It's almost unheard of that any public school system in Massachusetts ends the year with a sizable surplus, and yet the Valley Collaborative has turned it into an annual windfall for its members while providing quality services to its students.

"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," said Chris Scott, the Valley Collaborative's executive director and former superintendent of schools in Lowell.

Gee, if only Scott and her staff could bottle that message and sell it to neighboring school districts, there'd be a lot fewer fiscal burdens planted on taxpayers' backs.

It wasn't long ago that the Valley Collaborative, then called the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, was marred by a major financial scandal and teetered on the brink of ruin.

In 2011, a state Inspector General's audit alleged that nearly $20 million was misspent on unnecessary trips, lavish dinners, private gifts, facility leases, entertainment and stipends paid to certain members on its board of directors.

The IG fingered John Barranco, then MSEC's director, as the mastermind of the alleged fiscal abuse. Although Barranco lost his job, he's never been charged with a crime despite an Attorney General's Office investigation that, by all accounts, remains ongoing.

Scott was hired in 2012 to clean up the mess and develop a survival plan.


What followed was a host of policy, hiring and financial reforms that inspired a remarkable turnaround.

With Scott's leadership, dedicated staff and supportive community partners, the Valley Collaborative's future appears very secure.

This year, these school districts will share in the rewards of Valley Collaborative's solid management and efficient professional services: Billerica, $179,999; Chelmsford, $549,404; Dracut, $263,393; Groton-Dunstable, $47,989; Nashoba Valley Tech, $2,987; North Middlesex, $295,359; Tewksbury, $331,091; Tyngsboro, $95,817; and Westford, $233,960.

Congratulations to Valley Collaborative for a job well done.