For Immediate Release - October 26, 2011

Patrick-Murray Administration Files Legislation to Increase Accountability and Oversight of Education Collaboratives

BOSTON – Wednesday, October 26, 2011 – The Patrick-Murray Administration today filed legislation to increase accountability and oversight of the Commonwealth’s 27 education collaboratives. The bill, An Act Relative to Strengthening Oversight of Education Collaboratives, establishes a structure of reforms that will increase state oversight of collaboratives and facilitate training for leadership at each organization to ensure the integrity of student services provided at collaboratives across Massachusetts.

Education collaboratives are organizations formed by school districts that have chosen to pool their resources in order to better provide high-quality services to students with specialized needs and professional development for educators, among other educational services. First authorized by legislation in 1974, collaboratives enable districts to maximize efficiency by sharing costs and expertise, and serve as an important educational resource for students and families throughout the Commonwealth. 

“Collaboratives can be a tremendous resource for school districts and students alike, but we need to ensure that they responsibly handle taxpayer funds and that, where they do not, the Commonwealth has the ability to hold them accountable,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “This bill will ensure sound fiscal management practices, strong oversight and continued excellent education services for students in the Commonwealth.”

The Administration’s bill recognizes the valuable role collaboratives play in the state’s educational system and is designed to ensure that resources allocated for educational purposes are not misused.  This legislation incorporates several proposed by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Mitchell Chester and recently adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which held hearings on collaboratives this past summer.  Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to appoint one “independent” voting member to each collaborative board;
  • Requiring each collaborative board of directors to conduct a minimum of six board meetings annually;
  • Mandating training for newly appointed board members, which will be provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE);
  • Prohibiting collaborative board members from receiving salary or stipend for their service as board members;
  • Eliminating the statutory provision that allows a superintendent or school committee member appointed to a collaborative board to designate another person to serve in their place; and
  • Requiring independence of the collaborative board of directors and executive director from any position (board member, officer, or employee) at a non-profit or for-profit entity that conducts business with or is affiliated with the collaborative.

Additionally, the bill requires all collaboratives to obtain annual independent audits of their financial statements.  If an audit or any information comes to the Commissioner of DESE indicating that the viability of a collaborative is at risk or that there is significant wrong-doing, the Commissioner is authorized to remove the offending Board member, as necessary, and withhold public funds until the deficiencies are addressed.

“Students and families across the Commonwealth rely on collaboratives for vital educational services and supports,” said Education Secretary Paul Reville. “This bill will bring clear oversight and accountability standards to collaboratives, and I look forward to working with the Governor and legislature in the weeks ahead to get this bill passed.”

"This legislation will implement important new oversight measures to ensure that the breach of public trust uncovered in the case involving the former executive director of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative is never repeated," said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. "Collaboratives provide essential educational programs to students across the Commonwealth, and offer school districts key opportunities to partner regionally. I want to ensure that the good work of collaboratives continues while putting into place new safeguards against any potential fraud and abuse."

This legislation also establishes a 14-member commission to examine the future of education collaboratives.  The commission will examine and make recommendations on relevant topics including, but not limited to, developing efficient and effective strategies for creating a statewide network of regional education service agencies to implement new programs and provide technical assistance in partnership with the DESE; reviewing the relationship between education collaboratives and affiliated non-profit organizations, in consultation with the Attorney General, the Inspector General and the State Auditor; and examining the provision of adult services, in consultation with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The commission will have its first meeting within 45 days after passage of the bill and will deliver its final report within 12 months of the bill’s enactment.

Information provided by the Executive Office of Education.