LA Public Schools respond to state audit request

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By The Staff

The Los Alamos Public Schools district released more information Friday afternoon in regard to a state audit.
Los Alamos was one of 34 school districts to receive an audit letter from the state.

In the letter addressed to Superintendent Gene Schmidt from PED Secretary Hanna Skandera, the state education department is questioning data that “showed significant and unusual increases in the areas of special education — both in the number of students identified and the services provided — and in expenses for teacher training and experience.

“These increases — inconsistent with recent trends — suggest abnormalities or potential errors in the data provided by school districts.”

Skandera said in the letter that based on the analysis of statewide data, Los Alamos School District is reporting an unusually high rate of special education students, exceeding the average statewide growth by 200 percent.

This is the statement released from the school district Friday afternoon:
“Information was received by LAPS from the New Mexico Director of Special Education, Denise Koscielniak, regarding a significant increase in special education enrollment in special education students placed at a C (extensive) level of special education service on the 80th day of the 2010-11 school year when compared to students enrolled at that level on the 80th day of the 2009-10 school year.  

“On Friday, the district provided records to the NMPED for a desk audit along with a justification for the increase.  

During the 2009-10 school year, the district was alerted by their NMPED budget analyst that the number of students reported at a D (maximum) level of service seemed disproportionately high.  

As a result, the district evaluated the way in which services for extensive and maximum level services were determined.  

“The state definition of a C (extensive) level of service is special education support for 50% or more of the school day and D (maximum) level is defined as special education support approaching a full school day.

“The definition is open to some interpretation but recent guidance from the NMPED clarified that determining whether support is provided for a full school day includes consideration of content areas as well as non-academic portions of the school day such as recess, lunch, specials and electives.  As a result, IEP teams used these NMPED guidelines to consider the amount of support necessary to allow students with disabilities to participate in the entire school day.  

“The result was that a number of students who had previously been categorized as D level were re-categorized as requiring a C level of service.  

“The total number of C/D level students in 2009-10 on the 80th day was 208 and the total number of C/D level students in 2010-11 was 206.  Since C level is actually a lower funding category, this change resulted in less funding generated by approximately the same number of students funded in the previous year.    

“This explanation will be provided to the NMPED Director of Special Education along with supporting documentation.  

“Los Alamos has demonstrated a continuing commitment to the review of our practices and accurate reporting in compliance with state guidance through an ongoing internal audit process.  The district welcomes this opportunity to present their good faith effort to the NMPED.”