Is the Mississippi Department of Education stonewalling the State Auditor? It appears State Auditor Stacey Pickering cannot get a straight answer out of MDE when trying to get more information about why MDE lost $19 million in federal grants for after-school programs.
Stephanie Palmertree, Director of Financial and Compliance Audit for the State Auditor, asked MDE Chief Operations Officer Todd Ivey for information about the errors resulting in the loss of the grants. Mr. Ivey merely sent copies of several press releases on the subject. Mr. Pickering sent a letter on October 5 to State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright that stated:
Our letter requested information about MDE communications with the U.S. Department of Education, detailed descriptions of the errors that have occurred, the underlying causes of these errors and any corrective action that has been taken regarding these errors. In response to this request, we received a very general response and a copy of a press release. We do not feel this is fully responsive to our request.The press releases provide few details. They only state that an "error" took place:
In light of this, the OSA staff and myself are now required to consider all federal programs at MDE to be high risk programs. This will require a modification of the contract you will enter with your CPA auditor, and will likely drive up the audit cost substantially.
The error occurred when MDE's Office of Federal Programs (OFP) issued 46 new grants in 2015-16 without budgeting for 65 grantees that were continuing from the previous year. OFP issued reimbursements from 21stCentury and Title I funds to both new and continuing grantees, which created the deficit. While funds were taken from both 21st Century and Title I accounting sources, the MDE anticipates no impact on Title I disbursements to districts.
The MDE is working with the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to develop a comprehensive plan to fill the deficit while attempting to minimize the impact to grantees. Details of the plan will be released once they are finalized.
The ball is now in Dr. Wright's court.