HAMILTON COMMUNITY SCHOOLS MA 18-4  3/7/19

Michigan Department of Education

 

FINAL REPORT AND DECISION

OF

THE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION

 

In the matter of:         Appeal by Hamilton Community Schools of the

Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Pupil Membership Counts

Docket No. MA 18-4

BACKGROUND FACTS

In the summer of 2017, Gloria Suggitt, pupil membership auditor of the Michigan Department of Education (Department), reviewed the Homeschool Partnership Program of Hamilton Community Schools (Hamilton).  Based on her review, Ms. Suggitt determined that the program, a shared time program, did not comply with legal requirements.  The pupil membership auditor for Ottawa County Intermediate School District thereafter conducted a 100% audit of the program and, based on that audit, deducted 34.65 FTEs from Hamiltonís Fall 2016 pupil membership count and 35.92 FTEs from its Spring 2017 count. 

On October 31, 2017, Hamilton filed a first level appeal with Naomi Casher, assistant director of the Departmentís Office of Financial Management of the Michigan Department of Education.  On April 12, 2018, Ms. Casher denied the appeal.  On May 9, 2018, Hamilton requested final agency review by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Hamilton chose to present its appeal at a review conference rather than entirely in writing.  A review conference was convened at the Department on June 19, 2018.  Present at the review conference were Robert Taylor, designee of the Superintendent of Public Instruction; Ms. Casher; Hamilton Superintendent David Tebo; Hamilton Director of Flexible Learning Kristie Noguera; Hamilton consultant Mike Murray; and Mary Fielding, a Department administrative law specialist.

DISCUSSION

Consideration of this appeal is guided by several well-established principles.  First, it is the Departmentís responsibility to administer the distribution of state school aid funds in full compliance with all applicable statutes and administrative rules and to ensure that statutes and rules are applied uniformly to all school districts.  Ithaca Public Schools (MA 16-1); Delton Kellogg Schools (MA 12-4); Galien Township School District (MA 12-1); McBain Rural Agricultural School (MA 11-1); Port Huron Area School District (MA 10-1); Parchment School District (MA 08-1).  A district claiming eligibility for state school aid is obligated to demonstrate satisfaction of all legal requirements to establish such eligibility.  Ithaca, supra; Delton Kellogg, supra; Life Skills Center of Pontiac (MA 12-2); Galien Township, supra; McBain, supra; Port Huron, supra; Parchment, supra; LíAnse Creuse Schools (MA 00-1); Hamtramck Public Schools (MA 94-1); Bendle Schools (MA 93-2); Coopersville Area Public Schools (MA 92-10).  Applicable legal requirements are determined based on the law in effect at the time of the pupil membership count at issue.  See MCL 388.1615(3) (deductions shall be calculated according to law in effect in fiscal year in which incorrect amount was paid).  Absent statutory authority, the Department, which is subject to monitoring by the Auditor General, has no equitable authority to deviate from legal requirements.  Ithaca, supra; McBain, supra; Port Huron, supra; Westwood Community School District (MA 01-3); Beacon International Academy (MA 01-1); Lansing School District (MA 91-9); Orchard View Schools (MA 90-2).

At issue in this appeal is Hamiltonís inclusion in its fall 2016 and spring 2017 pupil membership counts of part-time, homeschool pupils enrolled in several courses at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.  Ms. Casher found that all of the involved courses covered subjects considered essential and that therefore the homeschool pupils enrolled in the courses were not countable for state aid purposes under MCL 388.1766b. 

In considering this appeal, I am guided by the principles set forth in Brighton Area Schools (MA 17-4), which involved the Fall 2015 pupil membership count.  In that case, I reviewed relevant judicial, administrative, and statutory authority to determine what courses a public school district may offer to nonpublic school pupils without infringing on constitutional or other legal authority regarding the use of public moneys to fund nonpublic education.  I concluded in Brighton that a school district may include a part-time nonpublic school pupil in its pupil membership count to the extent the pupil was enrolled in a nonessential course, including an advanced or enrichment course, that was in addition to essential instruction provided at the nonpublic school.  Under Brighton, courses that generally go beyond basic instruction and that are not required for full-time pupils of the public school are considered nonessential and thus allowable in shared time programs.[1]  In addition, shared time courses must be available to full-time public school pupils, the nonpublic school pupils must be subject to the same requirements as full-time public school pupils enrolled in the courses, and essential instruction must be provided by the pupilís nonpublic school.  I find that the Brighton holding applies in this case, which involves memberships of homeschool pupils.[2]  See also Iron Mountain Public Schools (MA 17-1).

Applying the holding of Brighton to the instant facts and considering the arguments and documentation submitted by Hamilton, I find that each of the courses represented by the FTEs in dispute was, as argued by Hamilton, a nonessential course for purposes of MCL 388.1766b.  Hamiltonís full-time pupils were not required to take any of the disputed courses, many of which are reasonably described as enrichment or advanced courses in social studies, mathematics, and science.  In addition, some of the disallowed courses are art courses that are indisputably nonessential under all controlling authority.  See, for example, Snyder v Charlotte Public School District, 421 Mich 517 (1985), and Mich Admin Code, R 340.2(20(a).  Furthermore, Hamilton asserts that each of the courses was available to its full-time pupils and there is nothing in the ISD audit narrative or other documentation provided in this appeal that calls that assertion into question.  Nor is there any indication that full-time pupils enrolled in the involved courses were subject to requirements that did not apply equally to the homeschool pupils taking those courses.  In addition, Hamilton provided documentation that the homeschool curriculum of all but one of the involved pupils satisfied MCL 380.1561(3)(f) (public school attendance not required for children educated at home by parent or guardian in organized educational program in reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar).  Hamilton has withdrawn its appeal as to the sole pupil for whom it did not provide that documentation.  The district claimed 0.17 FTE for that pupil in the Fall 2016 pupil membership count and 0.17 FTE in the Spring 2017 pupil membership count.

For these reasons, I deny Hamiltonís appeal of the first level decision as it relates to the claimed memberships (0.17 FTE for each of the relevant pupil membership counts) for one pupil and I grant Hamiltonís appeal as to the remaining FTEs for each of those counts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORDER

Based on my review of this matter and for the above reasons, I deny in part and grant in part Hamilton Community Schoolsí appeal of the first level decision and I order as follows.

The deduction of 34.48 FTEs from Hamilton Community Schoolsí Fall 2016 pupil membership count is reversed.

The deduction of 0.17 FTE from Hamilton Community Schoolsí Fall 2016 pupil membership count is affirmed.

The deduction of 35.75 FTEs from Hamilton Community Schoolsí Spring 2017 pupil membership count is reversed.

The deduction of 0.17 FTE from Hamilton Community Schoolsí Spring 2017 pupil membership count is affirmed.

This final report and decision is being transmitted to the Department of Educationís Office of Financial Management Ė State Aid and School Finance for implementation.

 

___________________________________

Sheila A. Alles

Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction

Dated: March 7, 2019

 



[1] In Brighton, I found that, under Mich Admin Code, R 340.2(2)(b), essential courses include those that provide basic instruction in mathematics, reading, English, social studies, science, writing, the United States and Michigan constitutions, and the history and present form of civil government of the United States, Michigan, and political subdivisions and municipalities of Michigan.

[2] As in Brighton, I do not address in this decision several shared time instruction requirements set forth in MCL 388.1766b that were not addressed in the ISD audit narrative or in the first level appeal decision.  See footnote 3 in Brighton.