Darien BOE addresses lax accounting of special ed funds
The Board of Finance praised the Board of Education last week for proactively adopting measures to improve lax accounting for excess cost grant filing procedures outlined in an audit released a month ago.
"We applaud the quick implementation of corrective measures," Finance Board Vice Chairman Jon Zagrodsky, who serves as chair of the body's audit committee, said at a meeting of the board. "Even before the report came out; which was important."
In October 2013, the Boards of Selectmen and Finance authorized a special audit by CohnReznick, following notice from attorney Sue Gamm, who was conducting an independent investigation into the town's special-education programs to see if there could potentially be an issue relating to how the excess cost grants were received from the state.
The report, released last month, concluded that district-wide gaps in record keeping led to the district applying for and receiving more excess cost reimbursements than it was supposed to. An excess cost submission refers to money the state gives the district when the cost of educating a special education student exceeds four and a half times the district average.
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"Going forward, we would encourage the board and the district, as well to report regularly on the progress of the corrective measures, which I know you'll do and to the extent that is reasonably you should seek outside verification of that if for nothing else but to build confidence in that process," Zagrodsky said.
The final report reaffirms the earlier conclusions, saying that there was no evidence to conclude that services were not delivered to special education students, but rather districtwide and systematic sloppy record-keeping led to the district receiving more excess cost reimbursement than it was supposed to.
"As a town we should all hope that the failures confirmed by the CohnReznick report never happen again," Zagrodsky said. "We should also hope that Darien becomes a model for other districts in the state in regards to management, analysis and reporting of special education costs."
Since the accounting problems arose, the town added several management positions to oversee the delivery of special education services, and began keeping electronic records of services being delivered.
The town will also release this year's cost excess grant reimbursements as calculated by CohnReznick and share them with the public, Zagrodsky said. The auditor reported the district received $210,000 in reimbursements for special education costs for services it didn't deliver in the 2012-2013 school year that was audited.
The state has also requested that the town's auditor at CohnReznick, Joe Centofanti, provide his calculations to help them decide whether there are any remaining unaccounted for reimbursements the town might be owed by the town, Zagrodsky said. Centofanti's work might also be used by the state Board of Education to develop forms and procedures to eliminate inaccuracies in reporting.
"Now that this has come up we will have proper procedures, all the people in the administration will know what to do, and we will set the standard for the rest of the state," Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Mao said.