Funding formula for at-risk students makes future of local school program unclear

The future of two safety net programs for Crawford AuSable School District  students remains in limbo due to a change in a state law.
The future is unclear for Viking Vision Career Academy, a class for students in jeopardy of dropping out of school at the Grayling High School, and the Phoenix Program, which is for students with behavioral issues or who are disrupting classrooms at the Grayling Middle School.
Crawford County Court Administrator Julie McDonald said money, which came from the school district in the past, was used to get matching child care funds from the state. 
A total of $80,000 from the school was used to get $80,000 from the state, netting $160,000 to fund the programs.
“Basically, the whole idea is to keep at-risk kids in their homes to reduce out of home placements,” McDonald said.
In late April, changes to state law regulating the child care funds went into place. One change said an entity could not obtain the funds through a contract. The county has a contract with the school district to run the programs.
Also, state dollars cannot be used to obtain child care fund funds.
“You can’t use state dollars to match state dollars,” McDonald said.
McDonald first tried to address the funding issue with Kim Schmidt, the Crawford AuSable School District’s business manager, who was serving as the acting superintendent. At the time, officials planned to check with auditors and state leaders to see if they could find a remedy for the situation. The main issue is that school districts get funding from the state in lump sums, so it is difficult to differentate state funds from other funds.
Since that time, retired Crawford AuSable School District Superintendent Joe Powers was brought back to work part-time on a month-to-month basis.
McDonald said she has to finalize the budget for county court operations soon. The county’s fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. Also, child care funds the county will request from the state will need to be approved by state officials by Aug. 15.
“The funding has to change,” McDonald said. “How that change looks, I don’t know.”
Crawford AuSable School Board Trustee James Hulbert said Powers is waiting for a recommendation from school administrators to address if the programs can continue.
“As a school, we have a program that is meeting the needs most effectively,” Hulbert said.
A licensed social worker who works with students in the Viking Vision Career Academy, Hulbert said the challenge will give community leaders an opportunity to reassess the programs and improve resources they are providing children.
“Unfortunately, the time crunch makes it tough,” Hulbert said.
The court supplies school aides and social workers for the programs. It also supplies resources such as Internet access since some of their lessons are computer based.
Deputy Matt Swope, the school liaison officer, also monitors students in the programs.
The programs are limited to 20 students, since that is the maximum workload for a case worker under state regulations.
If the school district assumes the operations for the programs, more students  may be enrolled in the classes.
In the past, students who are under court district supervision or consent to court supervision were involved with the programs.
“They would have the flexibility to determine eligibility for classrooms and maybe serve a higher number of kids that need those services,” McDonald said.
McDonald stressed that the county still wants to be involved with the programs.
“We want to help in whatever way we can to allocate our dollars and our resources to provide the educational support to as many kids as we can, too,” she said. “This community is so limited in the resources that we have. We definitely need to be working together.”
The next school board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 9, in the conference room at the Grayling Elementary School, 306 Plum Street. 
School Board President Wendy Kucharek said  officials would address the search for a permanent superintendent at that meeting.
“We want to make sure we have a good fit,” she said.

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806

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