By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Two local Hutterite colonies have appealed to the U.S. Department of Education to extend an examination of how much federal funding colony schools were shortchanged by Havre Public Schools.
Rick Bartos, an attorney representing Hilldale and East End colonies, said today he filed the appeal to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige on Friday.
Bartos said the appeal includes figures for three additional years prior to 1995, the earliest year the state Office of Public Instruction has looked into Title I funding levels allocated to the colonies by Havre Public Schools. He said those figures show that HPS owes the colonies a total of about $60,740 in Title I funds for 1992 to 1995.
Hilldale Colony did not apply for Title I dollars during those years, but that was because it was told by Havre Public Schools that the colony school would get only about $300 a year in Title I funds, Bartos said.
The appeal comes a month after OPI denied an appeal by the colonies to examine federal Title I funds received by the colonies from HPS back to 1980.
Title I funds are federal dollars allocated every year to help students in public and private schools who are both poor and determined to be two years or more below grade level. Title I funds are not paid directly to schools, but are used to provide services like additional teachers, paraprofessionals and educational materials.
The colonies run their own private schools, but HPS administers some federal money like Title I for them.
Bartos said he hopes the Department of Education will either have the records of the allocations prior to 1995 or will require OPI to provide them.
The appeal also alleges that OPI violated state law when it rejected an appeal by the colonies of its decision not to extend an examination of the Title I funds. It says the decision should have been made by an adminstrative law judge, not by OPI's chief legal counsel, and that the colonies should have been able to argue their points before the hearing officer.
Joe Lamson, communications director at OPI, said today that OPI did nothing wrong in its appeal process.
"OPI stands by our appeal process, obviously, and legally we did everything correctly," Lamson said. He would not comment on the appeal's specific allegations and said OPI had not yet received a copy of the appeal.
OPI, after investigating a complaint from the colonies, concluded in August that Havre Public Schools had withheld $52,530 worth of services to East End Colony between 1995 and 2001, and $64,130 worth of services to Hilldale Colony between 1997 and 2001.
Havre Public Schools admitted underfunding the colonies about two years ago after East End Colony school administrator Joe Waldner insisted the Title I figures East End was getting from the district were not correct. The district said the underfunding was an honest mistake, and it reimbursed the colonies for some of the money.
In August OPI ruled that HPS still owed the colonies a total of about $68,000 in Title I materials and services dating back to 1995, and ordered the district to compensate the colonies for that shortfall by the end of the 2006-2007 school year.
At an Oct. 21 hearing in Helena, the colonies asked OPI to extend its investigation back to 1980, and asked OPI to require Havre Public Schools to provide "compensatory education" services to students who they said did not receive the appropriate levels of Title I services. The colonies also asked to be reimbursed for the time they spent detecting and documenting the funding error.
OPI denied the appeal, saying it didn't have documentation to track Title I levels prior to 1995 and citing a federal law that requires Title I recipients to be current students. The colonies had 30 days from the Oct. 31 decision to appeal to the U.S. Department of Education. Waldner said at the time that East End Colony would appeal the ruling, and Hilldale Colony school administrator Dave Kleinsasser said he was unsure whether Hilldale would appeal.
"We just talked to Joe (Waldner), and we thought we should," Kleinsasser said today. "We were not satisfied with what OPI had found."
Waldner said today the appeal is not just about money. He said the district should have provided services to the colony over the years to better help colony children learn to read and to help students with special needs.
Dennis Parman, HPS assistant superintendent, said today he does not believe the U.S. Department of Education will rule differently than OPI did.
He said the appeal is not about Title I funds, but about the colonies trying to get a school or attendance center funded by HPS or, most recently, a release from Havre Public Schools.
"It continues to be over what it's always been - which is about coercion," Parman said. "They're trying to get the district to do something the trustees aren't willing to do."
East End Colony has come before the Havre school board more than 25 times since 1978 asking to be granted a publicly funded school or attendance center. In November the colony asked the district to release it to the North Harlem School District.
The trustees voted 4-3 against pursuing an agreement that would release the colony.