State rescinds school district's notice of 'poor internal controls'

Being on list could have affected future grant applications


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By Patricia Keller

West Milford school officials say they have resolved a situation that could have affected the district's ability to qualify for grant money down the road.

According to Barbara Francisco, the district's business administrator, a letter from the state Education Department was received on Dec. 20, 2017, informing the district that because it had not submitted an "approvable final report" for a "Race to the Top" grant it got in 2012, it would be included on a list of districts that "have demonstrated poor internal controls." That status meant it may have affected the district's ability to receive future grants.

The business administrator said she reached out on Dec. 28 to the state Department of Education's director of its Office of Grants Management, Anne Corwell, and explained "the circumstances" surrounding the district's failure to file the "approvable final report."

After Francisco provided all the necessary documentation,

the state accepted the filing and informed the district that it was no longer on the list, she said.

"Everything was resolved and the final letter came on Jan. 3," she said.

The grant amounted to $36,151 and the "Race to the Top" program ran from 2012 to 2015.

Superintendent provides updateReacting to a media report about the Dec. 20 notice, schools Superintendent Dr. Alex Anemone posted a letter to the community on the district's website stating that it had received an "updated response" from the state on Jan. 3 that indicated that the prior notice was inaccurate and had been rescinded.

Wrote Anemone:

“Earlier today, an article was published online regarding the district’s participation in the 2012 Race to the Top Phase 3 grant program. The original notice received from the New Jersey Department of Education, dated December 20, 2017, indicated that West Milford was included on a list of applicants who have not submitted an approvable final report. A follow up notice from the Director of the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Grants Management dated January 3, 2018 indicated that this is not accurate, and has rescinded the original notice. The money from the six year old grant was fully spent in the 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 school years and the West Milford Township Public School District is eligible to participate fully in every state and federal grant to help alleviate the financial burden placed on local taxpayers."

The district remains, he concluded in the note, "committed to budgeting public monies in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible.”

Being on that list, former school board president James Foody had commented after news of the Dec. 20 letter got out, could have meant that West Milford would have been "at the back of the line" when future grant money was handed out.

"It's not good," Foody said then.

About the 'Race to the Top' grantThe $4.65 billion "Race to the Top" grant program was a competitive grant initiative that began in 2010, and was designed to revitalize state education innovations. New Jersey reportedly received $38 million through Phase 3 of the grant competition from the federal Department of Education.

Program funds were split between participating districts (via grants) and the state, which used their half of the money to fund state educational reforms to improve college and career readiness for high school students.

The state’s goals for the "Race to the Top" program include. the development of a model core curriculum and creating an online instructional program for teachers.

It also targets teacher evaluation protocols, and boosts charter schools as a way of increasing educational options.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, recipients for Phase 1 of "Race to the Top" grants were notified on March 29, 2010; Phase 2 winners were notified on Aug. 24, 2010, and the winners for Phase 3 on Dec. 23, 2011. New Jersey received $37,847,648 for Phase 3.

“Within 90 days of the award, grantees were responsible for submitting Scopes of Work for all of the State's participating local education agencies (LEAs) and a Scope of Work for the State's overall project consistent with its approved plan. State and LEA Scopes of Work were required to include specific goals, activities, timelines, budgets, key personnel, and annual targets for key performance measures.” (SOURCE: www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/awards.html)

State regulations require risk assessments to be conducted for grant recipients. Proper monitoring helps prevent any misappropriation of funds. It also ensures that outcomes are accurately documented and reported.



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