Future home of migrant ed program in limbo

NYSSA – The Nyssa School District submitted a request to run the region’s migrant education program after the education service district scrapped a plan to take over the management of the program.

Meantime, the Vale and Adrian School Districts that participate but leave program management to Nyssa officials have requested the Oregon Department of Education provide the respective districts with “different consortium configuration options,” according to emails from Nick Ketterling and Alisha McBride, Adrian and Vale superintendents.

McBride said Vale has 14 migrant students while Adrian, Ketterling noted, has 11.

The request, according to Ryan Hawkins, Nyssa’s interim superintendent, was submitted Monday, Sept. 11, after the education service district’s announcement and Adrian and Vale’s request for a different migrant education program management option.

Mark Redmond, superintendent of the Malheur County Education Service District, said that there were too many “complexities” surrounding the migrant program.

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 that the education service district did not have the capacity to manage the migrant program.

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

Peter Rudy, a public affairs specialist with the state education agency, said the Education Department does not intend to allow Nyssa to operate any migrant education program independently and without significant oversight on its use of federal funds.

He said the state agency is considering options to “appropriately and effectively” serve eligible migrant students and their families in Nyssa.

Vale and Adrian’s request for other options underscores the strained relationship between the districts.

In June 2022, McBride, through an email, asked for a copy of Nyssa’s budget document for the region when it became public that Nyssa had come under investigation. McBride questioned Nyssa’s migrant preschool and asked why Vale families were not allowed to enroll their children.

At the time, Nyssa employed two graduation specialists and had an extended school day and supplemental curriculum, among other services.

According to the state report, service logs kept by Nyssa officials did not reflect time spent serving Nyssa, Vale and Adrian students.

Nyssa earlier this year, successfully challenged 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.

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. Among those 19 employees included Hawkins and Cyndi Thompson, director of Nyssa’s Early Headstart. 

Hawkins and Thompson both said they did not know their kids were ineligible for the program.

Hawkins as interim superintendent of the school district oversees the migrant program.

He maintains he did not knowingly falsify federal documents to enroll his children into the program. He declined to discuss the enrollment in detail and said those who want to know more are welcome to talk to him directly.

Hawkins pointed out that he is not directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the migrant program and the district hired Matt Murray, former principal of Nyssa Elementary School, as the district’s federal programs director. Don Grotting, the district’s former superintendent, has been hired as Nyssa’s compliance director to handle the fallout of the investigation.

The Education Department earlier said it intended to recover $350,000 in federal funding it identified the district for erroneously enrolled students.

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

In recent months, Nyssa officials have tried to hold onto the program. This was part of why the former superintendent appointed Murray to the federal program director post at a cost of $138,000 annually, PERS included.

In January, the state transferred key elements of the program from the district to the state’s migrant education office, which includes identification and recruitment efforts.

The investigation continues, and the state education agency will contract for a forensic audit of Nyssa’s management of the program, according to Rudy. He said the state is ironing out the final details of the contract and it is going to be finalized soon.

Grotting, Nyssa’s compliance director, said uncertainties about the makeup of the consortium prompted Nyssa’s request. The district wanted to know if it could run the program with some oversight, either by the state education department or the state’s migrant education office.

“I feel like we’re kind of stuck in the mud,” he said. “And I want to make sure that our students and families are being served.”

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