State plans to pull migrant education program from Nyssa after next school year

NYSSA – State officials plan to next year take the region’s migrant education program away from the Nyssa School District, which had run it for nearly 40 years, according to a June letter from the Oregon Department of Education.

Nyssa has been under investigation for two years over how it managed a program designed to give the children of migrant families a complete education despite their parents’ moves for agricultural work. The Vale and Adrian School Districts participate but leave the program management to Nyssa officials.

Those two school districts are under consideration to take over the program. Nyssa had been getting nearly $1 million a year and employs a staff for the program.

This is the first time the state has pulled a migrant program from a district, according to Peter Rudy, a public affairs specialist with the state education agency.

The Education Department earlier said it intended to recover $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, according to state documents.

The agency’s June 23 letter said that since last year, staff at Nyssa had shared concerns that the Nyssa School District needed more capacity to lead the program.

“ODE remains concerned about the consortium’s operational oversight of its MEP program and the overall capacity and consistent ability of Nyssa School District to fulfill its consortium lead role,” ODE wrote.

However, the district tried to hold onto the program with changes in recent months.

The district created a new executive position with a cost of $138,000 to manage federal programs as one way to meet the capacity concerns of the migrant program. This is in addition to the district upping its legal costs in this year’s budget to $160,000, double what the district spent last year, according to Crystal Rideau, Nyssa’s business manager.

A May state report revealed 19 past and current district employees had 58 children in the program, which allowed them to access government services they otherwise could not have received. Another report last month also found that Nyssa leaders had approved nearly $68,000 in improper purchases.

In January, key elements had been taken from the district and have since been handled by the state’s migrant education program.

The investigation continues, and it will include a forensic audit of the district’s migrant program, according to Marc Siegel, Education Department communications director.

Meantime, Mark Redmond, superintendent of the Malheur County Education Service District, said last month that the Department of Education had an “exploratory conversation” to see what all of the possibilities could be in terms of the education service district taking over the management of the program.

Redmond said his office currently oversees nearly 20 state programs.

So far, the Department of Education has not indicated where it plans to move leadership of the program, which has 410 children enrolled, according to the Nyssa district’s website.

The state said in its letter that the one-year timeline should give Nyssa the time to make the staffing and budgetary changes to adjust to the loss of the program. Siegel said Nyssa’s migrant students will still participate in the program.

“This timeline should help to ensure that Nyssa School District has adequate time to plan, as ODE is mindful of the potential implications for staffing and budget that comes with this transition,” the state letter said.

While Redmond said he was unsure where the Department of Education would move the program, he said the program’s leadership must go to a neutral party that will distribute the resources to the students that need them equally.

In a June 2022 email, Alisha McBride, Vale’s superintendent, questioned then-Nyssa Superintendent Darren Johnson why Vale migrant families had not been allowed to enroll their children into Nyssa’s migrant preschool.

She also wrote that Nyssa employed two graduation specialists at the time who had not served students in Vale.

Earlier this year, in April, Nyssa successfully challenged one of the state’s findings that the district didn’t properly document procedures for consulting with parents in the migrant program. The federal program requires parental involvement in the program’s planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Whether Nyssa would challenge the state’s decision to move the leadership out of the district remains unclear. Pat Morinaka, Nyssa board chair, said in a Friday, July 21, email that she was unaware of any official notification from the state education agency to shift leadership of the consortium to another district or entity.  

In a Wednesday, July 19 email, Siegel said that the state education agency does not know how Nyssa intends to respond to the planned transition of the migrant program’s management.

An email exchange between Jennifer Patterson, assistant superintendent of the Office of Teaching and Learning at the state education agency and Johnson addressed state findings that, while not acceptable, staffers from the Nyssa migrant program had submitted necessary but flawed paperwork for the program that was subsequently approved by the state migrant education center.

In a May email, Johnson challenged the oversight of the state migrant office, the Oregon Migrant Education Center.  

Patterson answered that “to the extent that any inconsistencies or concerns are evident, OMESC addresses them as they arise or are evident upon review.”

Siegel, in a Wednesday email, also noted that the staff from the state’s migrant center reviews and processes certificates submitted by regional migrant programs from across the state. The agency, Siegel said, relies on regional recruiters to ensure the accuracy of certificates submitted for review and cannot independently verify the information.

Siegel said the state office is not tasked with detecting falsified documents.

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