School funding and attendance

Show Low Unified School District and several other area educational entities had to return funding to the state after audits of their attendance — called Average Daily Membership.

Part 2 of 2

SHOW LOW — The Show Low Unified School District (SLUSD) was among 40 other public schools in Arizona that were audited by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) in 2018 for attendance.

The combined-year audit “determined that the district incorrectly reported some enrollment data, which resulted in its Average Daily Membership being overstated by 55.58,” according to the Dec. 19, 2018, written report. In addition, the report indicates that the District’s Arizona Online Instruction (AOI) program was overstated by .40 which resulted in a total overstatement of enrollment by 55.98.

The district is provided Basic State Aid (education funding) based on student enrollment — called Average Daily Membership — numbers reported to the Arizona Department of Education.

Essentially, this means that the state overfunded the District in the amount of $261,146.35. SLUSD repaid to the state during the 2019-2020 school year budget cycle, as required by law. Audits for 2018 are still in process.

Public schools and those that receive state funding are all subject to the same funding guidelines and Average Daily Membership audits.

Several other school districts within Navajo and Apache county were audited during the same schools years and subsequently required to repay thousands of dollars.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, Holbrook Unified School District was overfunded by $63,811 for FY 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) was overfunded by $15,930 for the same fiscal years.

Northeast Arizona Technological Institute of Vocational Education (NATIVE), primarily located north of Interstate 40, was overfunded by $1.3 million for FY 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Other Arizona schools required to overpay enrollment funding include but are not limited to Tempe Union High School District, Mingus Union High School District, Bisbee Unified School District, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community Schools, Lake Havasu Unified District, Grand Canyon Unified School District, Western Maricopa Education Center and Boboquivari Unified School District.

Moving the goal post

Reporting Average Daily Membership has changed over the years to better accommodate the changing education system. As the methods and technology change, school districts must keep up.

The days of a teacher reading a roster, calling out student names and waiting for a raised hand and a response of “here,” are long gone. Automation has replaced the teacher’s call which brings both accuracy and chance for error.

The Independent asked Arizona Department of Education for help in understanding recent changes to reporting Average Daily Membership.

“The overall way that Average Daily Membership was calculated changed in that the way we update now is much more accurate and proficient,” informs ADE Public Information Officer, Stefan Swiat.

“The ADM data system software went from SAIS to AzEDs (pronounced A-zeds) two to three years ago,” he explained. “It’s a daily calculation now.”

“The enhanced technology has allowed local education agencies (LEAs) and ADE to project what average daily membership will be in the future much more accurately,” he added.

“It used to take weeks to run these sorts of reports and we would only have important dates like 40th day and 100th day of school. Now they can look at their data every night,” says Swiat.

“They (schools) submit their attendance electronically every single day. Their student info systems feed into our student data systems. Previously, the data system was very constrained and running on late nineties and early 2000’s technology. It was severely antiquated for processing billions of dollars of taxpayer money.”

Audit-opoly

Average Daily Membership are not the only audits that public schools are subjected to. They undergo food service department audits for federal school lunch programs, annual financial audits, legal audits, expenditure audits, Department of Public Safety audits for busing and transportation, special education audits and even civil rights audits.

“Audits are a process that are just part of calibrating the information exchange between schools and the state,” assures Housley. “There are times when districts have to pay money back to the state and times where the state refunds money to the schools.”

“Reporting attendance will always be a state requirement for both academic and Career and Technical Education (CTE) due to students’ seat time being the primary metric for receiving ADE funding for our programs,” says NAVIT Superintendent Matt Weber. “... incorrect reporting of ADM can happen to any district for either academic or CTE enrollment … “

“Thankfully, we have good district staff and technical support from our student information system (SIS) representatives ... When ADE changes their metrics, we as individual districts work with our specialists (keeping in mind there are many different SIS companies out there) to ensure we report correctly.”

Like Show Low USD, NAVIT works with ADE to reconcile data where there are differences in what was submitted to ADE.

For more information about audits conducted through the Arizona Department of Education, visit www.azed.gov.

Reach the reporter at

lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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