(Editor's note: The following was submitted jointly by the offices of state Sen. Barry R. Finegold, D-2nd Essex & Middlesex District and state Sen. James R. Miceli, D-19th Middlesex District.)
By State Sen. Barry Finegold and State Rep. Jim Miceli
This month, the Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that significantly increases oversight of special education collaboratives and includes measures that will significantly benefit students, sending school districts and the taxpayers of Massachusetts.
This bill works towards restoring the trust that was lost after gross indiscretions were committed at Merrimack Special Education Collaborative (MSEC), and we are proud to support increased oversight, transparency and accountability for all collaboratives.
Among a number of other measures, the bill requires collaboratives to complete annual audited financial reports that must be voted into acceptance by collaborative board members. This report must also be submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Auditor, and most importantly, member school districts and the public (via a website). The bill also prohibits the executive officer of a collaborative from serving as a board member, officer, or employee of any related for-profit or non-profit organization.
No such regulations were in place before this legislation, and we trust that the legislation will prevent collaboratives from skirting the system and wasting taxpayer dollars as they have in the past. The days of inflated pensions and outrageous misuse of taxpayer funding are over.
Sen. Finegold filed an amendment that was included in the final Senate bill that will further increase collaboratives’ accountability to its sending school districts by requiring the executive director of the collaborative to meet annually with the school committee of each of its member school districts. Rep. Miceli filed the same amendment to the House version of the bill. The goal would be to allow the Tewksbury School Committee to engage the executive director of MSEC directly and ask for information or explanations on any programs or spending. That face-to-face contact will give the towns more input on how their special education budget is spent and bring in much-needed local oversight.
Tewksbury and similar communities who are part of the consortium have actually been deprived of vital resources by scam artists whose primary goal was to line their own pockets with public monies, according to Rep. Miceli.
We look forward to reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill to bring lasting and effective changes to special education collaboratives’ system.