Despite owing the state $268,721 for an erroneous special education reimbursement in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Region 14 School District Superintendent Jody Goeler and Board of Education (BOE) Chairman George Bauer told the Woodbury Boards of Finance and Selectmen that the district would not be seeking an additional tax assessment this year to cover the payments.
In a joint meeting of all three boards Thursday in Woodbury’s Old Town Hall, Goeler and Bauer explained the reason for the overpayment, how the school district is responding and set out a schedule of payments to reimburse the state — the first this fiscal year, by June 2013, and a second equal payment of $134,360.50 to be included in next year’s budget.
“The Board of Education does not intend to request any additional funds from the member towns in Region 14 in 2012-13,” Bauer said, and the second payment, due June 2014, “will be part of our budget, as identified” by line item.
Finance Board Chairman Bill Drakeley questioned the district’s choice of the wording “does not intend,” but Goeler assured Woodbury’s officials that they would not be coming back this year to ask for more funding.
“It’s not a lot of money,” Goeler said after the meeting, as the total represents less than 0.9 percent of the district’s $30 million annual budget, but “for us to absorb over two years will be challenging,” particularly if a bad winter or other factors lead to unexpected costs.
Despite those possibilities, Goeler, who has been with Region 14 for just over a year, said his department and the BOE will be monitoring the budgets closely and will find a way to make it work.
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Had the district requested additional funds this year, Woodbury residents would have been asked to appropriate approximately 75 percent of the payment (just over $100,770) at a town meeting, according to Drakeley.
Region 14 is also in the process of hiring a third party consultant to evaluate the district’s placement policy, according to Bauer, who said he is familiar with one firm that would be suitable for the job but will be reviewing a number of potential candidates over the next month.
Maryanne Van Aken, district assistant secretary-treasurer, said she was also “very hopeful that we’ll find some savings there,” as a result of the consultant's work.
According to a Connecticut State Department of Education audit conducted earlier this year, Region 14 received a reimbursement of $268,271 in 2009-10 for sending a special needs student out of district to a school that was not on the state approved “special education facilities” list.
“When we identify a student eligible for special services, they are sometimes outplaced as a result of our inability to provide those services in district,” Goeler explained. “From what I gather, the special services director at the time thought it was appropriate to send the student to this non-accredited school.”
The state reimburses the district 70 percent of that cost over $65,000, according to Region 14 Interim Director of Operations John Turk, but only if the school is on the approved list.
Goeler said that the director, who is no longer employed with the district, applied for funding for the excess costs in 2008-09 but was denied. He applied for them again in 2009-10 and the grant was awarded, an oddity that prompted the current administration to request an audit.
“When I and when the [Education] Board became aware, we called the state,” he said, triggering a review that ultimately determined that the funding needed to be repaid but that nothing criminal had taken place.
The BOE spoke with an attorney about the possibility of pursuing criminal charges, Bauer said, however, after meeting with lawyers twice, the board decided against that action.
“I’d have to look at all the factors as to why that decision was made,” Goeler said about sending a pupil to a school that is not on the state list. “But I wouldn’t send a student to a non-accredited institution and, since I’ve been here, we don’t decide to send students to non-accredited institutions.”