One special thing about special education is that it is extremely expensive. State auditor Suzanne Bump has released scathing critiques of three special education collaboratives in Massachusetts, detailing misuse of millions of dollars of funds. I first heard the story reported on WBUR. Now I fear that more shoes may drop.
My question to Will: How do we know that our LABBB collaborative is making proper use of its funds, containing administrative expenses and optimizing its programs’ efficacy? Its Web site provides no administrative or budgetary details. As funding special ed programs consumes as much as 25% of Belmont’s shaky education budget ($8.4M of $41.6M, plus transportation costs, according to the FY12 draft school budget), I feel it is urgent to find out whether the town is paying more than it needs to and is getting the most out of the LABBB relationship. Note that I am not accusing LABBB of misusing funds; I just want to see what the state auditor has to say about its performance. It is clear that the 30 such collaboratives operate with little oversight, which has resulted in governance issues and ethical lapses for those that the auditor has studied. Belmont schools and citizens deserve the biggest bang for their special education buck. Can you help us by asking the State Auditor what if anything she has determined about our collaborative’s governance and efficiency and sharing what you learn?
I think that this is a fair question. I’ll direct my inquiry to the school administration first — they have a role in the oversight of the LABBB collaborative and should be able to offer some backup for their support. I can say that, for years, the LABBB collaborative has been perceived as cost-effective. But I can poke into that a bit.
Thanks very much for your willingness to investigate. I suspect that the School Committee will take a defensive stance, so use your wiles.
My office made a direct call to the LABBB collaborative and they sent us a copy of a letter that they have made available to the LABBB community, including parents. They make a few reassuring points in the letter — recent financial audits, etc. An important additional point that they made over the phone is that they do not have a contractual relationship with another non-profit as in the Merrimack case. Barranco was able to hide a lot of extra compensation by drawing it from the relatively unsupervised non-profit. I don’t take these points as dispositive, but they give some comfort.
Additionally, I spoke to the House Chair of the Education Committee of the legislature. She advised me will be conducting hearings on the problem of how to supervise these collaboratives. In addition, of course, the Auditor is continuing to work on the issue.
I’ll continue to follow it with interest especially in any evidence that might cause concern about our own collaborative.
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