Local News

Indiana Department of Education labels Southwestern "high risk" for losing Title funding

Walter Bourke still believes the Southwestern Consolidated Schools system is a “little slice of paradise” but the veteran administrator has much work to do before he turns the superintendent role over after this school year and returns to retirement.

The interim superintendent at Southwestern since mid-December is helping the school board with the search process for a new superintendent. Meanwhile, he is searching far and wide for an Ag teacher and a new Technology Director – two key roles at the small Shelby County school.

At the February school board meeting, Bourke also detailed a new issue facing the school system. And this one comes directly from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE).

The school system has been listed as “high risk” for losing its Title funding – federal dollars issued to state education agencies then passed along to local education entities with higher percentages of low-income families to ensure all students meet state academic standards.

Southwestern, where Title funding totals just over $100,000 and supports students from kindergarten through sixth grade, has been notified that the Indiana Department of Education’s Title program personnel will visit the school in the fall of 2024 to assess compliance with policies and procedures for spending the funding.



Bourke (photo) laid out the next steps in the process at the February school board meeting.

“What we need to concentrate on now and what the leadership has had conversations recently about, they need to understand the situation were in and changing leadership and adding new people in new positions and not having the greatest continuity in programming with Title (funding) we should have,” explained Bourke. “They want to be sure moving forward we have the structures in place to be successful and were committed to being compliant with all the Title rules and all the requirements.”

Bourke expanded on that plan last week to the Shelby County Post.

“Our first step is to form a Title planning commission,” he said. “The Title I director, Ashley Fivecoat, is putting that together now. We are identifying needs and planning into the fall. Sometime next fall, the Title I folks at IDOE will visit (campus). We will have 30 days (notice) to provide documents. The visit will then examine policies, practices and procedures.”

Southwestern was cited as high risk in part to low academic achievement, falling test scores and results in English Language Arts and Mathematics growth, non-compliance with grant requirements because a Title I meeting was held too late in the school year, failure to notify parents adequately that teachers were not hired qualified for instruction for Title I students, administering a home language survey more than once to students to determine their eligibility, and not having U.S. certified staff.

Bourke also stated the high risk rating came because the program administrator and former superintendent were considered “inexperienced.”

“If we fail miserably providing data and documentation to the Department of Education, they could conceivably withhold our Title funding – all of it,” said Bourke. “I don’t think that will ever be the case.

“The upside is the people at the Department of Education are there because they want to serve children just as we do. Their desire is for us to be successful. Their desire is for us to be compliant to get the money we need to fund the programs that we plan to have to help our students to be successful.”

Also of note at the February school board meeting, a payment of $2,009,23 plus $173.57 per day past Feb. 5 to Valic was approved.

The payment was to make whole the retirement accounts of employees harmed by the district’s late contributions, according to Bourke.

“There have been a lot of changes in this (administrative) office and this was simply missed payments to Valic,” said Bourke.

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