Oklahoma schools see significant delays in reimbursement of federal funds
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, May 04, 2012
5/04/12 at 9:41 AM
School districts across the state are reporting significant delays in the reimbursement of federal funds by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Officials in the Tulsa, Bartlesville, Mustang and Oklahoma City districts told the Tulsa World that payments of their claims are months behind or - in the case of Title I funds for Tulsa's service of economically disadvantaged students - nonexistent.
"We need the cash on hand by June 30 or we could face financial default," said Trish Williams, chief financial officer for Tulsa Public Schools. "We don't have the cash reserves to cover."
TPS was allocated a total of $65 million in all federal funding for Fiscal Year 2012, which ends in June.
Currently, the district has nearly $11.5 million in pending claims, including $6.7 million for Title I programs.
Jeff Mills, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said his organization has received so many calls on the topic that it has sent out a survey to try to assess the extent of the problem.
"Districts are calling us because they don't know where else to turn," Mills said, "especially when we are getting into May and there are statutory requirements for schools to balance their books by the end of June. I think schools are desperately trying to do that, but if they don't get all of their revenues in, they are going to have a tough time."
Officials at the state Department of Education said claims are being processed in a timely manner and that the only reason for delays were reporting problems by districts, such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which they claimed had not provided "complete and correct" documentation for reimbursement for tutoring.
Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said his district hasn't received any Title I reimbursements since October, although it has also submitted claims for November through February.
"Some of the procedures for some of the claims, for tutoring, etc., have changed. We are hopeful we can comply with their changes," he said.
Damon Gardenhire, state Department of Education spokesman, said districts need not worry about receiving funds on time as long as they provide all of the required documentation.
"The state Department of Education is awaiting a list of tutors and an accounting for the time worked so we can provide an accurate reimbursement. In the absence of this information, we simply cannot proceed," Gardenhire said. "Districts appear to have experienced confusion about what information is required on the form ... Bottom line: Districts will receive their reimbursement before June 30."
He also claimed that TPS had received reimbursements for its claims through December, totaling $3.9 million.
But Williams, chief financial officer at TPS, checked again to see if any funds had been received Thursday.
"We stand by our statement. TPS has not received payment for any FY12 Title I claims, and our claims awaiting payment are currently $6,744,225.28," she said.
Informed of that statement, Ramona Coats, assistant state superintendent of federal programs, responded that the comptroller's office, not hers, pays claims and that she would do some more checking.
Officials with smaller districts said they, too, have been experiencing delays and other issues.
Tim Green, executive director of business and finance at Bartlesville Public Schools, said his district received its first reimbursement check Thursday.
One of the state's demands was for Bartlesville to budget Title I funds for Oak Park Elementary School - despite the fact that it closed last year and the district had already documented that.
"They've had so many people leave, apparently a different person got our account. The schools have been helping to train the state department," Green said, noting that his district still has $1.1 million in unpaid claims. "We are definitely concerned. We've been filing claims all year long. Do you think we are going to get everything by June 30? It would definitely be a negative impact on our end of the year balance (if we don't). When you get that, it can hurt your bond ratings."
Mary Leaver, spokeswoman for Mustang Public Schools, said her district is experiencing delays, including nonpayment for a $55,000 claim in January and $29,000 in March.
"It is affecting us," she said. "There seems to be staff who may not be as familiar with that process as they have been in the past and there are a lot of new personnel in that department. Also, there seem to be some new requirements that are taking a little more time - both for us to meet and for their staff to go through - so we think it's a combination of things."
Original Print Headline: Schools say funds delayed
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer listens during a school board meeting in May 2010. Springer said his district hasn't received any Title I reimbursements since October, although it has also submitted claims for November through February. By John Clanton, The Oklahoman