State, town tussle over BOE finances

WINSTED — The state Department of Education is arguing with the town over who should pay for funding requests made by the Board of Education.In late May, Superintendent of Schools Blaise Salerno sent a letter to state Department of Education CFO Brian Mahoney asking for the town’s conduct to be investigated for not responding to a funding request made by the Board of Education.In the letter, Salerno wrote that he hand delivered a letter of request to Town Manager Dale Martin for $154,430 for non-educational expenses that Salerno claims has become part of the district’s budget for this school year.According to information provided by the board, $68,612.31 has been spent by the district in snow removal, $25,339.34 for asbestos management, $51,000 for crossing guards and $9,478.38 for Berkshire Alarm.In a letter sent to both Salerno and Martin, Mahoney questioned why these expenses were not part of the fiscal 2010-11 town budget.“It seems clear that crossing guards and Board of Education snow removal prior to 2010-11 were included in the town’s budget,” Mahoney wrote. “It appears that safety and code work such as asbestos and lead abatements and fire code issues were also handled through the town and not part of the Board of Education budget. If in fact all the above items were not in the Board of Education’s budget in 2008-09, the state Department of Education would adjust the 2010-11 Board of Education appropriation down by $154,428.”In response, Martin wrote to Mahoney that the $68,612.31 in snow removal was not in prior school budgets because the funds were used this year for emergency purposes.“These funds should be classified as emergency snow removal for removal from rooftops as the result of the excessive snows this past winter,” Martin wrote. “It was not a typical appropriation that could have been anticipated, unlike traditional snow removal from parking lots and driveways. Repeated suggestions by town officials to school officials to address the excessive rooftop snow accumulation were apparently disregarded, leading to the need to hire contracted labor at premium rates due to the urgency of clearing the roofs.”Martin wrote to Mahoney that the $51,000 expense for crossing guards had not been included in previous Board of Education budgets, but was moved to the school district’s budget as part of a town meeting in May 2010.“According to town records, the superintendent and several members of the Board of Education were in attendance, indicating knowledge of transfer of cost,” Martin wrote. “Why was this added expense not included on the 2010-2011 ED012 filed with the state on Nov. 1, 2010? Furthermore, the district lists crossing guards as an in-kind expenditure.”(A ED012 is the state Department of Education’s minimum budget requirement [MBR] compliance form.)Martin goes on to contend Salerno’s assertion that $25,339.34 was not appropriated in the 2010-11 school district budget for asbestos management.Martin included the minutes of an August 2010 Board of Education meeting where the board unanimously voted to allow Salerno to spend up to $6,600 for the removal of asbestos in a hallway near the cafeteria at Pearson Middle School.“The money will come from $25,000 set aside for emergency maintenance at Pearson,” Martin wrote, quoting the minutes from the meeting.As for the $9,478.38 for Berkshire Alarm, Martin notes that the funds are for the replacement of emergency lights and horns.“It appears as if [this] ‘emergency’ expenditure was due to the failure to undertake routine maintenance which had been previously and annually budgeted, but apparently not used for intended purposes,” Martin wrote. In conclusion, Martin writes that town officials would be meeting this week with the state’s Office of Police and Management to explain why the town has requested a sixth extension to file a 2009-10 audit.“The primary reason for this request is the number of uncompleted audit items by the Board of Education,” Martin said.As of press time, Mahoney had not written a response to Martin’s letter.

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