Montgomery County endorses plan to reimburse Rock Terrace students

WASHINGTON – No one knows exactly how much money was moved in and out of the accounts set up for disabled students at the Rock Terrace School in Rockville.

But, in an effort to rebuild trust shaken by the discovery of the fiscal mess, the Montgomery County School Board has endorsed a plan crafted by school superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr.

Under the plan, the schools would calculate how much students involved in work- study programs should get. Using data going back to 2006, students who were issued W-2’s would be reimbursed at the same amount listed on their W-2 forms. Other students involved in the school’s in-house work-study program would get a flat $200.

Starr was scheduled to brief the board on the plan, but left the meeting early saying he was under the weather. Instead, Chief Operating Officer for the schools Larry Bowers briefed the board. Starr’s plan didn’t require a board vote, but the members of the board did take a vote to endorse the action.

School Board President Philip Kaufman endorsed the vote, with a slight qualification. “I know we’ve said from the get-go that we wanted to restore trust. I’m not sure whether or not this plan does this, but I think it’s the best we can do under the circumstances.”

Rebecca Smondrowski, who chairs the board’s Special Populations Committee, looked pained as she raised her hand to endorse the plan.

“I was reluctant,” she explains. “I believe we would have been best served if we could have had an external company review this.”

But Smondrowski went on to say she voted to endorse the plan since she was told if parents could provide some documentation that their child was entitled to a larger dollar amount, that the board would work with that parent.

Board member Michael Durso, a former school principal, was the lone no vote on the board.

“I just have to ask myself would we be better off having this discussion or being investigated by an outside group? Because I just think there are some credibility issues here.”

The school’s investigation began when the fiscal problems came to light last spring. Since then the principal at Rock Terrace, Dianne Thornton, resigned. School officials say there’s no evidence of malfeasance.

The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office is investigating to see whether there was any criminal action. Officials with the State’s Attorney’s Office say they cannot comment on that investigation.

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @kateryanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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