State's review finds that MiraCosta's AEBG Consortium failed to follow public meeting requir
Oceanside, CA – After numerous complaints from the public since November 2017 regarding the failure of MiraCosta’s Adult Education Block Grant Consortium to have public meetings, Watchdog learned this month that the State had launched an investigation in an effort to ease the ongoing concerns. However, in a document titled "Program Review," dated December 19, 2017 -- released to the public two months later on February 20, 2018, the state investigator validated the concerns raised and found that MiraCosta had not followed the public meeting laws (which the investigator called "policies"), or the Consortium's governance rules for the period of April 2016 to December 2017. The report declined to explain what the Consortium's failure to follow state laws or its governance rules meant in terms of the expenditure decisions made during that period. No students or members of the public were contacted to explore the nature of their concerns directly.
Public funds cannot be allocated without public meetings: Under both the Adult Ed Block Grant (AEBG) Act and the Brown Act, legislatively created bodies can only make expenditure decisions regarding public funds via publicly noticed meeting for the expenditures to be considered authorized or “allowed costs.” Regional Adult Education Block Grant consortia were created by state law to bridge workforce gaps by building pathways and supports in seven program areas: 1. adults with disabilities, 2. elementary and secondary basic skills, 3. English as a second language, 4. short term career technical education, 5. workforce reentry, 6. Elementary and secondary school children support, and 7. pre-apprenticeship training. To be eligible for the funding under the AEBG Act, each consortium had to research the community college's programs and community needs, identify the areas most in need of additional support, devise a 3-year grant implementation plan (called an “AB86” plan), and agree to follow the AEBG Act's decision making procedures in order to obtain funding for the seven program areas.
The MiraCosta consortium, formally called the Coastal North County Adult Education Consortium, has two active members: MiraCosta Community College and the San Dieguito Union High School District (grades 7-12). Two K-12 districts were supposed to be part of the Consortium, Carlsbad Unified and Oceanside Unified, but through agreements they turned over their control and adult programming over to MiraCosta. MiraCosta is the sole fiscal agent for the state funds, the sole provider of the adult education supported by the funding, and the sole recipient of the funding. To date, MiraCosta has been allocated $3.3 million since 2015.
In addition to finding that the Consortium had failed to hold public meetings, the review also called into question the Consortium’s use of state funding to pay for an employee to supervise/coordinate a federal grant MiraCosta received through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). MiraCosta’s approval to use the AEBG’s state funds for this federal grant coordinator position was made during the time the Consortium had stopped having public meetings. The review failed to address how the funding of the WIOA position (as well as other expenditures and the Consortium's Annual Plan) could have been approved during the year and a half period without the Consortium having the public meetings required by state law. Minutes of the Consortium meetings held before the public meetings abruptly stopped after April 2016 fail to show that the WIOA salary expenditure was approved.
The review did not address the public's concerns about how the funding of the WIOA position was not an approved expenditure in the AB86 plan or how it was not approved through a public Consortium meeting. Per the AEBG, only expenditures approved and included in the Consortium’s 3-year AB86 plan and its annual plans constitute “allowable costs.” Instead of funding the $85,000 for the hiring of full-time faculty for the Adults with Disabilities program recommended in the AB86 Plan, MiraCosta used the funds for a non-certificated WIOA position, which was not included in either the AB86 or annual plans. Students and members of the public have raised concerns before the Board in December 2017 and January 2018 that MiraCosta practices are discriminatory towards students with intellectual disabilities and have pointed to this funding issue as an example. The public was told that the faculty position had been cut by the Consortium, but minutes from the Consortium's meetings failed to support administration's statement about the alleged cut.
Adults with disabilities were identified in the AB86 plan as the most underserved community group with only 1.2% of the approximately 12,000 potential students’ needs met. The AB86 plan stated its goal was to increase the percentage of need met by increasing educational pathways and services to enhance workforce preparedness; however, the number of students in the Adults with Disabilities program has gone down since the block grant funds were first allocated in 2015, which some argue contravenes the mandated prioritization of workforce preparedness for adults with disabilities under the Employment First Act as well as the stated goal of the Consortium to increase the percentage served.
The Program Review also noted that the use of AEBG funds for the WIOA position may not have been an allowable use and that the WIOA funding stream may have to be used. However, the salary for the WIOA position briefly referenced in the report may violate WIOA’s prohibition against using more than 5% of the grant to pay for administrative costs so MiraCosta may not be able to use the WIOA funding to cover this cost either.
Under both the AEBG Act and WIOA, funding for administrative costs and “indirect costs” cannot exceed 5% of the grant funding. With respect to the federal WIOA grant, MiraCosta received $223,616 for the 2016/17 year and created two administrative positions: WIOA Grant Supervisor, and WIOA Program Specialist, with salaries totaling over $150,000 ($71,000 and $61,461/with benefits $85,997, respectively) to administer the $223,616 WIOA grant. The Program Review failed to examine what to do if the WIOA administrator’s/coordinator’s salary violates the 5% administrative cap.
Was creation of two WIOA staff positions totaling around $150,000 for a $223,616 grant reasonable? The public has also questioned whether the WIOA salaries in general were reasonable. The same year MiraCosta created the two WIOA positions, MiraCosta created the AEBG administrator’s position but offered the AEBG employee much less to administer a grant of $1,132,500 (approximately five times the size of the WIOA grant) in 2016/17.
Is AEBG funding allowed to replace funding from another program? Per records produced by MiraCosta, the funding stream for the WIOA position was originally paid for using a fund other than the AEBG fund, but then on May 15, 2017, a request was submitted asking that the AEBG funds be used retroactively to pay for the position for the period starting on June 1, 2016. Per the directives issued by the AEBG office, supplanting or replacement of funds is not an allowable use of AEBG funds.
Because the review did not discuss the application of state the laws or its own policies in terms of whether funding decisions were consistent with the laws and policies or whether the decisions constituted "allowable uses," or the impact of MiraCosta's failure to hold the mandated public meetings to make funding allocations, numerous legal and other issues remain unanswered.
As this time, MiraCosta has not revealed any plans to restore the funding made without the required public meetings or made without public input.