Much scrutiny has now been placed on the process that resulted in new special ed policies that were found to have broken state laws.
But what prompted those policies? Continuous complaints of an ever-increasing special education budget.
If finances are the top priority in town, then the schools need a forensic audit. If illegal activity has been uncovered on 10 occasions, then there should be no reason to not thoroughly examine spending.
If the district is spending tens of thousands of dollars fixing its frugal mistake, a forensic audit would be just as worthwhile of an investment. If the district has spent more money than peer towns over the years on special ed, why isn’t it trying to figure out if there have been financial mistakes made? Could the fault lie completely on needy parents? A forensic audit would uncover all that.
If expenses were out of control, why was the first move to cut services? Why didn’t they choose to examine exactly how money was being spent? Why did they hire a special ed director to cut costs instead of hiring a scrupulous accountant to dismantle every aspect of spending to see where money was going?
Special education expenses are often fraught with fraud. Because of the confidentiality with spending, it’s easy to twist the numbers. Now that illegal activity has been confirmed on 10 occasions, it would seem imperative to perform a forensic audit. A comprehensive audit should have been the first instinct of the Board of Ed, instead of what it did, which was to cut the budget with little understanding of the potential impact.
If there has been financial misconduct or mistakes, an audit would reveal it. If there hasn’t, the district would be vindicated. Either way, it would go far toward restoring trust with the community.
Imagine this in business. A board of directors needs to cut expenses, so they cut out or downsize its most expensive division without any examination of the repercussions. This narrow-mindedness helps make the appearance of short-term profitability, a la “earnings management,” but it fails to see the bigger picture. The long-term payoff.
A smart company dives into every single penny spent on each division. It looks at spending and earning trends. It looks at the whole of the division, not just its cost. It looks at the long-term payoff.
And if this company needs to hire a consultant to streamline its business, it does it. It spends a small amount now to avoid spending large amounts later.
Darien Schools failed to make an investment expense, choosing instead to simply cut costs with only a short-term goal in mind. Now the district is having to spend extra money to fix this mistake. Mistakes were made and school leaders have claimed to be unaware of the illegal policies that were put into effect. Because the basis behind these policies was a heightened concern for rising special ed costs, it is time to expand the district’s investigation further back in time and further into the financial side of the process.
If there were errors made by the district in its effort to cut costs on the policy side, it is possible there were errors made on the opposite side of the spectrum under previous policies. Could a lack of scrutiny into what has been described as overly indulgent special ed policy have resulted in financial mistakes or misconduct? Students receiving expensive services for which they were ineligible? Or something worse?
The Board of Ed has finally gone into attack mode. Unfortunately, instead of attacking those who broke the law 10 times, it has chosen to attack its critics. The school board has much bigger things to worry about, given the alleged elimination of services to children with special needs that took place under their watch, even more so when questions continue to pile up while answers remain a mystery.
The schools talk a lot about healing and moving forward, but healing is a difficult prospect when every single school person who was involved in breaking federal law continues to get a paycheck via taxpayer money. The healing and moving forward can begin with an expanded investigation and forensic audit.