Broward County schools could be forced to pay as much as $1.7 million after a state audit concluded they received funding for hundreds of ineligible students.
Many of the 15 regular and five charter schools were cited by the state Auditor General when they couldn't provide documentation that services were needed for some students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages and special education programs during the 2011-12 school year.
The schools may have to pay back the extra state money they received for these students.
Three charter schools are in danger of losing a share of their funding because of questions about whether students attended the required 900 hours per year, which averages five hours per day for 180 days.
The state Department of Education will deduct the $1.7 million from allocations it sends to the state, unless the district successfully appeals the findings.
"In some cases, they are taking back dollars that we should not have claimed in the first place, but in many cases, they are penalizing us for deficient paperwork, even though the services were fully provided," said Nadine Drew, a spokeswoman for the Broward School District.
District officials have been successful at getting fines reduced in the past. A $724,000 fine two years ago dropped to $385,000 after an appeal. A $5 million penalty in 2010 was reduced to about $1 million.
Other districts have been cited for similar overpayments. An audit of Palm Beach County schools released this summer found it may have been overpaid by $1.2 million.
The Broward audit questioned a practice by two Mavericks High Charter Schools where students spent one of their five hours each day at an off-campus activity, such as volunteer work or classes provided by outside agencies. The auditor has recommended not counting the extra hour for funding purposes.
Mavericks, which serves at-risk students, plans to appeal, CEO Lauren Hollander said. Regardless of these activities, students get more than the required hours of instruction per year because the school is open during the summer months and for two sessions a day, she said. Students in the morning session often make up missed hours in the afternoon session, she said.
The school has changed the schedule so all students now take five classes per day on campus "just to remove the shadow of doubt while we fight this argument," Hollander said. "All of the additional hours are being done, but it's not necessarily easy for everybody to understand."
North University High in Lauderdale was also cited for having too few hours, 830 instead of 900. Burt Saunders, a lawyer for the school, said the school has two separate school sessions during the same day. Under state law, students at these schools only need 810 hours per year, he said. The school also plans to appeal.
"Auditors are used to a 180 day, 5-hour a day calendar," Saunders said. "The finding was incorrect, and we're working through that process now."
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