Special Needs Agencies Faulted

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More than two decades of failed oversight have allowed the state?s special education collaboratives to misspend millions of taxpayer dollars, according to the state auditor?s office, which has found a pattern of excessive salaries, conflicts of interest, and possible pension law violations at six of the 30 publicly funded agencies.

?These common findings are indicative of a system that?s lacking in standards and oversight and is easily manipulated by folks who are not putting the interests of taxpayers and special needs kids first,?? Auditor Suzanne M. Bump said yesterday.

Bump, who plans to release the two most recent audits today, said the laws and policies for state oversight of the special education agencies are badly outdated, clouding the state?s authority over them. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not revised its policy governing the collaboratives since 1988, while the state law allowing cities and towns to create them is more than 30 years old.

?The [state] clearly needs to have its current authority clarified and will need additional authority as well to provide the kind of oversight that most of us would expect,?? Bump said.

The audits due to be released today focus on two southern Massachusetts collaboratives, the READS Collaborative and the Southeastern Massachusetts Educational Collaborative, where Bump found multiple instances of financial mismanagement.

Earlier this month, Bump released an audit of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative in Billerica, finding that former executive director John B. Barranco and other officials may have misspent more than $30 million on salaries, inflated rents, alcohol, and luxuries such as country club outings.

?The Merrimack situation is far and away the most egregious example of how far these organizations can stray from what any taxpayer would think is reasonable activity,?? Bump said. ?But some of the problems at Merrimack also exist at these other collaboratives.??

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