to contract with a robotics expert from Boeing to come out and teach kids basic skills.
An example, the Monroe School District paid $33,000 to a professional music teacher to offer piano to ALE students. (Piano is taught at the high school by a music teacher, who is paid a wage and benefits instead of a fee.)
The state audit included a scrutiny of the money that school districts with that kind of parent-partnership school spent on such contracted classes, to make sure that the regular schools had “substantially similar” options.
State findings in Monroe
The state questioned about $315,000 of the district’s almost $500,000 in spending on community-based education.
Of those, the district successfully argued for the legitimacy of $210,000 of that, mostly by pointing out the Montessori classes are offered to traditional students as well as alternative students.
The state is still questioning $105,000.
That includes guitar, piano, field trips, a cooking class, a chess club, and fiddle.
The state found that guitar was offered at SVEC and not at the high school. The school rejoined that each year, the district offers guitar at the high school, and if not enough students sign up, it’s withdrawn. There hadn’t been sufficient interest, according to the district. The state wasn’t satisfied, saying that it seemed odd that 60 students wanted it at SVEC and none or very few at the high school, and continues to question the $27,000 paid for guitar.
The state questioned the piano and fiddle classes because the high school charges a fee and the alternative school doesn’t. The district responded that the fees are for workbooks that are required at the high school and not at the alternative school. The state isn’t satisfied with that argument and maintains its objection.
The state also noted that ALE elementary and middle school students get about eight times the field trip hours that regular elementary and middle schools do.
The district responded that since ALE parents provide all transportation and food to their kids, those expenses “more than offset” the cost of the trips. The district used that argument to explain why there’s no fee for a cooking class that required a fee at the high school. The state continues to question those expenses.
It is true that ALE students are considerably less expensive to educate than are traditional students.
The average overall cost of teaching each student in the entire district, traditional schools and ALEs combined, is $6,111 annually per student. The average cost of each SVEC student is $4,133, with all factors includes, such as community-based educators, building costs, utilities and administration.
There are no specific penalties for the schools questioned; O’Neil believes the purpose of the audit informational, perhaps to help legislators evaluate the role and cost of ALEs.
But the district plans to continue to defend it’s position, said O’Neil.
“We will prepare a response that we do not concur,” she said.