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End of special ed audit in sight

Published 9:56 am, Sunday, May 18, 2014
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An end may be in sight for the financial audit into the school district's special-education department.

Jon Zagrodzky, a Board of Finance member and chairman of the audit committee, said the auditors at CohnReznick are seeking parent input before completing their task.

"(The parents) were really the ones who brought this to light, so having them involved in the audit so we get their perspectives as this develops instead of at the end is important," Zagrodzky said.

CohnReznick was hired in November after the Board of Education's attorneys, town Finance Director Kate Buch and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson were contacted by Attorney Sue Gamm about a possible issue with the reporting of excess cost reimbursements to the state Department of Education.

The Board of Education hired Gamm to conduct an independent investigation into the special education department.

Joe Centofanti, the CohnReznick partner in charge of the audit, could not be reached for comment.

If the cost to educate a special education child is four-and-a-half times more than that for a general education student, the town is reimbursed by the state.

The Board of Education hired Gamm in August to conduct an independent investigation into allegations that students were denied services and that there were systematic violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act in the schools.

The decision to hire Gamm came following a private parents' meeting with several representatives that yielded information regarding Individualized Education Plans being changed without parents' permission -- a violation of the IDEA.

"I recognize that there are a lot of folks who want answers and solutions," Zagrodzky said. "We are just talking about services provided and if they were properly billed. We're not looking (to see) if the services were consistent with the IEPs; that's between parents and the administration. That's not a Board of Finance matter."

The school administration sent a letter on May 2 to parents who are "relevant" to the audit, Zagrodzky said. To date, the auditors have not had a great deal of parent participation.

"We felt that letter would be a good way to gently encourage parents," Zagrodzky said.

The completion of the audit has taken longer than anticipated, and in January, Zagrodzky and Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao told the Board of Education that CohnReznick had found numerous problems with procedures and practices with the grant application.

As a result, the scope of the audit will be three to four times greater than initially discussed and more expensive than the initial estimate of $12,000 to $15,000.

According to Buch, the cost of the audit is approaching $50,000. Zagrodzky said he is anticipating the audit to be complete in July.

"This is really about poor record keeping, as opposed to something nefarious," Zagrodzky said, noting that he asked the auditors to continually look for any evidence of fraud. Zagrodzky said the auditors repeatedly have told him there is no evidence of fraud.

"We are vigilantes for that," Zagrodzky said. "We're not naive, we know that these things can happen."

mspicer@bcnnew.com;

203-330-6583;

@Meg_DarienNews