Federal Grant Managers are trained to be some of the most organized and meticulous workers in a school district. This department is tasked with tracking each grant expenditure down to not just the school level, but the program level as well, and then reporting the outcomes of that expenditure back to the federal government so as to qualify for the same funding next year. Their goal is to confidently prove that the dollars they spend are positively impacting their students.
Meet Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek
Forthcoming changes in regulations under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidelines for reporting federal expenditures will require a change in process, and significant collaboration between each district’s Federal Grant Manager, Superintendent, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Academic Officer. Correlating school expenditures to outcomes is always the goal, and the most debated calculation. Federal Grant Managers will be on the front lines of these changes, so we asked Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek, the Director of Federal Policy and Grant Compliance for Palm Beach County Schools, which policy changes Palm Beach is watching closely, how they’ve been proactive in preparing for a shift in internal processes, and what obstacles and resources they can share with us. Dana has worked in education finance for ten years, the last four of those with Palm Beach County School District.
Allovue: What led you to dedicate yourself to this arm of education finance?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: Well, I grew up as a child of the foster care system. Many of the innovative programs available to me, such as the McKinney-Vento Grant, very much helped me through a difficult time in childhood when I was known as “the homeless girl.” While these programs don’t save every student, they did help shape who I am today. It is essential to protect the dollars that make these programs available to the families and children in our communities.
Three Areas of Focus for Grants Managers
There are three areas of focus for grants managers: compliance and technical management, fiscal management, innovation and program interventions. Dr. Godek shared her thoughts about the work in each of these areas and how her team is continually focused on pushing the needle forward for students.
Compliance & Technical Management
Compliance and technical management is a large part of a grant manager’s job. The purpose of the position is to safeguard federal investments on behalf of economically disadvantaged students and families. As such, review of policy and participation in policy formation is paramount to protect the integrity of the funds. This represents about 40% of the work. Technical assistance to the school district and individual schools represents 50% of the work. Team support and professional growth coaching represent the remaining 10%.
Allovue: What policy change is your district, Palm Beach, watching closely?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: Supplement v. Supplant guidelines in ESSA
Allovue: What is Palm Beach doing to get a head start on ensuring your district can prove it is equitably distributing funds?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: We already equitably distribute funds when resources are considered, e.g., a teaching unit. The challenge is equalizing the exact dollars amounts by schools. Specifically, the size of the school is a significant factor as the smaller the school the higher the cost to operate and this does not correlate to more or better academic services or outcomes. The cost to serve EL and ESE students is much higher, again with no correlation to quality, using actual expenses will inadvertently redirect resources away from these schools. Regarding actual teacher compensation, the proposed rule gives deference to veteran teachers who are paid more, but this is counterintuitive to the Department’s efforts to measure teacher effectiveness through the value added model. Our Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Palm Beach is taking all the precautions. We began working with a consultant two months ago to map out different solutions, but no matter what, we end up with schools out of compliance, but what they’ve given us is the benefit of time to correct and prepare.
Allovue: What compliance resources have you found to help you stay current and proactive?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: The National Association for Federal Programs Administrators http://www.nafepa.org/ of your state is an incredible resource. This yearly convention should be at the top of your agenda.
Grants managers maintain budgets and track expenditures for large, often multi-year programs. They are responsible for implementation, but also evaluating the impact benefits of projects and interventions designed to serve students.
Allovue: When calculating equitable spending, what overarching fiscal obstacles does your team face?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: Three main factors make it difficult to measure:
- School Size
- Teacher Compensation
- Cost to serve special populations
Allovue: Many districts are wrestling with this calculation. Are there external resources you finding helpful in strategizing how to keep your funding, and be in compliance?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: Federal programs are available to help you work with your Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to aid in attempting to run compliance tests in-house without needing to contract a good but costly option.
Allovue: What do you say to districts struggling to meet the new requirements, considering forfeiting their Title dollars?
Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek: Per the compliance test, sixteen Title 1 schools in Palm Beach could be negatively impacted. That is over $2 Million in funds that will need to be redistributed away from these schools — and these schools need it more than anyone! I’m nervous that other Federal Grant Directors will need to start making decisions which go against what I think the guidelines are intended to do. Some districts may elect to drop programs they don’t technically need to fund, and I understand it’s survival in the eyes of some, but let’s not do the least we possibly can.
Innovation and Intervention
The third and final area for grants managers is innovation and intervention. A key component of grants programs is implementation of innovative programs that support intervention and new initiatives for student learning and support.
“I don’t get to spend enough of my time managing innovation and intervention programs. Our leadership wants to see our department focused on tracking progress, and pushing the needle forward for our students. I have an army of brilliant colleagues who also want this to be the focus of their day, but unfortunately the reality is, often they are consumed with technical and administrative issues.” - Dr. Dana Zorovich-Godek
The Bottom Line
Grants managers understand the goals of ESSA and they match the work that we do in districts. With new reporting requirements comes new learning and we will continue educating students the best way we can. Meeting the equity goals in supplement not supplant legislation is a long term goal that we will achieve. The work of a Grant Manager will absolutely positively or negatively impact the children and families in your district. “Anytime we’re impacting families, you do not want to give up the benefit of time to collaborate and plan. We are public servants, don’t forget that!”