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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.”

Elena Bowen September 28, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Say What??? Awfully BIG mistake
Todd Fox September 28, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Did I read this correctly? It cost $268,271 to send a special needs student to an out-of-district school for the 2009-2010 school year?
Sean M September 28, 2012 at 12:52 PM
$270,000 is not a lot of money? This from the Superintendent. Who the hell does he think he is? Money does not grow on trees. I am sick and tired of this type of arrogance from government bureaucrats. Jody can go out in the real world and try to earn $270,000 in revenue and maybe he will have some respect for our money. He should be fired for this. This is not the first time he has said something like this.
joe_m September 28, 2012 at 12:56 PM
$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. The state reimburses the district 70 percent of that cost over $65,000, $65000 + $268,271+ (($268,271 / .7)-$268,271)) = $448,244 to educate 1 student? Please correct my math, tell me I'm wrong. And we couldn't hire or created a in-house program for less? What the heck is going on with the administration? Where is the BOE oversight? And this happened for at least 2 years. I know the current Superintendent and Director of Special Ed were not here then but someone should be held accountable for sending a Region 14 student to a non-accredited school and costing the taxpayers of this Region almost $1 Million dollars. "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." 2008 - 2009 at $448,244 2009 - 2010 at $448,244 Total $976,488
joe_m September 28, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Yup, that's almost $1 Million to educate 1 student for 2 years. I guess that kind of skews the $15K per student cost of education. I certainly hope that the education received by this student was worth the expense to the tax payers of this Region. If it was, then it was worth the expense. However, it would seem that we could have done just as good a job in-house.
Voice of Reason September 28, 2012 at 01:40 PM
"“It’s not a lot of money,” Goeler said It never is when you're playing with other peoples money is it Mr. Goeler? He should be fired on the spot for having such a cavalier attitude. Someone help me out here. I seem to recall a fairly recent article that stated that the individual that made the decision to send the student to Easton (and pay all that money to Easton) left Region 14 and is now employed by that very school. If my memory is correct on this then a proper investigation needs to be conducted and the whole criminal aspect possibly revisited.
Don Sherman September 28, 2012 at 01:54 PM
What Goeler did NOT tell you is that the person who made the decision to send that (those) student(s) to that particular school left Region 14 to be employed by the school benefiting from our largess. Sounds like a Kennedy scheme, no?
Don Sherman September 28, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Absolutely. Right on all counts. Thank you for your recall of the town. Do you remember the individual's name?
Voice of Reason September 28, 2012 at 02:39 PM
This was not a mistake at all. This was a thought out decision. The question is was this "simply" a poor decision, lack of ethics, or was there a calculated criminal element to it.
Voice of Reason September 28, 2012 at 02:42 PM
@ Don Sherman. Yes, I now have the name and found one article from 2010. Chris Quirk. http://www.countytimes.com/articles/2010/06/17/news/doc4c1a5d3aaee22679476468.txt Very interesting that this individual, wrongly, sent significant funds to this other school, then resigned current position and went to work for that other school. Very interesting indeed!
Elena Bowen September 28, 2012 at 03:10 PM
The state won't make us pay that all back.
joe_m September 28, 2012 at 04:04 PM
The state that is so hard up for money that they increased our taxes by $1 Billion? Maybe if we were Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport or Waterbury they wouldn't.
Voice of Reason September 28, 2012 at 04:27 PM
@ Elena Bowen. You said, "The state won't make us pay that all back." May I ask your reasoning in making such a statement? It was due to an oddity that the audit was even conducted. The State absolutely wants the money back and are entitled to receive it back. To not demand reimbursement for would set a dangerous precedent. This should then roll on to the individual responsible. People need to be held accountable.
Jon Thulin September 28, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Since it's OPM (Other People's Money), "it that much." Where do these professional managers and administrators get their nerve? $270,000 IS a lot of money! I suppose that when you have a budget of over 30 million dollars, $270K is just pocket change! Someone needs to be held accountable. Start with the Superintendent. Now, it's time to hire another "outside consultant" to find out who screwed the pooch. Goeler and the rest of his stumble bum staff need to be sent down the road forthwith. So, standby for a ram folks, next year the taxpayers will get it the neck, somebody has to pay for continuing mismanagement and mistakes. "The Woodbury/Bethlehem School System-A Continuing Saga." This would make great reality television.
Don Sherman September 28, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I wonder if the IRS has a line on these shenanigans? There's a foul odor in the air.
Voice of Reason September 28, 2012 at 10:25 PM
896,488 actually.....but yeah...... What about additional costs such as transportation? Anyone know if that is part of the figure?
Voice of Reason September 28, 2012 at 11:04 PM
So we have roughly $450,000 spent to send a student to a non-accredited special needs school. According to prior reports it was either Easton Country Day School or Marvelwood School in Kent. Tuition for Easton is $26,000 and $48,200 for Marvelwood. Where is the rest of the taxpayer money??? Perhaps all is actually on the up and up, but someone has a lot of explaining to do!
tom arras September 29, 2012 at 12:51 PM
So lets recap: We have a board largely comprised of teachers( current & retired ) and/or teachers spouses. We have a superintendent who thinks $270,000 is not a lot of money, and they can pay that out of a budget they described as bare bones. We have Chris Quirke who made the decision to send the students to non-accredited institutions now working for one that benefited by his decisions. Where was the administration & where were the others in the special education department & where were the school board members when Mr. Quirke was tossing away our money in a direction where he ended up being employed? Don't tell me the previous business manager who ended up being employed by one of the Region's service providers was asleep at the switch, too? We need some intelligent business minded people for oversight on the board, and it might be wise to limit teacher/spouse membership on the board. And a superintendent that thinks a $270,000 "mistake" needs to be gone. Now, can anyone possibly believe their biased accounting that shows the Vo-Ag program is making money?( or did Mr. Goeler just commit perjury when he testified at the legislative office building last Feb. when he said the tuition needed to be increased?
Todd Fox September 29, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Our reporter, Aaron Boyd, needs to supply more detail; otherwise we're spinning horror stories out of thin air. We're told that the reimbursement was $268,721, a figure which seems absolutely impossible as tution for one student. Responsible reporting includes finding out how this figure was actually generated and HOW MUCH was actually spent on the special education student. Was his tuition for private school actually $268,721? Or was it perhaps $26,872 and the large reimbursement was made as a clerical error? Or was it some other figure altogether? Did the student require one-on-one help through the year? Without this vital information, the story is an invitation to slander. Mr. Boyd, when you write a story, please get all of the facts.
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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