Agencies Review Louisiana Special-Ed. Grants
Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week agreed to provide federal and state agencies with information about "possible improprieties" regarding the expenditure of more than $500,000 in federal special-education funds by the state's superintendent of education, Thomas G. Clausen.
Mr. Clausen awarded seven discretionary special-education grants without prior review by the board or its special-education advisory council, according to R. Bruce Macmurdo, the board's lawyer. Mr. Clausen then continued disbursing funds under some of those grants after the board rejected the proposals and ordered him to stop.
But Anne K. Stewart, associate superintendent for the department of education, said Mr. Clausen had not acted incorrectly. Ms. Stewart said that when Mr. Clausen awarded the grants under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 he was unaware of a new bese requirement that such grants be reviewed by bese and the council.
Since several of the school systems that received grants then contracted with individuals in the private sector for services, she said that Mr. Clausen was obligated to con-tinue disbursing the funds, even after the bese acted to stop the programs.
Last week, Mr. Clausen fired all members of the board's special-education advisory council, which had been critical of the grant awards. Mr. Clausen wrote the members that he wanted to reconstitute the council "to implement some programmatic changes."
James E. Galagan, a former member of the council, said it was "telling" that three months after the advisory council recommended rejecting the disputed grants, "the whole council was disbanded." But Ms. Stewart maintained that such allegations "do not stand up to the light of cold reason." She stated that Mr. Clausen wanted to develop a better "mix" of parents and educators on the council and made his decision after careful deliberation.
She also noted that nominees for the council will be submitted to the bese for approval.
According to Mr. Galagan, the council recommended not funding the grants because some were for services already being provided and others were too expensive and were low on the state's list of priorities for handicapped students.
Ms. Stewart also denied allegations that some of the grants were used to employ political friends of Mr. Clausen, including a state representative and the wife of one of Mr. Clausen's aides.
She said the woman in question was never hired under any of the grants, although she was considered for a position. And she added that while Mr. Clausen does know two other individuals who were hired under the grants, they were "well qualified" to perform the functions for which they were hired.
Ms. Stewart also noted that Mr. Clausen is professionally competent in issues related to handicapped children. He spent some five years as a classroom teacher of students with multiple handicaps and was assistant superintendent for special-education services in Louisiana prior to becoming state chief last March.
"We don't have any concern" about the bese's decision to call in outside investigators, Ms. Stewart said. "We have invited anybody that wants to look to come look at our records. ... We don't have anything to hide."--lo
Vol. 04, Issue 20