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Region 14 to Repay State $270K for Wrongful Reimbursement

The reimbursement won't impact Bethlehem and Woodbury taxpayers this year, the superintendent says.

 

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.

Wrongful Reimbursement

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.”

Voice of Reason September 29, 2012 at 03:27 PM
@ Todd Fox. The figures are correct and are not a clerical error. In '09/'10 Christopher Quirk applied for and received grant monies totaling nearly $425,000. Bear in mind that the grant money is only a percentage reimbursed after expending another amount; 70% and $65,000. Further, this only refers to when grant money was received, we know the request was turned down in '08/'09. So the question still remains. How much taxpayer money are we talking about? How much was sent to a non-accredited school? Another, earlier, report has stated the funds were wrongly received in regards to three students. This report indicates only one. This information (if it is in fact more than one student) could "legitimize" more of the taxpayer money but still leaves (at least) hundreds of thousands unaccounted for. No one should be slandered but this information must be brought out and taxpayers have a right to know how this person has been cleared. As I've stated prior, perhaps all is on the up and up, but it should be proven to the taxpayers. As an aside. Why do we need to hire (spend more taxpayer dollars) a consultant to tell folks how to do their job? If they don't know how do it, replace them.
Todd Fox September 29, 2012 at 05:58 PM
That was precisely my point. Mr. Boyd wrote an article which did not include some very important pieces of information. How much was the tuition at the private school? Without mentioning names, what sort of program is being provided by the private school which is not available in the public schools? Again, without mentioning names, what is the per pupil expenditure, at a private school, for a special needs student?
Voice of Reason September 30, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Summary of questions I would like to see answered by the BOE: With such a tight school budget, how is it that 100k+ can be covered? Why does a consultant need to be hired to help folks do their job? Why did Mr. Quirk send students to non-accredited schools? Why did Mr. Quirk resign after this happened and then go to work for one of those non-accredited schools? Why is there no oversight to the spending volume Mr. Quirk was doing? Are there folks that control large sums of money and work autonomously? What is the dollar breakdown for these students attending these non-accredited schools? How much per student? How much per school? Why is Mr. Quirk still listed as contact for Section 504 compliance officer and as the district's homelessness liaison in the 2012-2013 Woodbury Middle School Handbook? Is Mr. Quirk a consultant (paid?) to Region 14? What is the definition of the 'Special Services Department'? We all used to have Special Education, which appears to be encompassed under Special Services now. Are there actual new special services available and what are they? The BOE and teachers are privileged with the care of the communities children. They should be held accountable for their actions and should be held to a higher community standard. Just recently I saw a case of local teachers, online, lying and promoting hatred and violence. This type of behavior simply isn't acceptable with folks caring for and educating our children.
joe_m September 30, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Part of the problem lies with the budgeting process. Without transparency the voters of Region 14 lack sufficient information to make an informed choice. The administration and BOE have buried these numbers so the voters do not question the need to spend $448 K on 1 student in an unapproved educational institution. The same thing they did with their Agri-Science analysis. We need to know the cost to educate a high school student, not a Region 14 student to make a fair comparison. Until the voters hold the administration and school board accountable and vote no to any budget, they will continue to hide things in the budget.
Don Sherman September 30, 2012 at 07:42 PM
VoR missed a point: "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." Did the Board report the matter to the Police for investigation? Or did they decide to let it slide? A State agency performing a review does not have the resources or expertise to determine whether a criminal act occurred. If Quirk committed a criminal act, the Board would have nothing to say about it; the State could opt to pursue charges. Add these questions to the list.

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