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Published in Print: September 8, 2004, as Ed. Dept. Seeks Return of Bilingual Funds

Ed. Dept. Seeks Return of Bilingual Funds

Audit says Dallas District Didn't Spend Grant as Promised

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The Department of Education is asking the Dallas Independent School District to give back $1.8 million of a federal grant for bilingual education because it claims the school district didn't spend the money on what it said it would.

The Education Department had already refused to give the district the final installment—$523,500—of the five-year, $2.6 million grant because the department concluded that the district had not achieved "substantial progress" with the grant funds.

A final audit report issued by the Education Department's inspector general's office contends that the Texas district delivered only 18 percent of the approved grant "services and products" over a grant period from 1999 to 2003. The report also says that the district "did not properly account for and use bilingual grant funds in accordance with applicable regulations, grant terms, and cost principles."

Dallas district officials dispute the inspector general's conclusions. Mike Moses, who stepped down as the district's superintendent last week, maintained in a May 18 letter responding to a draft of the audit report that the district spent its money from the grant appropriately. He wrote that the auditors' conclusions were based on "errors of fact and/or interpretation."

Mr. Moses' letter also said that the analysis of the use of the grant was "seriously flawed" because it overlooked changes in the grant program that were approved by the Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority languages affairs, which oversaw the grant. That federal office is now called the office of English language acquisition and expects to award $697 million in fiscal 2004.

Did Dallas Fall Short
Of Goals?

The Department of Education's inspector general's office says the Dallas school district did not achieve the numerical goals it promised in applying for federal bilingual education funds. The district disagrees with the auditors.

Grants services or program
Proposed Delivered
Teachers Trained 150 49
Parents Trained 400 110
Model classrooms 20 0
Subdistricts with teachers/classrooms 8 1

The federal office has recently provided new grant money to Dallas schools. In 2004, the office gave the district $175,000 for foreign-language assistance, according to the Education Department's grants database.

Even taking into account the district's response and the additional documentation it provided, the inspector general's office stuck with its conclusions that only a fraction of the services promised were delivered by the district.

The department did, however, slightly reduce the amount of money it called for the district to repay to the $1.8 million requested in the Aug. 4 final report.

Donald Claxton, a spokesman for the 160,000-student Dallas schools, said last week that the district had not yet returned the money to the federal government and is still wrangling with the department over the audit, he said.

Different Counts

According to the federal investigators, the district promised that it would initially provide five model classrooms for the teaching of English-language learners and that, over four years, it would train a total of 150 pilot teachers and 400 parents.

In addition, over four years, the model classrooms would be duplicated in all of the school system's subdistricts. At the time of the grant, the district had eight subdistricts. It now has 12, so the federal auditors concluded that the district should have ended up with 12 model classrooms.

The investigators say in their report that in four years, the district trained fewer than 50 teachers and only 110 parents. The report says that no model classrooms were created and that only one subdistrict benefited from the grant.

Mr. Moses cited different numbers to illustrate what was accomplished by the grant. His letter last May said that 147 pilot teachers and 341 parents were trained. It also said that 12 model classrooms were created.

But the final audit report says that additional documentation provided by the district, such as training sign-in sheets and supplemental-pay forms, didn't back up the district's numbers for trainees.

In the case of the model classrooms, the audit report concludes: "Although the [Dallas school district] claimed that 12 classrooms were actually im plemented, [the district] was unable to produce even one classroom when the auditors requested to visit one."

Mr. Moses argued in his letter that the number of teachers trained should be viewed as "units trained, not new teachers trained each year," and that parents trained should also be counted as "units trained, not individual parents."

The inspector general's office rejected that argument.

"The department did not award this grant to train the same teachers and parents each year; to only have the grant services available in four schools in one subdistrict, and to not have any model classrooms developed," the final report says.

Vol. 24, Issue 2, Pages 32,37

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