Southington school officials say no disruption since switch to in-house therapists

Southington school officials say no disruption since switch to in-house therapists


SOUTHINGTON — School officials said the switch from Hartford HealthCare physical and occupational therapists to those hired by the district hasn’t disrupted services for students with special needs.

Last year, the Board of Education decided not to renew a contract with Hartford HealthCare for therapists who work with special needs children. At the time Brian Goralski, school board chairman, said he was confident that the district could provide better service at a lower price by hiring its own therapists.

The plan faced opposition from some parents who said the disruption would be especially hard on their special needs children. The Hartford HealthCare contract cost $575,000 per year.

School officials haven’t yet calculated whether hiring district therapists has saved money. Goralski said that will be reviewed at the end of the school year.

Among those hired is Catharine Goralski, Brian Goralski’s wife. He said he took no part in her hiring.

“I didn’t know a darn thing until someone called my wife and told her she had a job,” Brian Goralski said. “During the hiring process, the board has no role in the hiring of anyone but administrators.”

Catharine Goralski was hired as a special education coordinator starting July 1, 2016. The salary for the position was listed as $123,283. The program includes about 300 special needs students.

Catharine Goralski did not return a request for a comment. Other school officials, including School Superintendent Tim Connellan and pupil services director Meg Walsh also did not return calls for comment about the program.

New therapists, including Catharine Goralski, were part of a personnel report presented to the board last summer. Brian Goralski said he abstained from the vote and discussion of the report even though the vote was only to accept the report and not to hire new therapists.

Robert Brown, a school board member, recalled the meeting and agreed with Brian Goralski’s actions.

“He was being cautious and that’s good,” Brown said.

Brown has recused himself from some discussions since his wife was a math tutor last year. Other board members have also had situations where relatives were employees of the district.

Connellan also abstained from some of the hiring process involving Catharine Goralski, according to the board chairman.

“We’re very much above board with ethics,” Brian Goralski said.

He didn’t consult with Town Attorney Mark Sciota on the matter, saying he knew that abstaining was the right way to handle the situation.

“I didn’t need advice, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do,” Brian Goralski said.

Since the switch, he said he hasn’t heard from parents which usually means things are running smoothly.

Brown agreed, saying he hasn’t heard any comments from parents either attending board meetings or contacting members.

“We had a lot last year. Since the start of the school year, I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

A parent of children in the program, who declined to give her name, said while the transition was difficult issues had been resolved and that services were now being properly received.

Some of the therapists hired also worked for the district under Hartford HealthCare.

“There was some continuity,” Brian Goralski said.
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ.

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