Superintendent Joshua Starr addresses investigation of Rockville school’s finances

July 16, 2013

Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said Monday that the district is working with the State’s Attorney’s Office to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement at a special education school in Rockville.

Starr addressed the investigation into Rock Terrace School at a Monday night meeting of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, where Starr was a featured guest. During the question-and-answer period, Montgomery County special education advocate and attorney Lyda Astrove demanded more answers to parent concerns that Rock Terrace administrators mishandled student work-study funds and opened bank accounts for minors without express parental permission.

“It has been now two months since MCPS has known about the alleged financial mismanagement at Rock Terrace School and parents of children at that school and children who have graduated at that school are still waiting to find out whether they are able to get any of their money back,” said Astrove, who has been helping Rock Terrace parents sort through their legal and financial concerns. “You owe it to the students and families of Rock Terrace School to tell us what you know and make it right for the kids.”

Starr said he couldn’t say much because the investigation is ongoing, but that the school system takes the concerns “very, very seriously.”

“We know that we have some really good programs in our community that help give kids real-life experience and that includes, certainly, transactions with money,” Starr said.

Parents were alarmed after discovering that money from work-study programs at the school had been deposited into bank accounts with their children’s names. Financial documents were addressed to the school, not students’ homes. It wasn’t until some parents were denied public benefits such as disability and food stamps that they realized their children had money from the school system and the accounts. Rock Terrace has programs where students learn about money management and job skills; knowledge of bank transactions is part of the curriculum.

Starr said the investigation should not stretch out much longer.

The Maryland state comptroller also is reviewing the matter, and the Maryland Disability Law Center has asked the Maryland Office of Inspector General to investigate as well.

“We’re not the only ones doing the investigation so we’ve got to use other people's timelines as well,” Starr said. “But we will certainly hold a meeting with parents. We’ll figure out what is the best way is to talk to folks who are interested in it because we certainly want to put it out there.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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