State will shift Nyssa migrant program to ESD in 2024

NYSSA – State officials plan to move the region’s migrant education program next year to the Malheur County Education Service District, according to a Wednesday, Aug. 16, letter from the Oregon Department of Education.

The Nyssa School District has managed the migrant program for nearly 40 years. However, the district 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.

In June, Vale and Adrian’s superintendents, along with Darren Johnson, Nyssa’s former superintendent, had suggested to the state education agency that the county’s education service district would be the best choice to lead the migrant program, according to Charlene Williams, the Department of Education’s director.

The Education Department sent Nyssa a letter on June 23 that it would pull the migrant program from the district next year.

Nyssa had been getting nearly $1 million a year and employs staff for the program.

In the letter, Williams wrote that Nyssa is to, among others, pause all current or future hiring for the program, and allocate up to $150,000 from the migrant program budget to hire a full-time transition coordinator. Williams also directed Nyssa to set aside $35,000 in migrant funding to “adequately” communicate the transition to the three districts, including families, school boards, teachers and students.

Mark Redmond, superintendent of the education service district, said he would meet with superintendents from Vale, Adrian and Nyssa over the next several weeks to determine the timeframe for hiring the transition coordinator.

He said how to spend the $35,000 for communications would also be decided in those meetings.  He said they might hire an employee or contract with an outside communications company.

Peter Rudy, a public affairs specialist with the state education agency, said many people involved with the migrant program stressed the importance of bilingual communication to the community about the transition.

Rudy said there is a “shared sense of urgency” to hire a “highly qualified” transition coordinator.

Rudy said Redmond would make all staffing decisions in collaboration with the superintendents from Vale, Nyssa and Adrian.

Redmond said any decisions about the remaining staff would be decided over the next several weeks regarding positions within the program.

Ryan Hawkins, Nyssa interim superintendent, said the state education agency’s decision did not come as a surprise given the state education agency’s previous letter.

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 Aug 18 letter said that Nick Ketterling, Adrian superintendent and Alisha McBride, Vale superintendent, told Education Department that the program leadership should go to the county’s education service district.

“Malheur ESD represents the most viable solution path in large part because it can provide the long-term capacity to manage and coordinate services within the regional MEP,” the state agency wrote.

While Johnson agreed the program should go to the county’s education service district, Nyssa tried to hold onto the program with changes in recent months.

The district created a new executive position at a cost of $138,000 to manage federal programs as one way to meet the concerns about 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, which include identification and recruitment efforts. 

According to the Aug. 18 letter, the district is to continue to contract the state’s migrant office until the education service district takes over.

According to the Nyssa’s webpage, as of the 2023 school year, there were 410 students from the three school districts enrolled in the migrant program.

The investigation continues, and it will include a forensic audit of the district’s migrant program, according to Rudy.

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