Why would an organization pay over $83,000 for an audit, then not make the changes recommended in the final report of that audit?
Why would that same organization pay another $21,000 for a follow-up audit two years later, when some of the original recommendations were never implemented?
Killeen Independent School District, which is exploring a potential bond issue for as much as $500 million in taxpayer money to construct new schools and renovate older buildings, contracted with Gibson Consulting Group of Austin in January 2014 to conduct a wide range of internal audits. More than 15 audits have been approved by the KISD Board of Trustees since that time, with a total cost of nearly $600,000.
At the July 11, 2017, KISD board meeting, Gibson was approved to perform a follow-up audit of KISD’s beleaguered special education program. The audit is due for completion during this school year.
The initial special education audit was commissioned in 2015 after the Texas Education Agency investigated KISD for failing to meet standards evaluating special education students to give the students appropriate education.
The audit was meant to help the district attain 100 percent compliance with state and federal regulations in providing services to special needs students.
“This internal audit will focus on the degree to which Killeen ISD effectively and efficiently serves students in special education while meeting compliance requirements,” according to the Gibson proposal for the audit, dated May 19, 2015.
Both the TEA investigation, which took place in early 2015, and the Gibson audit of later that same year showed KISD had not achieved compliance with state and federal special education regulations. At the time of the TEA investigation, KISD teachers, special education staff members and parents expressed their frustrations to the KISD Board of Trustees about the failure of the district to adequately serve special needs students.
“We worry the children who need services aren’t getting them ... and we wonder how this disparity of services and timely testing could have occurred, not only unaddressed, but also unreported for so long,” said Rick Beaule, president of the Killeen Educators Association at the Aug. 11, 2015, KISD board meeting.
The Killeen Daily Herald also reported at the time a disproportionate number of special needs students were being placed in alternative educational settings by KISD, causing them to be denied the education they needed.
KISD disputed a number of findings in the original Gibson audit, and submitted an 11-page document in early 2016 voicing the district’s objections to some audit findings.
Nearly two years after Gibson submitted the final report on the audit, KISD claims 100 percent compliance with state and federal regulations, but parents’ continued complaints to both the TEA and attorneys on behalf of their children with special needs indicate otherwise.
“Since 2015, when we opened our Austin office, there has been a continuing stream of calls from Killeen ISD, evidencing systemic problems including failure to classify students with disabilities, failure to offer appropriate IEPs, and failure to implement the IEPs they do offer,” said Elizabeth Angelone, managing attorney of the Cuddy Law Firm office in Austin. She sees an issue with KISD’s claim of 100 percent compliance with TEA regulations. “Children continue to be deprived of services and continue to suffer the long-term consequences of this deprivation of services.”
The Herald requested an interview with Janice Peronto, KISD executive director for special education, in the hopes of addressing progress in her department since the Gibson audit.
“It would depend on what the story is, what information you would be asking for and whether they would be available and willing to interview,” responded Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer.
The Herald then emailed Peronto a list of questions, based on KISD’s statements in the document disputing findings in the Gibson audit.
Peronto responded to those questions Nov. 8 and throughout her answers claimed the district is in 100 percent compliance with state and federal regulations regarding special education processes.
The Gibson audit had challenged the integrity of data submitted by KISD regarding special education evaluations. Auditors also found that KISD staff members responsible for reporting data accurately failed to comply with regulations.
Here are some of the findings and responses:
AUDIT: “The TEA staff found that Killeen ISD does not have an effective process in place to meet federal and state requirements. While the district has a knowledgeable, capable staff, there is a lack of effective systemic process and procedures that prevent compliance for timely evaluation of students. The integrity of submitted data is lacking, and staff members responsible for reporting accurate data, as well as responding to complaints and due process hearings, are not complying with TEA requirements.”
Evaluations, according to federal and state law, are supposed to be completed in 45 school days, Abbott said on Sept. 28.
PERONTO’S RESPONSE: “At no time did TEA find that KISD was not providing proper evaluations.”
Peronto said EasyIEP software, which is designed to simplify creating and managing IEPs — Individual Education Plans — was implemented in the district since the audit. “As a result we have maintained 100 percent compliance for the past two years.”
AUDIT: “KISD is not sufficiently analyzing its own special education student performance data.”
KISD 2016 RESPONSE: “The Director for Assessment and Accountability presents and explains the PBMAS (Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System) report to district level administrators and all principals every year shortly after the state releases it.”
HERALD: The Herald asked Peronto: How are administrators and principals trained to understand PBMAS data?
PERONTO’S RESPONSE: “Administrators use the data from PBMAS, State assessment results, and other campus or district evaluations/survey results to identify their campus needs. The administrators, along with the Site Based Decision Making committee analyze the data to identify campus needs. Campus needs assessments are the foundation of the Campus Improvement Plan.”
AUDIT: Some special education student Individual Education Plans, or IEPs “did not contain the realistic performance expectations or the academic rigor necessary to improve student achievement.”
KISD RESPONSE: “All KISD staff responsible for creating and implementing IEPs were required to complete a three hour on-line standards-based IEP training through ESC region 20.” (ESC region 20 is the Education Service Center in San Antonio.)
The Herald asked whether special education training is mandatory for all teachers.
PERONTO’S RESPONSE: “Professional development is offered during the summer, during the teacher’s professional development weeks, and throughout the year as campuses design their calendars. There are some mandatory trainings for staff members as identified by their role in the district.”
Peronto did not elaborate on which roles qualified for this mandatory training.
Peronto acknowledged voluntary training is offered to all teachers “All special education professional development is offered to any teacher; special education or general education.”
One of the recommendations KISD disputed in the Gibson audit involved qualifications for the position Peronto was later hired to fill.
AUDIT: “The job description for the Executive Director should be modified to contain the following experience requirements: at least five years of special education program administration/leadership experience, in a school system with 15,000 or more students; at least 10 years of experience in special education; and a mid-management certification.”
KISD RESPONSE: No revision of the special education executive director’s job description took place, according to Abbott. Peronto, the former principal of Cedar Valley Elementary School, was hired for the position lacking the special education qualifications or training recommended in the Gibson audit.
Complaints from special education parents continue to be lodged against the district with the TEA. A total of 26 complaints have been filed over the past two years, according to Sherry Mansell, TEA public information coordinator.
KISD will pay Gibson Consulting Group $21,000 for a special education follow-up audit. That audit is due sometime during the present school year, according to a list provided by the firm.