ESD says no to taking on troubled migrant ed program

NYSSA – A plan to move the region’s migrant education program next year to the education service district has been scuttled.

The Malheur County Education Service District announced in a press release issued Wednesday, Sept. 6, that it would not take over management of the troubled program now run by the Nyssa School District.

Mark Redmond, superintendent of the education service district, said that there were too many “complexities” surrounding the migrant program. The Vale and Adrian School Districts participate but leave program management to Nyssa officials. 

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 the program designed to give the children of migrant families a complete education despite their parents’ moves for agricultural work.

The Oregon Department of Education announced in an Aug. 18 letter that management of the migrant education program would be shifted to the education service district. 

Marc Siegel, communications manager with the state education agency, said Thursday, Sept. 7, that the agency learned of the education service district’s decision to forgo managing the program Tuesday, Sept. 5 and is “working to determine the best course of action.”

He said Vale and Adrian had not expressed interest in managing the program.

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

Meanwhile, he noted that eligible students and their families would continue to receive services despite the education service district’s decision not to assume program leadership.

The state education agency took key elements of the Nyssa migrant program from the district to be handled by the state’s migrant education program.

In the state education agency’s Aug. 16 letter, Charlene Williams, Education Department director, told Nyssa by later to stop any hiring for program workers and to budget up to $150,000 to hire someone to coordinate transferring the program out of the district. 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.

Redmond said the education service district had been slated to approve Vale, Adrian and Nyssa as members of the migrant program on Tuesday, Sept. 19. He said that as the process moved along, it became clear there were too many complexities and that the education service district did not have the capacity to manage the migrant program. Redmond did not identify those issues.

Ryan Hawkins, Nyssa interim superintendent, said Friday, Sept. 8, that Don Grotting, Nyssa’s compliance director and Matt Murray, the district’s federal programs director, met with state officials in Salem to figure out what the next steps the district would take in moving forward to ensure migrant students and their families receive services. According to Hawkins, the meeting went well. However, he added the state and Nyssa did not have a solid plan in place just yet.

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

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.

In June, superintendents from Vale, Adrian and Nyssa suggested to the state education agency that the education service district would be the best choice to lead the migrant program, according to Williams.

Darren Johnson, Nyssa superintendent until July, had agreed to the transfer but his district tried to hold onto the program with changes in recent months.

It created a new executive position for Murray 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.

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

According to Siegel, the investigation continues, including a forensic audit of the district’s migrant program.

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