Following the decision last week to drop out of the Merrimack Valley Special Education Collaborative by Nashoba Valley Technical High School here in Westford, the recent scandals faced by regional special education group became a topic of discussion at last night’s Westford School Committee meeting.
The concern arises from recent allegations that now former MVSEC director John Barranco, who allegedly siphoned nearly $10 million from the organization according to the Boston Globe. Those claims have rattled the confidence of local school districts affiliated with the group, which was founded to help allay special education costs for local schools by reducing local redundancies.
Westford superintendent Everett “Bill” Olsen, a member of the Collaborative’s board of directors along with several other local superintendents, noted his concern over the issue.
“I want to parents and students and residents to know how disturbed we all are on all the findings and allegations by the investigatory agencies, we’re working to address that.” said Olsen.
Olsen also shared his frustration what he claimed were misleading statements by the Lowell Sun, .
“Never have I received any payment, any perks, anything from the local Merrimack Valley Collaborative,” he said. “I want to assure you and assure the public from my own perspective, I have never been involved in any impropriety with that organization, and I want you to feel comfortable about that, because I feel very comfortable about that.”
Olsen also pointed out the Collaborative had major issues with its governance due to the fact that its directors only meet four times a year, a schedule too infrequent to deal with the ongoing challenges faced by its member districts.
School Committee member Margaret Murray quickly noted that she did not have any beliefs that Olsen was involved in any improper actions and believed that the rest of the committee shared her opinion, but stated that she hopes action can be taken if it is confirmed that funding from Westford taxpayers to the Collaborative was used in an improper manner, as well as preventing similar incidents in the future.
“(I’m concerned about) the detail of information that was missing so the board of directors could understand more fully the extent of the potential for the monies to be better managed,” said Murray. “Taxpayer money to me is the most precious kind of money because people have worked for it and put their trust in the public government. When there’s a fracture of that trust, the fracture is deep and long term.”
No motions were made during public session, however it was noted that it would be a topic of discussion in executive session due to potential litigation the district may choose to file related to the incident.