Nyssa migrant program leaders spent thousands on improper expenses

NYSSA — State officials found that Nyssa School District leaders overseeing the migrant education program approved nearly $70,000 in expenditures that otherwise would have gone to underserved migrant children.

Newly-released public records show that program managers approved $68,930 in unallowable purchases over two years, in 2021 and 2022.

The Oregon Department of Education began an investigation of the Nyssa district in July 2021 after a whistleblower reported “irregularities.” The state will pull $350,000 in federal funding from the district’s migrant program after it identified 129 families with 277 children improperly enrolled for the past three years in a program designed to give migrant families extra help to educate their children despite having to relocate continuously, according to state documents.

The state Education Department recently released to the Enterprise its May 12 financial report, which reviewed the district’s fiscal management, processes and administration of the federal program. The report is based on a review of school district documents and interviews of staff, administrators and board members. The state has announced plans for a deeper forensic audit.

The May report showed that state investigators found nearly $25,000 in improper expenditures with migrant education funds for “extra duty pay” of district employees over two years. The district leaders also covered $18,000 in custodial costs with migrant funding. The report noted that custodial costs needed to be classified as “indirect costs” to the migrant program. Additionally, the district charged nearly $5,000 for summer school staff, while other staff were given $500 in board stipends for “extra duty” in 2021. According to the report, the board stipends, along with the “extra duty” pay for the staff, lacked explanation, timecards and dates of service.

The Nyssa district gets just under $1 million yearly from state and federal sources to run the program.

According to the Oregon Department of Education’s Migrant Program Director’s Handbook, allowable costs must relate directly to the program and its students. The funds may not be used for expenses of other programs or non-migrant students. 

The report noted that other purchases were for social activities, such as potlucks, holidays, and parties. Other purchases flagged by investigators as improper included $55 monthly for bottled water, $200 for a dozen pizzas on a “state visit” to Boise and $150 for refreshments for a meeting.

According to the report, the Nyssa School District had until June 13 to respond to the findings in the report. Superintendent Darren Johnson declined to comment on the financial report.

Marc Siegel, the state Department of Education communications manager said Wednesday, June 28 that Nyssa responded to the report on June 12 and did not contest any of the expenditures.

News tip? Contact reporter Steven Mitchell at [email protected].  

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