State takes migrant program recruiting away from Nyssa over abuses

State officials have revoked Nyssa School District’s role in recruiting students for its migrant education program after finding 14 school workers had children improperly enrolled.

The work of recruiting migrant students into the special program is being shifted for the rest of the school year to a Salem organization. The Nyssa district has to cover the costs.

Nyssa continues to operate the program for those students eligible for the services, according to state officials.

The actions come months after the Oregon Department of Education opened an investigation of the Nyssa district. That found Nyssa officials had enrolled a “significant number” of students in the program who weren’t eligible.

At issue is a federal program intended to give migrant families extra help to educate their children despite moving from place to place. To qualify, parents must be employed in certain farming occupations and have moved in recent years.

Nyssa’s program was put on hold in May as the investigation continued. The district also manages migrant student programs for the Adrian and Vale school districts.

The Education Department recently released to the Enterprise its letter of Nov. 3 to Superintendent Darren Johnson declined to answer written questions, responding, “As the superintendent, I take this matter very seriously.” He also said the district “ is currently closed for business for the winter break, but we will be providing an update in January laying out new restrictions.”

He last updated the community in October.

The state’s most recent letter said the investigation had “identified fourteen Nyssa School District employees with children enrolled in the Title 1-C program who did not meet eligibility requirements.

In an email to the Enterprise on Friday, Dec. 23, the department reported those employees had 32 children in the program. Marc Siegel, department communications director, said all were ineligible for the migrant program. He said the Nyssa district notified the employees in November that their children were being removed from the program.

The letter said Nyssa’s management of the program was revoked “until further notice” and was being turned over to the Oregon Migrant Education Service Center in Salem. The Nyssa district would be “responsible for all costs” for the service center’s work.

Siegel said the state agency didn’t know what those costs would be.

That service center is operated by the Willamette Education Service District. Michael. Clark, communications director for the district, said in an email on Tuesday, Jan. 3, that the service center will use either contracted help or temporary employees to run the Nyssa program.

He said the cost to Nyssa would be an estimated $100,000 and the contract could be in place by the end of January. He said 383 students are currently enrolled in the Nyssa migrant program.

Because of the holiday, Nyssa officials couldn’t be contacted to determine whether any employees involved in running the program locally had been laid off.

The Education Department also said it was again expanding its investigation. The agency is seeking the record of all employees of the Nyssa, Vale and Adrian districts reaching back five years so the state “may further investigate” participation in the program.

Siegel said the scope was set in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, which also is involved in the Nyssa investigation.

The agency also is investigating expenditures in the migrant student program and four other Nyssa school programs. The state asked Nyssa to provide “all audits and expenditures” going back five years.

The Nyssa district faces the prospect of refunding money it received for the migrant program, which totals about $900,000 a year.

Siegel said the agency is “still working to assess and address the issue of repayment.”

Gill in his letter said he expected Nyssa’s cooperation to “fully restore the integrity” of the migrant student program.

“Our migrant children deserve our urgent attention,” Gill wrote.

CLARIFICATION: The headline has been clarified to indicate that recruiting for the migrant education program has been taken away. The Nyssa School District still provides the services for those eligible for the program.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].