Special Ed. Collaborative Returning $2M to Districts
BILLERICA -- For the fifth year in a row, the Valley Collaborative’s nine member communities will see money returned to them as the organization that found itself mired in controversy seven years ago continues to rebuild its reputation.
The Valley Collaborative expects to return approximately $2 million to the towns it serves following an annual audit this year, according to Executive Director Chris Scott.
“We’re not here to make money. We’re here to make sure children get the best education possible in a way that’s economical to the taxpayer,” she said.
Funds will be returned to the following public and technical school districts based on the amount of tuition each paid this year. Until the audit is complete, the numbers are still approximate:
n Billerica: $179,999
n Chelmsford: $549,404
n Dracut: $263,393
n Groton-Dunstable: $47,989
n Nashoba Valley Tech: $2,987
n North Middlesex: $295,359
n Tewksbury: $331,091
n Tyngsboro: $95,817
n Westford: $233,960
Scott said the returns are driven by enrollment, which is typically between 320 and 340 students. This is an increase over September 2016, when 295 students were enrolled in the district.
She said the organization offers high-quality programming for students and adults with special needs. Tuition for students hasn’t increased since fiscal year 2011.
“If we do a good job and our tuition continues to go up then we’ll have a surplus,” Scott said.
A program in Lowell for children on the autism spectrum recently opened, and several students at the collaborative transferred to this program, she said. Ultimately, enrollment did not decrease, but she said shifts like this are the reason the collaborative reimburses districts, instead of reducing tuition upfront.
“Somebody else took their spots, but you don’t know,” Scott said. “It’s a gamble.”
The system has “no waste” she said, and staff is adjusted according to enrollment and each student’s specific needs.
Since 2013, the collaborative has restructured its operations, human resource policies and financial practices, resulting in reduced costs. In 2014, leftover agreements made by former leaders meant annual rental costs were close to $1.5 million. This has since been reduced to $400,000. Transportation, administrative and operation costs have trended downward, while student programming has increased.
Westford Superintendent Everett Olsen Jr. said his district expects to use the funds to pay a portion of the tuition for students who attend Valley Collaborative next year. Olsen -- who sits on the collaborative’s board of directors with other superintendents -- said he is pleased with the organization’s direction in recent years.
“We all feel very proud again that we can send our students to great services that they need and are entitled to,” he said.
In 2011, Valley Collaborative, then called the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, was the subject of scandal after a scathing report from the office of the state’s Inspector General, alleging misuse of tens of millions of dollars in funding.
In the report, John Barranco, former director of MSEC and the Merrimack Education Center (MEC), was accused of improper spending with local superintendents, including picking up the tab for cruises on Boston Harbor, fancy hotel rooms and trips to Florida and the Kentucky Derby. To date, he has not been charged.
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