BOE looks forward following Falcone's resignation

"We would like to get them in sooner than later," Hagerty-Ross said.

For months, Falcone had told the board and the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee that he was conducting his own investigation into the allegations about the special education department, however, when pressed by parents at SEPAC meetings to elaborate, details were sparse. Hagerty-Ross said she has no knowledge as to what will become of that investigation.

On March 20, a group of special education parents filed a complaint with the state claiming that Individualized Education Plans were changed after Planning and Placement Team meetings, which is a direct violation of the Individualized with Disabilities Act.

In his letter of resignation to the Board of Education, Falcone wrote that he was leaving for an important reason.

"We need to set a new direction for the district," he wrote. "Despite my best efforts and my commitment to the best interests of the Darien Public Schools, this goal has not been fully realized."

As part of his resignation, Falcone will continue to be paid his salary through Jan. 1, including "accrued and unused vacation days," according to his letter.

Falcone's salary for the year is $237,000, which includes a $15,000 annuity, which means Falcone will be paid at least $34,505 for the 38 school days until Jan. 1. As for his vacation days, the district's attorneys, Shipman & Goodwin, are determining the amount.

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Falcone received criticism following the state Department of Education's report that found special education law had been broken on numerous occasions during the 2012-13 school year under the direction of Special Education and Services Director Deirdre Osypuk. She was placed on paid administrative leave June 17 after multiple allegations were made that Individualized Education Plans were altered after Planning and Placement Team meetings, which are a direct violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

No personnel have been fired in the aftermath of the state's findings that the district, much to no surprise of the original complainants, did break several special education laws.

If any personnel changes are to be made, the administration will investigate them, Hagerty-Ross said, and will make recommendations to the Board of Education. However, each employee will be given the opportunity to ask for due process regarding potential termination.

"It's time to move forward," Hagerty-Ross said. "It could be painful but it's part of moving forward. Our children need to getting the services they need."

The Board of Education said it does intend to hold responsible accountable parties, according to a Sept. 27 release from Hagerty-Ross.

"This is a complex matter, and the Board of Education will closely monitor the Darien Public Schools' compliance with the required corrective actions that the state has ordered," Hagerty-Ross wrote in the release. "In addition, the recommendations of our independent investigator, attorney Sue Gamm, will be a critical factor in identifying any additional allegations of wrongdoing that must be addressed."

A special Board of Education meeting will take place Monday, Nov. 4, when Gamm is scheduled to provide an executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation of her findings. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Darien High School auditorium.

Gamm's report is expected to be more than 100 pages, according Andrew Feinstein, the attorney representing the group of parents who filed the complaint with the state. One point of Gamm's report, the full one of which Hagerty-Ross doesn't believe will be released on Monday, spurred the calling of a special joint meeting of the boards of Selectmen and Finance Thursday.

On Oct. 25, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao were told that Gamm notified McGlardery LLP, the town's auditors, that there "may be errors in the reporting for special education expenses in submissions to the State of Connecticut for the Excess Cost Reimbursement Grant," according to a release.

The Board of Education was aware that Gamm had done so and stands behind her decision, Hagerty-Ross said.

"We need an independent look to make sure that the best practices are put in place," Ross said. "We need to make sure that what was submitted to the state of Connecticut is correct."

On Oct. 25 Gamm alerted the board that there may be some inaccuracies regarding the excess cost grant that the town receives to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of some special education services.

If the cost to educate a special education child is four-and-a-half times more than the cost of a general education student, the town is reimbursed by the state.

"We want to make sure that the truth is being reported," Hagerty-Ross said. "To me, it's a positive step forward that this is being done independently by the town."

Feinstein, however, sees this as a serious issue.

"What's turned out to be the case is that the IEPs will say things like `up to 20 hours of a certain kind of service (for a student)' and Darien has billed the state for the excess costs even in the case when the service hasn't been provided," Feinstein said. "That's criminal fraud. That's going-to-jail fraud."

Hagerty-Ross said the board does not look at the excess costs line by line because they contain information about the special education children. Historically, Darien has received more money than other districts in the region.

"It is something the board has been very aware of and have been told every year by the finance personnel that the state has come in an audited and that we've been getting clean audits."; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews