Forensic audit begins, financier urges parents to assist

The forensic audit into Darien’s special education reimbursements began last week, despite the auditor being hired in late November.

Kate Buch, finance director, said the annual audit was also taking place at the end of last year, so that work took precedence. It’s unclear how long the audit will take. CohnReznick was hired, and estimated the job to cost from $12,000 to $15,000.

Jon Zagrodzky, chairman of the finance board’s audit committee, sent a letter to the Darien Times’ editor, saying he met with Chairman Liz Mao, Buch and Joe Centofanti, a partner with CohnReznick.

“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the scope of the audit,” Zagrodzky wrote.

The firm will audit 100% of the in-district costs related to students whose education costs surpassed $72,834. It will also examine 25% of the out-of-district students whose educations were also more than $72,834.

Buch earlier told The Times in an email that the focus is on in-district costs “because we believe the problems are primarily in the district.”

“If there are any problems with the 25%, we will go further,” Mao earlier said.

“The purpose of the special education audit, which is being sponsored by the Board of Finance, is to: One — investigate these potential discrepancies in full and determine what amendments, if any, should be made to the district’s excess cost filings; and Two — recommend procedural changes to help prevent future discrepancies.

“In our discussion with Mr. Centofanti, Ms. Mao and I stressed the need to conduct a thorough review, which will include 100% of all expenses submitted in the most recent grant application, excluding out-of-district tuition,” he continued. “We also stressed the need to maintain full confidentiality of any student records his team may review as part of the process. Finally, we assured Mr. Centofanti that he has the complete backing and support of our board. We plan to meet with Mr. Centofanti as the audit progresses, and we will adjust or expand the scope of the audit if it becomes necessary.”

In a 2007 report by the Office of Legislative Research, Judith Lohman, chief analyst, explains that most schools do not apply for reimbursements for in-district costs. Darien, however, does.

Some parents told The Darien Times that there were names of staff on their children’s education plans who no longer worked in the district, and that some employees’ names appeared on several students’ plans as full-time aides. This means that one person would have been listed as a full-time aide for several students.

Staff members who had left the district were also included on some education plans, parents allege. This would raise the education cost for that child on paper, thus potentially making that child eligible for additional excess cost reimbursements. In reality, however, those services might not have been delivered. Buch earlier noted that other staff may have provided the services, but simply were not listed on the education plans. The audit should determine that.

Zagrodzky also emphasized the importance for parents to involve themselves in the audit.

“A key success factor in this effort will be to ensure that the voices of parents are heard,” he wrote. “I would encourage any parent with relevant concerns or perspectives to contact me. I can be reached at (my adoption of the selectmen’s new email policy is pending).”

“We are all disappointed by the troubles involving special education,” he continued. “It is important that we come together as a town and work with the Board of Education, which is fully focused on this matter, to restore trust, integrity and confidence in this important program. Doing so will require that we gather all the facts, make necessary changes, however painful, and work to ensure that going forward, our special education services comply with the law in an effective and cost-efficient manner. Our special education students and their parents deserve nothing less.”

Originally published in The Darien Times.



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