HARVARD — Documents intended to shape an audit of the special-education program are nearly complete and should be issued by July, according to officials.
The duty belongs to the School Committee’s Special Education Audit Task Force, which held a working session June 18 to clarify the scope of the review.
The results will be worked into a request for proposal (RFP) to draw professional help for the audit, which should be complete by the group’s July 2 meeting, said Selectman Robert Eubank.
“At that stage of the game, the goal will be to look at a final draft of the RFP and where it’s going,” he said.
The audit was initiated by Town Meeting in March following speculation of wrongdoing when it became known that then-School Committee member Paul Wormser received special-education reimbursements for sending his child to Cushing Academy, a pricey preparatory school that doesn’t offer special-education services.
The audit committee has made it clear its charge isn’t to investigate specific reports of wrongdoing, but to evaluate the program as a whole to highlight what’s being done correctly and what can use improvement.
“The overarching statement of purpose for this study is to evaluate the special-education services the Harvard school system provides,” said task force member Keith Cheveralls.
The task is a large one. To avoid what Cheveralls termed “scope creep,” the group focused on outlining a handful of salient points, which would be used to solicit further feedback from RFP respondents.
“The idea is to come up with something fairly broad initially and let them (the consultant) come up with something more specific,” said Eubank.
The scope initially had three areas of a focus, which were to:
* Identify and evaluate local criteria and processes for deciding which students advance to an individualized education plan (IEP). That would then be compared with state and federal mandates and similar communities in the state.
* Identify and evaluate the criteria and processes for determining what services are provided to students under IEPs, and compare that against state, federal and regional standards.
* Identify and evaluate the mission statement of the special-education program and identify the processes and procedures that impact and control costs of providing special education services.
After some discussion, an evaluation of how to improve special-education services by keeping more students in the district and similar measures were also added.
There was also some discussion about how much language should be included with the fiscal expenditures connected to special education. With only $25,000 to work with, the audit isn’t intended to duplicate any other review of town operations.
Asked if looking at financials will be redundant with the town’s annual audit, Finance Committee representative Steve Colwell said it won’t.
“No, because that’s strictly financial,” he said. “The financial auditor doesn’t have any background in special education.”
Most audits aren’t looking at the type of question that’s been raised in Harvard, said Colwell. He said they’d need to instruct the auditor to “go deeper in those things.”
Acknowledging questions that have been raised, Eubank said it would be good to know if there could be some “loopholes” that could cause “confusion.” Language advising a review of financials was retained, but the door needs to be kept open to look at ways the district could increase efficiency or improve service as well, said Eubank.
Under the current timetable, results of the audit will be presented to the public in January, said Eubank.
“We’ve definitely committed to a public hearing with the results,” he said.