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State Officials Conduct Audit Of Davenport Schools

Doc Searls
A state audit of the Davenport Community School District could determine whether the schools keep their accreditation.

State officials are in Davenport this week conducting a broad review of the school district’s finances and practices. The audit could determine whether the Davenport Community Schools keep their accreditation. 

Department of Education staffers are conducting what's known as a Phase II Audit this week at the Davenport Community Schools, interviewing teachers, principals, staff, parents and community members. They’re also going through financial records and district practices.

State officials requested the review after deciding local administrators weren’t moving fast enough to address multiple violations of federal law. A previous audit released last April found the district was in "systemic noncompliance" with parts of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and district employees were identifying a disproportionate number of students of color for special education, and disproportionately disciplining them.

DOE Bureau Chief of School Improvement Amy Williamson says state officials will conduct the review, but also hope to provide support to local adminstrators.

“We want to leave here with a plan that we have developed along with the district leadership team, who we’ve been working with for the past few days to, sort of, cement what changes they would like to see in place," she said.  "And we will, kind of, stick with them through these changes.”

Davenport is still grappling with years of financial constraints, declining enrollment and the resignation of a superintendent. According to state Board of Education records, the district has ended the fiscal year with a negative balance three years in a row, closing out FY2018 with a negative balance of $13,201,649.

The audit of the district's finances and practices could have serious ramifications as well. Based on the findings, state leaders can decide to either uphold Davenport’s accreditation, or outline new requirements in a corrective action plan. 

“If they meet the conditions of that corrective action plan, they can have their full accreditation back," Williamson said. "What can happen is districts can fail to meet those conditions, and can be dissolved.”

In the past, DOE has revoked the accredidation of districts and shut them down, though the districts were much smaller and often in more rural communities. According to the department, Davenport is the largest district to be subject to a Phase II Audit. 

A spokesperson for the district declined an interview request, but said Davenport officials may share more details when the results of the audit are finalized.

"Since we are currently involved in the process, as well as our superintendent search, we need to focus on these important issues," wrote district spokeswoman Dawn Saul in an email. "We will very likely wish to discuss the Phase II audit in the future once we know any results from the process."

The audit report is expected to be completed and presented to state regulators and the public this March.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter