The St. Helena Parish School District has been threatened with the suspension of federal funds after state educators were prevented from doing required inspections earlier this week, officials said Friday.

The warning is spelled out in a letter from the state Department of Education obtained through an open records request.

The visit was set for March 12 and 13.

State officials said the suspension of funds will take effect on March 29 unless St. Helena officials meet certain conditions, including a new inspection date.

Another visit is now set for March 26-27.

Kelli Joseph, superintendent of the district, said in an email Thursday that local educators were hampered by the Mardi Gras school holidays and other issues.

"Simply put, we didn't have enough time to prepare," Joseph wrote.

The aid under scrutiny totals about $1.5 million per year.

The St. Helena district is considered a poor system and any reduction of aid by the state rejecting current or future reimbursement requests could have a major impact.

It is rated "F" by the state, one of two in the state with that grade.

The inspections are made periodically to districts statewide to ensure compliance with federal rules.

The federal grants are for basic programs, instruction and money for rural and low-income school programs.

The letter said state officials are required to make the checks "to ensure federal funds are used for authorized purposes in compliance with federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the grant, and that performance goals are achieved."

It said that, in addition to St. Helena officials cancelling the visit, they failed to provide requested materials.

In the email Joseph said scheduling conflicts, out of district meetings and the fact district officials were scheduled to attend a meeting in Baton Rouge on Wednesday all hampered their ability to proceed with the state inspection.

"We're a small school district with a small staff and we wear multiple hats," Joseph wrote.

"Each day is packed with all sorts of tasks that are handled by only a few people," she said.

"With that said, the state department officials were not barred from conducting any work in our school district," Joseph said. "We requested that they reschedule the visit."

She said in an interview, "We did not think it would be that big of a deal."

Joseph is president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

State officials said it is unusual for them to  be blocked from making the checks, especially when the visits earlier this week were rescheduled from appointments set earlier this year.

The letter, which is dated March 14, is signed by Assistant Superintendent Catherine Pozniak.  

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