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The ‘cloak-and-dagger’ approach

Otto: ‘This was not handled correctly’

DEPUE — It’s nearing a year since DePue School District’s Student Improvement Grant (SIG) was terminated by the Illinois State Board of Education, and a final explanation of why is still yet to be revealed to the district.

In March, auditors from the state board determined the district misappropriated $332,904 on various items. The determination brought confusion to the district because apparently they were items that had been approved for purchase by the state board.

On Thursday, Superintendent Randy Otto confirmed after March, the auditors collected more information from the district’s previous budgets and labeled additional budgeted items as misappropriated.

Otto said the list of misappropriated funds now includes about 15 to 20 budget items and adds up to about $713,000, which the state is saying the school might have to pay back.

Otto said the line items range from all sorts, but in March he reported the income to junior high teachers for extended days, the cost for elementary teachers in the master’s degree program through Concordia University and the purchase of a copy machine, which was used in the SIG team’s office were some of the items they had picked out.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Otto reported he had recently sat down with previous Transformation Administrator Bob Libka from the district’s previous SIG team. Otto stated he was just as “dumbfounded” as the district on reasons why the state took away the grant because the supposedly misappropriated funds had been approved by the state.

Also, Otto said representatives from the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) were behind DePue on the situation and were also confused by the reasons why DePue lost the grant.

Otto said he will be meeting in October with representatives from the state board of education, including Superintendent of Schools Chris Koch, board chair Gery Chico, as well as, representatives from state Representative Frank Mautino’s office and from state Senator Sue Rezin’s office. He anticipates someone from the Federal Department of Education will also be present.

At the meeting, a final explanation of why the grant was terminated should be available, as well as, why the school is responsible for the costs. The district has gathered documentation to dispute the supposedly misappropriated funds.

Otto said if the district is determined liable and is demanded to pay back the $713,000, he will be curious to know under what pretense the state will ask for the payment. He said there is no way the district would be able to payback the amount in one payment.

The district was awarded the $4.7 million SIG grant in August 2010. The monies were dispersed over the course of three years. DePue was one of the five schools in the state to receive the grant.

This year would have been the year the district would start to wean off the grant’s resources and take on the programs learned from the grant and refine them as their own.

Otto said no one can measure the level of frustration the district has had over the situation.

“Between their ruling making and state legislature taking away our money, you can’t measure the frustration we have,” he said.

Otto said he wishes the state would have been more up front and direct with their decision, rather than taking the “cloak-and-dagger” approach to the situation.

“This was not handled correctly,” he said.

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