- Sep 8, 2013View Source
Dear Wayland Voter,
A capacity crowd turned up to hear the School Committee wrestle with the latest findings of accounting shortcomings. On top of that, a labor issue was raised.
LAWYERS, ACCOUNTANTS & SCHOOLS -- OH MY!
As last Tuesday night's School Committee meeting focused on the accountant's report reviewing the long-discussed school Discretionary Accounts, arguably the most important comment was made after nearly all the two dozen or so observers had left.
School Committee member Ellen Grieco, an attorney herself, said she thought there have been serious flaws in the legal representation of the Committee's current labor lawyers regarding contract negotiations with the Wayland Teachers Association, the teachers’ union.
At its June 24 meeting, the School Committee had announced reaching agreement with the union for 2013-2017. Recent contracts have been for three years. While copies of new contract provisions were made available to the public a few weeks later, the final documents have not been posted yet on the school website. Link to the July 9 Wayland Town Crier:
The comment was made as the Committee discussed asking a labor lawyer for advice regarding the conduct of Mabel Reid-Wallace, the Metco director, as revealed in the Powers and Sullivan report previously discussed in WVN:http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waylandvotersnetwork/conversations/topics/706
Link to the report:
Jim Powers, the author of the report who presented his findings to the packed School Committee meeting room, strongly advised that they consult a labor lawyer. The School Committee has received communications from citizens suggesting that violations of criminal law may have occurred, and that they should call in the DA to investigate. The Committee agreed they needed to get professional advice to guide their next steps, but Grieco argued against using the Committee's current counsel, suggesting that a new attorney be hired.
Consultant Findings and Recommendations
Superintendent Paul Stein reported that the Metco director was extremely upset at the questions raised regarding her integrity, and is trying hard to get records to substantiate the legitimacy of her behavior, such as using school funds to partially pay personal credit card balances. She explained to Powers that she used her credit card to buy goods and services for Metco and then paid that part of the bill from a Metco account that she controlled. But she failed to keep documentation or submit the expenses to anyone else to approve. The payments amounted to about $20,000 over several years.
In her defense, Powers said the director was able to tell him "right off the top of her head" what some of the expenses were from four years ago. And after 2009, when a change in the account provided a new debit card to use for such expenses, she stopped writing checks to pay her personal card bills. The level of spending on the new card was consistent with the previous claimed Metco-related spending on her personal card, he said.
The School Committee is giving Reid-Wallace until the end of the month to produce the records and submit them to Powers for review. She is having great difficulty getting such old records, Stein reported, alluding to the upheavals in the banking industry since 2006, the beginning of the audit period.
The Committee will obtain names of possible labor attorneys and discuss their options, including the performance of their current labor attorneys, at next Monday's meeting. But all of the discretionary accounts put together are insignificant compared to the total school budget, as Powers pointed out in explaining why normal audit processes had not noticed them. It took specific attention from citizens who regarded them as illegal to get them checked out. And Powers confirmed absolutely that they were illegal, and always had been, contrary to the claims of some former PTO officials. See
Stein noted that they have now all been shut down, and Powers described them as having been shut down "relatively soon" after Stein took over from former Superintendent Gary Burton. In response to a question, School Business Administrator Geoff MacDonald said some of the accounts went back to the early 90's. Burton was hired in 1994 and former business administrator Joy Buhler in 1998.
The relative insignificance of these accounts as compared to the overall budget, which is dominated by teacher salaries, is what makes Grieco's comment regarding current labor counsel so interesting. Although the outlines of the contract for the next four years have been agreed to and publicized, the contracts have yet to be signed.
Powers began his presentation by explaining that the biggest problem is that the accounts he scrutinized did not go through the normal town processes. The accounts were definitely illegal, he said, so by definition all the activity in the accounts was illegal. But the focus of his work was to look at the transactions and see if they were acceptable if they had gone through a normal process. Sunshine funds (used for small gifts) and school activity funds did not belong in school accounts at all, he said. The high school and middle school did a pretty good job accounting for things, he said, but the smaller schools had inadequate documentation. Documentation was inconsistent, and many records were not available at all.
In 2012, under Stein, a manual detailing guidelines and procedures for student accounts was issued, which Powers said should alleviate 90% of the problems. He described it as a great step forward. He has made some suggestions to make it even better. He noted that the state is putting more emphasis on straightening out such accounts, and having manuals, because this is a problem in many school districts.
Every transaction should have sufficient documentation to justify it in the business office. You shouldn't have to go elsewhere, like the individual school offices, to find it, he said. Accounts were reconciled by simply adding up the checks, rather than checking if the checks were for valid expenses. Expenses need to be submitted as expense reports. But expense accounts were simply replenished on request.
The best control is going through the normal warrant process, which has multiple layers of review. Some normal large recurring expenditures, like prom or yearbook expenses, can be handled that way. All student activity accounts need to be audited every year.
Stein told the School Committee that the administrators would go through all of Powers’ recommendations and give the committee a timeline for implementation. Stein repeated that "not one of these discretionary accounts still exists". So even if individuals tend to be sloppy, the mechanism to allow sloppiness no longer exists.
Grieco made a point of noting that these problems were caused by an earlier administration and business manager, and the accounts were closed by the time she joined the School Committee two years ago. That occurred after voters supported a 2010 Annual Town Meeting petitioners’ article calling for a review of alleged irregularities. Consultant Mark Abrahams of the Abrahams Group reported his findings to the Operational Review Committee at a Dec. 21, 2011 public meeting. Many, but not all, those discretionary accounts had been closed by then. The work of that committee and its consultant is posted on the town website: http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_BComm/Finance/Operational
When the Sept. 3 School Committee meeting was opened to public comment, several citizens challenged the focus of the meeting and the report on problems. Chris Reynolds, an athletics coach and historically a strong supporter of the previous administration, blamed the problems on inadequate budgets. Kathie Steinberg spoke as head of the Middle School PTO a decade ago, saying they were trying to do the best by their kids. She trusted them with her kids, so there was no issue trusting them with her money, she said. Lea Anderson, head of the High School Building Committee, implored the Committee to stop paying so much attention to minor issues and get back to educational issues. She served on the school committee in the earlier years of the Burton administration.
WayCAM’s recording of the Sept. 3 School Committee meeting is available at:
-- Tom Sciacca
MEETINGS CALENDAR: All meetings take place in Wayland Town Building unless otherwise indicated. For meeting agendas posted on the town website calendar:
http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/index Click on the calendar date to open links to agendas.
Monday, Sept. 9
Selectmen, 6:30 p.m. Large Hearing Room, begins with executive session, open session with extended public comment estimated around 7:20 p.m. http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_MeetingsCal/S01B91D25-01B97992.0/BOSAgenda09092013.pdf
Finance Committee, 7 p.m. agenda includes FY15 budget guidelines, recent OML determination
Board of Health, 7 p.m., Fluoridation of water supply
School Committee, 7 p.m., Release of executive session minutes, legal counsel
Board of Assessors, 7:15 p.m., Overlay account, board vacancy candidates
Historical Commission, 7:30 p.m., 375 anniversary activities update, surveys for DPW project
Housing Partnership, 7:45 p.m., Habitat, DAAC, Housing Trust updates
Tuesday, Sept. 10:
375 Anniversary Celebration Committee, 7 p.m.
Planning Board, 7:30 p.m., Rail trail update & town center housing public hearing
Zoning Board of Appeals, 8 a.m. Site visit, 146 Concord Road; meeting at 8:20 p.m. in Town Building
Wednesday, Sept. 11:
Permanent Municipal Building Committee, 7 p.m., Middle school roof, middle school solar project, proposed DPW project
Thursday, Sept. 12
Wayland Cares Review Committee, 6:30 p.m., Interview findings
Wayland Housing Authority, 7 p.m.
Conservation Commission, 7:30 p.m.
SAVE THE DATES:
Sept. 21 - 375 House Tour
Sept. 22 - Presentation by Doug Harris, Historic Preservation Officer, Narragansett Tribe, 2 p.m. Wayland Public Library
Sept. 25: deadline to register to vote at Wayland Town Clerk’s office for the Oct. 15 primary to fill the 5th Congressional District seat vacancy. For more election information:
Sept. 29, League of Women Voters Candidates Forum, 2-4 p.m., Wayland Middle School. All ten candidates (Democrats & Republicans) have been invited to participate. Special election is Dec. 10.
You can read all previous WVN newsletters at:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor