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LAUSD Title I money in jeopardy over enduring MiSiS glitches

Vanessa Romo | September 22, 2014

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LAUSD students eating lunch* UPDATED

The deadline for LA Unified students’ receiving free and reduced priced lunch is tomorrow, leaving anyone who has not renewed an application facing the possibility of running a tab with the district. Making matters worse, school site officials say a bug in the district’s new student data system, MiSiS, has made it difficult to target students who still need to enroll in the lunch program.

Not counting those students could put hundreds of millions of dollars in jeopardy for the district. Federal funding for the district’s neediest kids, in the form of Title I funds, is determined by the number of free and reduced lunch applications filed by a school, and those figures must be reported to the state by October 23.

“At this point, only 40 percent of my students have filed an application for the new year, which is far below the number of students eligible,” Brian Dunbar, Title I Coordinator for Fairfax High School told LA School Report.

A school is eligible for Title I money only if at least half of the student body is enrolled in the federal meals program. A school receives even more money per pupil if at least 65 percent of students sign up.

“Last year, we were at 76 percent, so I know the kids are here…For our school, that’s just under $1 million,” Dunbar said.

That money, he said, went toward paying for five teachers, a few teachers assistants, a college counselor, pupil services and attendance counselor and some nurse time.

In addition to saving $2 a day on free sloppy joes, there are other benefits to students’ participating in the program. High schoolers get college application waivers, SAT and ACT — college entrance exams – fee waivers and substantial discounts on each Advanced Placement test.

While students can fill out an application for the lunch discounts throughout the year, the district only has one shot to report its numbers to the state to be eligible for the Title I money. Meanwhile, eligible students who fail to enroll, which they can do at any time, will have to pay for their own meals.

Part of the problem with MiSiS was that it could not differentiate students who had renewed their application from those who were enrolled in the program based on last year’s eligibility. But district officials told LA School Report that the bug was fixed last week.

Another issue for Dunbar is that while he can access an updated list of students still missing an application, he can’t locate them on campus at any given point of day because the MiSiS scheduling software remains glitchy.

With a month left to go, district officials say there is plenty of time to get an accurate headcount to the California Department of Education.

“We go through this every year,” Lydia Ramos, district communications director told LA School Report. “Families are busy and kids forget to bring in the applications but eventually they do. And this year will be the same.”

But some school site administrators say the district has done an inadequate job of communicating with them, and if there is a “fix” they have yet to hear about it. Many have had to find solutions on their own.

Lisa Alva, Title I Coordinator for Roosevelt High School, said she figured out how to navigate the software “thanks to my very patient assistant principal and cafeteria manager.”

Since she got the hang of it, Alva says, “It’s made life really easy compared to last year. It’s very smooth and streamlined.” But, she added, the district could do a better job training employees on how to use the system.

“There have been no emails from the district to Title I Coordinators and that’s a little perturbing,” she said. “We have a $1.5 million riding on this. That’s 15 teachers.”

Previous Posts: LAUSD outlines backup plans as MiSiS work continues; LAUSD aiming to resolve MiSiS issues as ‘Norm Day’ approaches; Deasy planning to hire his own liaison for MiSiS project

* Clarifies students’ access to lunch program.

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