Rest of the Story: CDE and DCSD Reach Settlement on Enrollment Audit
Highly productive discussions between the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the Douglas County School District (DCSD) have resulted in an agreement regarding a dispute over student attendance calculations.
Officials from both sides recently met to settle the dispute in the best interest of the state and DCSD students and staff. Using his statutory authority to exercise discretion over audit findings, CDE Commissioner Rich Crandall has reduced the amount DCSD will pay back to the state from $4.2 million to $2.03 million.
“I’ve spoken with numerous lawmakers about our shared desire to move our state’s funding model toward a competency-based system that measures student outcomes,” said Crandall. “Our School Finance Department does an excellent job with student count audits, but the way education is funded needs more focus on outcomes and less on seat time. We recognize that Douglas County teachers and school leaders do an excellent job, and that their students are among the highest achieving in the state.”
DCSD budgets contingency funds every year allowing the District to cover unexpected expenditures – like this student enrollment refund – without impacting schools or its mission of educating students.
It is important to note that this is not a fine or a fee -- only a refund. It is part of the routine student count audit and transportation route mile audit of every school district that the department conducts on a one- to four-year cycle. Over the past several months, Commissioner Crandall met with DCSD Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen and her team to gain a better understanding of the situation and DCSD’s good faith efforts to meet state regulations.
“I would like to thank Commissioner Crandall for his thoughtful consideration of this matter,” said Superintendent Fagen. “I look forward to working with the Commissioner to change the way we account for student time in school. We all know that learning is not about minutes in a chair, it is about the skills and understanding gained. In this day and age -- a leading state like Colorado needs a better strategy for funding its students, aligned with its values.”
“CDE is committed to continually improving its guidance, communications and training opportunities for districts to help ensure correct funding levels for every student,” Crandall said. Based on expanded guidance from CDE, DCSD schools have already adopted new practices to avoid student count issues in the future.
State law and regulations require full-time students to have 360 hours of scheduled instruction per semester. Funding is provided to each district based on enrollment as of October 1 each year. CDE conducts periodic audits of every school district to ensure correct student counts.
The audit conducted by CDE reported more than 1,200 DCSD students did not meet the state’s schedule requirement for full-time funding during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years. As a result of the audit appeals process, the District was required to repay the state $4.6 million, including $342,882 for the transportation route mile audit, which was not in dispute. In November 2015, DCSD filed suit in Denver District Court maintaining that the students in question were indeed full time students. DCSD also reported almost all of these students graduated on time and many with more than the minimum required credits -- some even graduated with honors. CDE had contested the lawsuit and had moved for dismissal on legal grounds.
CDE officials and DCSD reached a settlement in early April to avoid continuing litigation, and the District has agreed to refund $2.03 million within 60 days.
- $1,416,924 for pupil count findings related to student schedules
- $274,225 for other pupil count findings
- $342,882 for transportation
The figures above, which have been rounded to the nearest dollar, include a 10% early payment discount, for payment from the District Contingency Fund for a total of $2,034,030.
This payment covers in full CDE’s revised final audit findings for the 2012–13 and 2013–14 school years and the District’s transportation audit findings for the 2011–12 and 2012–13 school years.