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Former NY State Assistant Commissioner of VESID, Larry Gloeckler, Has a New Job

Mr. Gloeckler has accepted a position at the International Center for Leadership in Education. He leaves behind the very serious problems and cleanup of New York State's Special Education Department, VESID. How could so much non-compliance with federal laws happen with impunity for so long? Where was Commissioner Richard Mills while all of this was going on? Betsy Combier, President, The E-Accountability Foundation

The Special Education Institute
Mr. Larry Gloeckler, Executive Director

Since its inception, the International Center for Leadership in Education has been unwavering in its mission to help schools create a rigorous and relevant curriculum for all students. Central to that mission has been a commitment to special education students. Recently, we decided to expand our services to the special education community for two reasons:

The No Child Left Behind legislation, and more specifically its adequate yearly progress provision, places increased demands on schools to find ways to improve the academic performance of special education students.

In today's technological, information-based economy, jobs for the unskilled have declined dramatically, leaving those with marginal academics functionally unemployable. Too many individuals with disabilities leave our schools without the academic skills needed for success in our increasingly sophisticated workplace and society.

The Special Education Institute will bring national experts and best practices to schools, districts and state departments of education to help them create realistic policies and effective practices for their special education students. We believe that these successful practices, grounded in appropriate policies, can yield a dramatic improvement in the preparation of these students not only for their state tests, but also for the world beyond school.

Lawrence Gloeckler as Executive Director

We are extremely fortunate that Larry Gloeckler has agreed to serve as Executive Director of the Special Education Institute. Larry is a national leader in the fields of special education and vocational rehabilitation and has earned the deep respect of educators, advocates, elected officials, and individuals with disabilities for the leadership he has provided.

For 14 years, Larry served as Deputy Commissioner of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) at the New York State Education Department. In that position, he has received widespread national recognition for the exemplary services provided by his office and for the focus on using data to guide both public policy and strategies for schools.

Larry has served as the President of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and has testified before Congressional committees and the President's Commission on Special Education. He is highly sought after as a speaker and consultant.

Larry brings to the Institute a total commitment to individuals with disabilities along with a rich background in providing leadership at the public policy level and in creating successful programs for students and adults with disabilities. He is well networked and able to identify the best practices across the country, which then can be showcased and shared with other schools. Larry also provides motivation, inspiration, and information for everyone interested in special education.

About Lawrence C. Gloeckler

Lawrence C. Gloeckler is the Executive Director of the Special Education Institute at the International Center for Leadership in Education. He also serves as Senior Policy Advisor at the Governor James B. Hunt Institute for Education Leadership and Policy at the University of North Carolina.

From 1989-2003, Larry was Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Education Department. In this role, he served as both State Director of Special Education and State Director of Vocational Rehabilitation as well as being responsible for administering the state's Independent Living Program. He has spoken throughout the country about issues regarding services to people with disabilities and about performance-based accountability in government.

Larry served on the 2002 IDEA Reauthorization Joint Work Group of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.

Larry began his career in education as a teacher of students with mental retardation. He has also served as a Special Education Coordinator at the local level. He has taught special education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.

Larry was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education for five years. He also served as chair of the Interagency Relations Committee of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Larry served on the National Panel of Experts to develop standards for transition programs for the National Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission and co-authored a monograph on Transition from School to Work and Community Services. In August 1998, his office received an award from the Council of State Governments for its exemplary State Management Program and was featured in Managing for Success: A Profile of State Government for the 21st Century.

In November 1999, Larry received the Heritage Award, given by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of special education. He served as President of NASDSE from November 2000 to November 2001. From 2000-02 he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of CARF...The Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission, an independent international not-for-profit commission which serves as the standards setting and accrediting body for rehabilitation and life enhancement programs and services for people with disabilities.

Larry is a member of the Technical Advisory Board of the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities co-located at the University of Kansas and Vanderbilt University, serves on the Professional Advisory Board to the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York City, and serves as a consultant to the National Center on Special Education Accountability and Monitoring at Louisiana State University. He is also on the Critical Issues Committee for the state departments of education in Maryland and California.

Institute Services

Larry Gloeckler provides leadership, advice, and consultation to state education departments, consortia, districts, schools, and other education organizations. This assistance can include:

working with state education departments to help develop and implement plans for improved performance of special education students

system-wide (district) planning and restructuring of interagency efforts with the goal of increased learning for special education students

helping administrators take a fresh look at local special education programs in the context of today's expectations for student performance

updating special education administrators on issues confronting special educators and on leadership concerns for the future

developing a model to analyze district data in order to improve student performance

addressing national and state conferences

describing how to use data to drive policy decisions, allocate resources, communicate to stakeholders,
and pinpoint areas of performance that need attention.

If the Special Education Institute can be of service to you, please contact the International Center.
Larry is eager to assist districts, regional centers, and state education departments in meeting the
needs of students with disabilities. He is well networked and able to identify the best practices and practitioners across the country to share with you.

An Interview with Lawrence Gloeckler on No Child Left Behind conducted by the National Center for Learning Disabilities:

Q. With passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), what kinds of information will parents of students with disabilities now be receiving from their children's schools, in terms of their being able to track the academic progress their children are or are not making?

Gloeckler: Under NCLB, test scores will be disaggregated, meaning that scores will be broken down from the overall average and reported separately for a number of different groups specified by the law. Children with disabilities are one of these specified, disaggregated groups, and the idea is to present a much clearer picture of how they are doing as a whole within a school district. Parents with children in special ed will be able to see very clearly if there's a discrepancy between their child and children in the other groups and between the overall general ed population. This is very important, because one of the things that I've noticed over the years is that districts that have very high-quality educational programs generally have very good special education programs. And the opposite is also true - if you have a poor educational program, you're very likely to see even poorer results for kids with disabilities. And one thing you really don't want to see is a huge gap between what's happening in general ed and what's happening for special ed students.

So, clearly, NCLB now gives parents a good chance to understand and to see whether all the procedures, processes and protections students are getting through current special education requirements really translate into those students getting a solid educational program. This is particularly important now, because children with disabilities are, in increasing numbers, going on to post-secondary education and they need to have a challenging curriculum in their K to 12 years in order to be competitive.

Q. Is this increased level of accountability one of the biggest changes being brought about by NCLB?

Gloeckler: I think the main focus of NCLB is on accountability, both requiring reporting of results and, for the first time, requiring that schools improve the results if their students score below a certain level. For example, there are no requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that school districts report the performance data of their students in any particular way; there's no requirement in IDEA that there be improvements in performance each year. Those are all new.
And, while some schools and some states had already begun to require reporting and yearly improvements, now it's something that's required nationwide. The reports also have to be broken down so that the student performance data, where it might have just been for the school district overall in the past, now has to be given for each separate school. And parents will be able to go online and see how the scores compare between the different schools in a district, listed for all of the disaggregated groups.

Q. During your tenure as New York State Director for Special Education, were you doing many of the things that NCLB is now requiring be done on a national level?

Gloeckler: To some extent yes, though not to quite the level of specificity that NCLB requires. What we did in New York, in the mid-90s, we had a long public dialogue about kids with disabilities; we held public hearings and in the course of this all this, I met a lot of adults with disabilities. And what I heard from a great many of them was how much they wished they could go back and have a different experience in school, because what they really felt they didn't get was the experience of being challenged. They wanted to have the opportunity to fail, like everyone else, and not have everybody try to protect them. People kept saying to me, 'We weren't challenged enough to be competitive in our adult lives, and after we left school, we had a lot of ground to make up.'

So we tried to focus on several critical issues. One, who is being referred to special education? Are we sending kids to special ed simply because there are no other options available in the school district? If so, are we not, then, diluting the focus of what special ed is supposed to be and also sending kids into classrooms where they don't belong? And for the kids who do belong in special ed, we have research that shows that if you separate them out from general ed, many - though not all - are given a less-rigorous curriculum and their performance is poorer. IDEA said, essentially, that special ed should be a service rather than a place where children are sent. And that's something we came to believe in. We never debated that there shouldn't be special schools, but those should be for kids with unique situations, kids who really need a different curriculum. Overall, we found that it was almost impossible for a special school to re-create the general ed curriculum, and the further a child was separated away from the general education environment, the less likely he or she was to be getting the full general ed curriculum.

Q. The charge is sometimes made that, because NCLB mandates that all students have to score above a certain level on assessment tests, the law will cause critical resources to be diverted from the larger general ed group to smaller subgroups, such as students with disabilities, in order to raise their achievement levels. Do you think there is any validity to this charge?

Gloeckler: I think people have been saying that for years. Every time you talk about a group that's lagging behind, someone will say that if we put our resources there it will hurt everyone else. The issue here is that there was a growing uproar over the fact that there were groups of children in school systems across the country falling far behind the general student population. There were huge performance gaps, and the idea behind NCLB was not only to improve performance overall, but also to close those performance gaps. Will it take some resources to do that? Absolutely. Will it undermine the general ed process? I don't think so. First of all, our most capable students are doing very well and test scores, from what we can see in New York, are improving. The question is what can we do to bring up the children who are lagging behind.

Because the performance gap really does exist. With students in special education who are lagging behind, some of this lag can be explained due to the disability. But when you really look closely at the disabled population, most of those students should not be that far behind academically. They simply haven't had good-quality instruction or a curriculum designed to get them up to standard. So, we have to concentrate on making sure that those kids get good instruction and get the right curriculum.

Q. Do you have any reservations about NCLB as it now stands?

Gloeckler: I think the intention of NCLB is very sound, and I support it wholeheartedly. We've seen in New York that the more attention focused on performance, the better student performance became. Also, the more data you gather, and the more good factual information you have on how well different subgroups are performing, the more clearly you can see where the gaps are and where you need to make the effort to close them.
But I have two worries that are interrelated. One is the Adequate Yearly Progress provision - not the whole idea, because I think the idea is very sound, but I'm concerned about how the Federal government has set the guidelines up, that they might be too rigid. For example, with special ed groups - if they began at a place very far behind the general ed population, and if they're making progress but its not sufficient to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress provisions, should there not be a consideration that the progress they're making is reasonable, especially since AYP is tied to sanctions? I'm worried that this provision could place the onus for achievement on the special ed kids, and you'll end up with school administrators saying, 'Well, we're a good school district except for the special ed kids, that we can't meet our progress goals because of them.' I think we need to figure out what the best way would be to apply the Adequate Yearly Progress idea to this group, and figure out a reasonable set of benchmarks to track their progress.

I also worry that the temptation will be there to take special education students out of NCLB accountability all together. This would be a terrible, terrible mistake, and would put us back 25 years. The reason we've been seeing more students with disabilities in New York State getting high school diplomas, going on to college and getting good jobs is that we are finally paying attention to their level of academic achievement and performance and because schools now have to be accountable for these kids. And if you take them out of the system, you'll be ignoring them again. So we may need to make some adjustments, but we need to make sure that these kids stay within the accountability system, that school systems will always be responsible for giving them as high-quality an education as is possible, but not setting it up in a way that makes it look as though they are the reason an entire school is failing. And that will definitely be a challenge.

Lawrence C. Gloeckler is the Executive Director of the Special Education Institute at the International Center for Leadership in Education in Rexford, New York. He also serves as Senior Policy Advisor at the Governor James B. Hunt Institute for Education Leadership and Policy at the University of North Carolina and is also a member of NCLD's Professional Advisory Board. From 1989-2003, Mr. Gloeckler was Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Education Department. In this role, he served as both State Director of Special Education and State Director of Vocational Rehabilitation as well as being responsible for administering the state's Independent Living Program. In November 1999, he received the Heritage Award, given by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of special education.

E-mail us at info@LeaderEd.com


Yet Mr. Gloeckler's boss, NY State Education Department Commissioner Richard Mills, has some interesting information about Mr. Gloeckler's work for VESID
TO: The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents

FROM: Richard P. Mills
COMMITTEE: Subcommittee on Audits
TITLE OF ITEM: VESID Audit and Corrective Actions
DATE OF SUBMISSION: September 7, 2004
PROPOSED HANDLING: Discussion
RATIONALE FOR ITEM: Enable the Board of Regents to Review Audits
STRATEGIC GOAL: Goal #5

SUMMARY:

It is management's responsibility to establish and maintain financial controls. Financial controls in an organization are not to be regarded as a distraction from the main function of an organization but are integral to the success of the work.

The State Education Department has been conducting a detailed audit of financial controls in the vocational rehabilitation division of VESID – the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. That audit has found that management failed to create strong financial controls and failed to provide enough oversight and monitoring of the purchase of equipment and services. The audit (attached) includes three district offices and one satellite office. Although the vast majority of VESID employees have acted honorably, the lack of controls may have enabled a small number of individuals (three) to break the law.

There are no acceptable excuses for financial control lapses. We must simply report and correct them. We have "turned off the spigot" by imposing strict central and local controls over spending and reported our findings to the Attorney General and the Office of the State Comptroller. We appointed a Department-wide team to develop improved financial systems and practices, imposed the tight controls that were needed to prevent abuses, identified individuals who may have broken the law, and provided information to the Attorney General for prosecution. We will also investigate VESID practices in other district offices. Any other individuals suspected of breaking the law will also be reported for prosecution.

BACKGROUND

The State Education Department initiated its own internal audit as a follow-up to the State Comptroller's audit of the VESID Utica District Office. The Comptroller's audit, issued in September 2003, found instances of non-compliance with the State's bidding requirements, potential conflicts of interest, and other potential problems. The Board of Regents reviewed that audit in November. The Department asked for and received assistance from the State Comptroller in conducting its own audit of three district offices and one satellite office, training staff, and imposing greater financial controls.

In February 2004, the Department's Office of Audit Services presented preliminary observations of weaknesses in VESID's financial control system and immediate steps were taken to correct them. At the same time, the Department contacted the offices of the Attorney General and the State Comptroller to advise them of the preliminary observations and seek their guidance. The internal audit was completed last Friday. On the basis of that, we have imposed additional controls. The Department will investigate all district offices.

Here are major findings, with corrective actions listed below:

Control Environment/Information and Communication
Findings:

The auditors found a "weak control environment" with inadequate supervisory oversight, inadequate emphasis on finance, and incomplete policies and procedures. The auditors urged the creation of a strong control environment – which sets the tone for an organization. They have described this as the foundation for all other aspects of internal control, providing discipline and structure. It includes such factors as integrity and ethical values, commitment to competence, assignment of authority, and organization structure. Creating a successful control environment requires "clearly communicating expectations to staff, assigning responsibilities and authority to make decisions to the appropriate level, and routinely monitoring performance."

Corrective Actions:

Referred individuals to the Attorney General for investigation and criminal prosecution. Directed SED Human Resources Office to begin disciplinary action against deficient employees. Reassigned three employees and eliminated their access to financial operations.

Informed Office of State Comptroller and requested assistance, which was provided.

Commissioner and Deputy met with district office managers to define expectations about financial controls. The Commissioner talked again today with managers and staff in the district offices and central office to make expectations clear, to reaffirm the importance of the mission of VESID and the work that staff do to enable persons with disabilities to secure jobs.

New York State Ethics Commission delivered ethics training to VESID managers. Office of General Services provided training on State procurement laws to VESID business managers. Office of State Comptroller provided training to regional coordinators and district managers on internal controls.

Installed and charged new leadership (Deputy Commissioner Cort and Assistant Commissioner Placke) with ensuring fiscal integrity. Deployed cross-agency Vocational Rehabilitation cabinet with fiscal, legal and management expertise to create financial controls. Deployed fiscal staff from Office of Management Services to VESID Central Office.

Control Activities

Written Policies and Procedures and Review

Findings:

VESID had some written policies and procedures but lacked policies and procedures for purchasing and business activities, including vendor approval, delivery of goods and services, compliance with State purchasing laws, conflict of interest, and supervisory approval.

For example, eight consumers reported they did not receive over $43,000 in computers and other equipment that were purchased by VESID and charged to the consumers' cases. And the cousin of a consumer was paid $7,000 for a one-month trial employment without a contract or written justification for the costs; after a month the services of the consumer were terminated.

Corrective Actions:

Developed strict, centralized fiscal procedures and directed immediate staff compliance:

Now requiring all initial vendor authorizations to be reviewed at district level and approved in writing by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Now requiring all payments for high-risk items to be reviewed and approved at central office by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Implemented new policies and procedures, including an on-line manual, with requirements for quotes and bid, contracts, vendor approval, architect services, transportation contracts, childcare, compliance with State purchasing rules, conflicts of interest and other aspects of purchases and services. Vehicle modifications, regardless of amount, and home modifications in excess of $15,000 must be procured through a contract and pre-approved by the State Comptroller.

Separation of Duties

Findings:

Duties were not adequately separated to ensure no one individual controlled all aspects of a transaction. This increased the risk of errors and illegal activities.

Corrective Actions:

Prohibited any one individual from having authority to issue authorizations and pay vouchers.

Now requiring all initial vendor authorizations to be reviewed at district level and approved in writing by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Now requiring all payments for high-risk items to be reviewed and approved at central office by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Documentation

Findings:

Certain records were not required or maintained to support key transactions. For example, invoices were not required in some district offices. Instead, payment was made based on a signed voucher from the vendor. Similarly, district staff processed vouchers for payments without documentation or verification that the goods or services were received. Some services distributed to several consumers were erroneously reported as provided to one consumer.

For example, eight laptop computers were purchased for one consumer over a 17-month period, but documentation such as authorizations and invoices was not available in the case file to support the expenditures. Besides being undocumented, these purchases were not reasonable or necessary. And an authorization showed that $1,414 in "equipment/tools" was purchased for a consumer but documentation, such as an invoice to show the specific items purchased, was not required.

Corrective Actions:

Stopped authorizing payment for any equipment purchased unless invoices and records of receipt are provided.

Now requiring that all transactions are clearly documented and appropriately assigned to each consumer's case file.

Now requiring all initial vendor authorizations to be reviewed at district level and approved in writing by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Now requiring all payments for high-risk items to be reviewed and approved at central office by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Supervisory Review

Findings:

VESID supervisors reviewed case files to assess programmatic issues but did not systematically review purchases and did not review the case files to assess compliance with purchasing requirements or the adequacy of documentation.

For example, nine authorizations for $17,987 were issued on a closed case. Vouchers for eight of those authorizations were subsequently submitted for payments totaling $16,982 for purchases from a computer and camera/photo vendor. In addition, documentation was not available in the case folder to support the purchases.

Corrective Actions:

Installed and charged new leadership with ensuring fiscal integrity.

Now requiring all initial vendor authorizations to be reviewed at district level and approved in writing by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Now requiring all payments for high-risk items to be reviewed and approved at central office by individuals designated by Assistant Commissioner Placke.

Deployed fiscal staff from Office of Management Services to VESID central office.

Transferred responsibility for vendor approval and database to VESID's fiscal management office.

Vocational Rehabilitation cabinet assigned to create monitoring system of all vendor performance.

Directed the Department's Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision to assume oversight responsibility for schools that serve VESID consumers.

Safeguarding of Assets
Findings:

Procedures did not exist to ensure records are maintained to show the receipt, use, and disposition of all goods.

For example, invoices from two vendors showed 33 laptop computers, valued at over $41,000, were shipped to a district office. The disposition of the computers is not known. And a counselor authorized the purchase of three camcorders for a consumer in a four-month period, but the consumer indicated he only received one camcorder.

Corrective Actions:

Central Office review of all high-risk purchases, including computers and other equipment items, will ensure that payments are only made after verification that consumers have received the appropriate services.

The VR Cabinet is developing additional procedures to ensure the receipt, use and disposition of all goods purchased for consumer use are properly documented and tracked.

Computer Controls

Findings:

Controls were not in place to limit access to authorized users, no adequate audit trail existed for the history of each transaction, and a detailed description of the goods or services authorized or purchased was often lacking.

For example, over 11,000 transactions were backdated over a 3-year period. In a review of a sample of these transactions, the auditors did not find adequate explanations or documentation. In one 10-month period, 11 authorizations worth $8,241 for one consumer were backdated by as much as 2.5 years and issued to the same computer vendor for the same consumer.

Corrective Actions:

Limited users' access to terminals and transactions to only those that are essential for their responsibilities.

New financial system being developed will create audit trail of the history of each transaction and require detailed description of the goods or services authorized or purchased. Meanwhile, the controls on approval of all authorizations and payments now in effect will ensure the validity of each transaction.

Eliminating backdating of authorizations except in specific conditions articulated in writing. Current exceptions are strictly limited to such things as payments for higher education expenses in which the final cost is not known until after the beginning of the academic year.

Risk Assessment
Findings:

VESID did not respond to a risk assessment conducted in 2000 to correct potential problems.

Corrective Actions:

Used risk assessment from 2000. Updated risk assessment and assessed all risks in accordance with the recommendations of the audit and will reassess risk annually.

Three VESID district offices and one satellite office have been audited (out of 15 district offices and 10 sat