LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Department of Education will recommend state management for West Point Independent School District after an audit revealed lacking leadership and shoddy record keeping at the tiny one-school district in Hardin County.
Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said the three-day management audit in July found “a pattern of a significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness” in the district’s governance and administration, according to a letter dated Aug. 19 to Eddie Moore, chairman of the West Point school board. Lewis says he will recommend to the Kentucky Board of Education that the district be placed under state management.
"Kids in West Point Independent are not receiving what is basic," Lewis said in an interview with WDRB News Tuesday. "... This is a case of wholesale structural inefficiency and ineffectiveness from top to bottom."
The district could challenge Lewis’s determination by requesting a hearing before the state education board by Sept. 17, according to the commissioner’s letter.
The audit report details numerous issues at West Point at every level reviewed by auditors. WDRB News obtained the report Tuesday through an open records request.
West Point School Principal Carla Breeding said officials at the school are still reviewing the audit after receiving it Tuesday. The next steps for the board, she said, would be to find a superintendent to replace Mickey Brangers, who took a job teaching math at Ballard High School days before classes started, to lead the district and decide whether or not they want to appeal Lewis's recommended takeover of West Point Independent.
She noted that the school did not have a principal for much of the 2018-19 school year.
"I think the board has to make a decision about what happens next, but I do know that one of the first things will be the decision about an interim superintendent or superintendent," Breeding told WDRB News in a phone interview.
School board members did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.
The audit found that school board members lacked proper training and that some micromanaged central office staff and interfered with the district’s day-to-day operations. Members of the school board and Brangers had a frosty relationship that the audit described as neither “positive” nor “civil.”
“This has created a tense working environment at central office,” auditors wrote in their report.
That tension spilled over into shouting matches between Brangers and school board members, including Moore, according to the audit. The district’s finance officer, Donna Walker, told auditors that she witnessed such incidents as they occurred “right outside her office,” the report says.
“She is also interrupted frequently in her daily duties by an in-person visit from the board chair requesting information or by requests coming in the form of text messages,” the audit says.
Brangers also moonlighted as a custodian and maintenance worker. Either Brangers or the school’s office manager performed those duties if such services were needed during the school day, although local service providers were called in for major maintenance issues, auditors found.
Employees interviewed by state auditors shared their views that Brangers had “no concern for the employment status of district employees should there be a merger with Hardin County,” the report says. Walker also described him in the report as hands-off leader with “no interest in finances.”
State auditors further discovered that the school board chairperson was authorized to sign checks for the district, which is a violation of school finance rules.
“No board member is to have check signing authority,” the audit says.
A review of spending records also found supporting documentation that was “very much lacking” for checks, invoices and purchase orders, the audit says.
There’s also no evidence that the district’s central office monitors school operations or has an organizational chart in place, according to the audit.
On special education, the audit found that district staff could not articulate how students were identified and referred for those services and that interventions “were not implemented consistently” in the 2018-19 school year.
Brangers told auditors that the district intervention plan “kind of fell through” last school year, and they found that an office manager, who also doubled as a full-time substitute teacher, provided interventions when she could.
The audit also found that West Point Independent students’ individual education programs were incomplete in many instances, including student files that did not have complete IEP progress data or documentation that parents were notified ahead of Admissions and Release Committee meetings.
What’s more, the audit raises questions about the curriculum used at West Point, notably the lack of a formal process to monitor its development and implementation.
Teachers interviewed by auditors said that they weren’t expected to submit lesson plans for review or feedback, and the report found no systems in place to ensure the education provided at West Point School, which was identified as a comprehensive support and improvement school last year based on its state testing results, is actually getting better.
“The systematic use of data-driven decision making is not apparent around any instructional process or protocol to support students, teachers and administrators in continuous improvement in curriculum and instruction,” the audit says.
Lewis said he's concerned that West Point Independent students have been affected academically as a result.
"The biggest challenge for me right now is the quality of education that kids at West Point Independent are receiving," he said.
The push to place West Point Independent under state management is the latest blow to the small school district of 146 students.
Questions arose about whether the district’s single school would open at all for the 2019-20 school year in July, but the district hired enough teachers to keep the doors open. Then, days before Tuesday’s opening, Brangers and the school’s principal at the time, Becky Hawkins, abruptly left their jobs to work in other school districts.
West Point Independent’s school board is scheduled to meet 6 p.m. Tuesday.
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