The school board is planning to take legal action against the state Department of Education that could result in local private schools being reimbursed millions of dollars in services, which were never provided because the money went instead to public schools.
The Lakewood Board of Education voted Wednesday to allow its attorney, Michael Inzelbuch, to consult with federal education officials about launching an investigation into why federal Title I money was mismanaged in Lakewood.
“I am also authorizing our attorney to take any and all legal action against the state and investigate our employees � past or present � for the disaster that occurred here,” school board member Abraham Ostreicher said.
Though it was the Lakewood school district itself that misspent the Title I money, the school board is arguing that the fault lies with the state. The education department failed to provide sufficient oversight and training to district administrators, resulting in the mismanagement of Title I funds, the school board contends.
“It appears to me that the state knew or should have known that the district’s administration did not appropriately consult with the nonpublic schools as required by law,” Ostreicher said. “Unbelievable and unacceptable.”
Title I refers to money that is given to a district based on the number of low-income students in that area. Nonpublic schools also are eligible for the funds, which are used for various supplemental education programs.
While the district attempts to recover untold millions in Title I services, aid to nonpublic schools in the upcoming school year will more than double.
About $2.1 million in federal funds will be dedicated to providing services at private schools this school year. Last year, nonpublic schools received just $573,881 in Title I services, though the schools should have received $1.6 million, according to a school board investigation.
Michelle Doyle, a consultant hired by the school board last school year to examine Title I spending practices, also determined that the district failed to properly consult with nonpublic schools about their Title I needs.
“We’re doing it right this year,” Superintendent Edward Luick said during a Tuesday consultation meeting with private school leaders.
The Igud, a council of Jewish school leaders, estimates that $11 million in Title I money was diverted to public schools during an eight-year span, according to a task force study.
Inzelbuch, reached by telephone following the meeting, said he was surprised by the board’s action Wednesday, which he described as “proactive.”
“While I don’t want to prejudge this matter, if the state didn’t provide the necessary training and oversight as it is required to do, it is very possible that the state education agency will be responsible, in part or whole, for any services that may not have been provided,” Inzelbuch said. There are roughly 50 private schools in Lakewood, most of which are run by the township’s Orthodox Jewish community. And of the approximately 8,224 low-income students in Lakewood, about 5,480 of them are private school students, according to the district.
This year, in an effort to make certain nonpublic schools get their fair share, the school district has increased communication with nonpublic school leaders.
On Tuesday, district and private school officials met to discuss Title I regulations and for what types of programs the funding can be used.