Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Texas Education Agency’s investigation into the Killeen Independent School District’s special education department.
On March 3, 2015, the state agency started a special investigation into the district that later found lack of compliance with federal and state special education requirements.
To get to the root of the special education problems, the Killeen school board last summer hired Gibson Consulting Group for $85,735, to comb through the program. It was one of several such reviews under board contract with Austin-based Gibson for a total of $453,435 for six reviews over three years, according to district officials.
The special-needs program review was to include discussions with parents and administrators, visits to schools and a collection of data.
Now, seven months after the board commissioned the special education audit, the district is withholding the report’s initial findings from the public.
At 6 p.m. Monday, Gibson Consulting Group will present what the district calls the “finalized” version of the report to the public during a special board meeting. The final report includes additional corrections and revisions made by district administration.
The Herald asked for the original report, which was funded with taxpayer money. The point of contention between the district and the Herald still centers on what the public has the right to see and know.
The Herald requested the report months ago. In December, the Herald submitted a Texas Freedom of Information request for a copy of the full audit. According to district officials, the audit report was delivered to the district Jan. 3. A month later, on Feb. 3, the district returned the revised initial report to Gibson.
On Feb. 11, the district denied the Herald’s second request for the unaltered raw report, instead opting to seek the legal opinion of the attorney general. The Herald maintains that the public has the right to review the full, unedited raw report.
This week, district officials confirmed Superintendent John Craft made the decision to conceal the draft audit and fight the Herald’s open records request.
To help make its case to the attorney general, the district hired an attorney. Every hour Walsh Gallegos’ associate attorney Haley Turner spends on this matter costs taxpayers $255, according to legal documents obtained by the Herald.
On Feb. 25, Turner submitted a request, on behalf of the firm’s client Killeen ISD, to Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has 45 days to respond. The district and its attorneys argue that the unedited report is off limits to the public.
“The requestors seek copies of the draft audit report, as well as the District’s revisions of the draft audit report,” Turner wrote. “The District respectfully asserts that the requested information constitutes audit working papers that are protected from disclosure pursuant to Texas Government Code Section 552.116.”
According to district officials, the revisions and the delay in the special education report’s release boils down to incorrect data.
There is only one change that was made to the report, district officials said.
“The only change to the revised version of the audit report, is a correction to the Special Education STAAR Grades 3-8 Combined Passing Rates — PMBAS Indicator 1, District-Level, 2013-2015 table on page 23,” district officials said.
“The district rate for 2012-2013 was entered into the table incorrectly in the initial draft report,” officials told the Herald.
In a conversation with the Herald last week about the audit’s release, school board President Terry Delano addressed the audit’s data issue.
“There were mistakes on there,” Delano said. “It was mistakes, from what he (Craft) told me, that needed to be addressed. Which makes me concerned a little bit — of our auditor — that there was some data that wasn’t correct. It makes me a little concerned that our auditor had incorrect data.”
It is unclear how Gibson obtained the “incorrect data” or how it affected the audit’s findings and conclusions.
In fewer than 45 days, the state’s top attorney will decide whether to prohibit the release of the original special education report.
Before Monday’s meeting, behind closed doors, three public officials elected to represent the public’s interest will review Gibson’s findings prior to the public presentation before the full board. The “board audit committee” consists of board members Susan Jones, Shelley Wells and Corbett Lawler. The same three board members are up for re-election this May.
For more information on the Special Education audit, its whereabouts and the Herald’s requests to the district, go to bit.ly/1pokHXk.