The Mississippi Department of Education announced Thursday that the state’s second largest school district is in violation of 75 percent of state accreditation standards, making state takeover a real possibility.
MDE released the findings of a full audit report on Jackson Public Schools which stated that the district was in violation of 24 out of 32 standards. The full report is here.
The district was compliant with staffing of full time principals, financial reports and its financial audit, budgeting, emergency drills and a few other standards, which are listed in the report in green font.
According to the report, the district still has issues with many problems outlined in the first limited audit, such as reporting data accurately to MDE, district record-keeping, teachers working outside their areas of endorsement and unlicensed teaching staff, and an inadequate amount of school support services available to students.
Additionally, there were issues with instructional time. None of the seven JPS high schools provided the required 180 teaching days to students or the minimum hours of instruction to earn Carnegie credits, which are used to measure hours of instruction and graduation eligibility. Ten elementary schools did not provide 330 daily minutes of instruction to pre-K students, which is also required.
It also stated there were multiple issues with students meeting graduation requirements – one of the findings stated that 149 of the 1,404 students who graduated in the 2016-17 school year did not meet graduation requirements but still participated in graduation ceremonies. In another, the report said 63 high school students graduated despite failing their exit exams.
The timeline for the audit process began last April, when MDE conducted a limited audit on 22 schools and found them in violation of 22 of 32 accreditation standards. In August 2016 the district was downgraded to probation status and the Commission on School Accreditation also voted to approve the full audit of all 58 JPS schools.
During the school year, district officials and consultants said they were working to address issues highlighted by MDE and gave repeated optimistic reports on the progress they were making.
MDE officials have declined to provide details as the audit progressed, but in a video message Thursday, State Superintendent Carey Wright explained the process.
“As you know, JPS has had its accreditation status downgraded to probation in August 2016 after a limited audit cited numerous concerns related to school safety and instructional practices,” Wright said. “We conducted this audit because state law requires the MDE to periodically audit all districts that are rated C, D, or F.”
The full, on-site audit began Sept. 6, 2016 and concluded on July 31, 2017.
The report comes in the wake of several changes for the school district, including the accreditation downgrade, a superintendent resignation, and exodus of school board members.
Interim superintendent Freddrick Murray replaced then superintendent Cedrick Gray when he announced his resignation in October 2016 after the district received an “F” accountability rating. New accountability ratings will be released in October.
Moving forward, MDE’s Office of Accreditation will “present evidence” to the commission to determine “whether an extreme emergency exists in the JPS that jeopardizes the safety, security, or educational interests of the children enrolled in the schools in the District,” according to a release.
From there, the commission will meet on Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. to decide if the violations warrant an emergency situation. The State Board of Education meets the following day at 10 a.m.; the commission can make recommendations to the board, which can reject or accept them or, ask the commission for further consideration. JPS officials will also have the chance to address the board.
“We look forward to the opportunity to address these findings on September 13, 2017,” Murray said in a statement.
If it is determined that extreme emergency exists, the state board can request the governor declare a state of emergency which would allow them to appoint an interim conservator or private entity to helm the district, or have the state take it over completely.
“I encourage all stakeholders to stay informed,” Wright said. “Everyone agrees that the education and well being of students are most important. The discussions that are scheduled to take place are focused on the students’ best interests.