Enrollment issues mean less funding

More students reported in Gladstone Area Schools’ online program than enrolled

Gladstone Braves Logo

GLADSTONE — Discrepancies between the number of students enrolled in an online program through the Gladstone Area School District and the number of students reported to the state as enrolled in the program will mean a drop in revenue for the district — nearly $300,000, according to information cited in a memo.

According to a memo prepared by Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD) Superintendent Doug Leisenring, issues with Gladstone Area Schools’ virtual programs resulted in the district’s loss of 42.87 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the 2016-17 school year. This memo was discussed in closed session during the Gladstone Area Schools Board of Education’s special meeting earlier this month.

For the fall semester of the 2016-17 school year, which Leisenring said this penalty was based on, Gladstone Area Schools received 90 percent of a $7,511 student foundation allowance for each of their full-time students. At this rate, the FTEs in question would have brought in almost $289,797 in state funding for the district.

Leisenring’s memo included a timeline of the events leading up to the loss of these FTEs. According to this timeline, in January 2017, Leisenring met with the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District (DIISD)’s auditor Mary Welcher to discuss concerns related to Gladstone’s virtual programs. The DSISD hires the DIISD to complete audits for all schools in Delta and Schoolcraft counties, including Gladstone.

Among the concerns were two conversations Leisenring had with an administrator from an area school district, who said members of the local homeschool community told them Gladstone was registering homeschool students as students in the Upper Peninsula Virtual Academy (UPVA). According to these claims, parents of these students were given money by the district to purchase school supplies and Gladstone claimed a FTE for each of the students. One of the claims also alleged the district did not provide instruction for these students and they were not required to participate in the computer program other UPVA students were using.

Leisenring contacted Gladstone Area Schools Superintendent Jay Kulbertis on Sept. 29, 2016, to discuss the claim the district was registering homeschool students in the UPVA. At that time, Kulbertis indicated the claim was inaccurate. After hearing that similar concerns had been presented to this administrator by another parent, Leisenring spoke to Welcher and advised her to take a close look at the district’s virtual programs.

On Feb. 22, Welcher found incomplete information for 50 students while reviewing information provided by Gladstone Area Schools for their audit. She reached out to Executive Secretary to the Superintendent Karen Fisher to request class schedules for three students and two-way communication for 47 virtual students. Fisher provided the three class schedules and two-way communication for five of the virtual students a day later, but indicated that Welcher would have to request information for the remaining 42 students from Kulbertis. Welcher did this the same day she received this response from Fisher.

On Feb. 24, Kulbertis replied to Welcher’s request. He stated the students in question should not have been listed as virtual students, and that they had been converted into two cohorts of in-class multi-grade students — one for K-6 students, and the other for 7-12 students.

A few days later, Welcher told Kulbertis she needed more information related to these student cohorts. She noted, while Kulbertis had indicated these students physically attended classes in Gladstone, sufficient evidence had not been submitted to support this.

Kulbertis responded to this request on Feb. 28. At that time, he said the K-6 cohort was housed at James T. Jones Elementary School and the 7-12 cohort was housed at Gladstone Area High School. He also provided Welcher with documentation — attendance sheets for both schools.

On March 2, Leisenring visited these schools to verify Kulbertis’ statements. He asked the principals of both schools to show him the classrooms associated with these programs, but was informed the programs did not exist. Upon asking Jones Elementary Principal Kristina Hansen why she signed an attendance sheet including students supposedly involved with the programs, she said the sheet only indicated she met with these students on count day. The students had come to the school over the course of that day, and left after meeting with Hansen.

Later that day, Leisenring contacted DIISD Superintendent Wendy Warmuth to share his findings. Based on her advice, he then contacted Brian Ciloski from State Aid and School Finance at the Michigan Department of Education. Ciloski informed him that Gladstone needed to get rid of the FTEs for the students listed in the two cohorts.

Welcher informed Kulbertis about the impending loss of the FTEs on March 6, giving him five days to provide evidence contrary to these findings.

Ciloski also warned Kulbertis about the improper coding of early college students in the district at that time. The program, which allowed students to receive an associates degree at Bay College, was terminated by the state in January due to these issues.

On March 10, Kulbertis met with Leisenring and apologized. According to Leisenring’s memo, Kulbertis stated that the program started small, but grew too quickly for him to handle. Kulbertis also apologized to Welcher via e-mail that day. Welcher replied to Kulbertis on March 13, stating she would provide a final audit report to him in the near future.

On March 22, Kulbertis received the official audit results for Gladstone Area Schools. He was notified the district was losing 42.87 FTEs as a result of their lack of compliance with the rules for virtual programming, among other issues. The district was also warned about waiting until after students started 12th grade to start coding them as early college participants.

Kulbertis said the program Leisenring’s memo focused on was not actually meant to be a virtual program. Instead, he said, it was intended to be a new, multi-grade cohort that the audit had inaccurately conflated with the UPVA.

“We had a group of homeschool families that we were interested in building an educational relationship with, and they were not looking for the typical virtual courses,” he said. “So, to try to meet their needs, we were going to pilot a multi-grade cohort of students.”

Due to difficulties associated with staffing the program, it was discontinued in the fall of 2016, Kulbertis said. The district’s auditing paperwork had not been updated to reflect the program’s discontinuation.

According to Kulbertis, he addressed this situation with the Gladstone Area Schools Board of Education at the time it happened.

“That additional memo … wasn’t new information for the board,” he said.

Kulbertis also noted he contacted Leisenring after the Feb. 1 meeting to share some concerns he had about the memo.

“There were several things that … I thought were opinion and speculation, rather than fact,” he said. However, he said he understood the intent behind the memo as a whole.