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School Board Approves Plan to Pay $40K After 'Sloppy Bookkeeping' in Work Study Program

"This has been a pretty stressful situation .... It's messy," said the school board president about the program at Rock Terrace School in Rockville.

School Board Approves Plan to Pay $40K After 'Sloppy Bookkeeping' in Work Study Program

The Montgomery County Board of Education Tuesday approved Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s plan to repay students who participated in Rock Terrace School’s work-study programs, which officials admit were mismanaged.

The payout plan comes after parents of the special-needs students came forward— some of them unaware that bank accounts had been established for their children—and as MCPS is unable to find records for how the students’ earnings were spent.

“This has been a pretty stressful situation for parents, for staff. It's complicated. It's messy,” said School Board President Phil Kauffman. 

“We had sloppy bookkeeping. We had pretty lousy financial management for what went on here. I know we've said from the get-go that we wanted to restore trust with parents and the community. I'm not sure whether or not this plan does this but I think that it's the best we can do under the circumstances of having incomplete records.”

The plan was approved 4-1 during the school board’s regular meeting at MCPS’ headquarters in Rockville. Board member Michael A. Durso voted in opposition.

The total payout could range between $40,000 and $42,000, according to staff estimates presented Tuesday.

The Rockville-based Rock Terrace School, which serves students with disabilities, is under investigation by the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office for school staff’s handling of work-study payments after parents complained their students’ bank accounts were being misused.

Montgomery Public Schools also conducted its own investigation. Larry Bowers, MCPS chief operating officer, said it didn’t appear as though Rock Terrace staff intentionally defrauded students.

“However, the investigation did reveal that the program at Rock Terrace was very poorly managed and that the money was inappropriately used to support educational programs at the school,” Bowers said.

Starr said in a memo that parents may not have known how that money was being spent:

“It is unfortunate that the purpose of the money, the mechanism by which some Rock Terrace School students received money, and the intended use of the money clearly were not conveyed to parents or were lost over time as the programs continued and students and staff transitioned; the institutional knowledge of the program origins became more and more distant. The lack of clear internal systems for notification and management contributed to confusion about the funds on the part of parents as well as some staff.”

As for the payout, MCPS is able to determine how much was paid to students who participated in Rock Terrace’s off-campus Transition Services Unit work program from information from W-2s generated in the MCPS payroll system.

But since there are no bank statements or other record to show how much money was withdrawn from their accounts, Starr proposes paying those students based on what was on their W-2.

In a memo, Starr said MCPS was aware of 32 Rock Terrace students who participated in the off-campus work program between 2006 and 2012.

They would have been paid a stipend of $3.65 per day, according to school records.

Another payout would go to also students involved with on-campus work programs.  It’s harder to conclusively track how much those students received or how much of it was spent because those students didn’t receive W-2s and were, instead, paid from Rock Terrace’s “independent activity fund,” according to MCPS records.

For these students Starr is proposing a flat payment of $200.

Bowers said MCPS is willing to review records from parents who think their child received more money.

Because of the incident, MCPS has suspended all of its work-study payments to students district wide for the rest of the school year.

Starr has also proposed changes to how such programs are managed and is calling for the formation of a work group.

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