Sunday, December 8, 2013
WINTHROP — An auditor hired to look into Winthrop schools' accounting practices after the discovery of irregularities in spending accounts is expect to announce his findings Monday during a meeting with councilors.
Ron Smith, of Buxton-based RHR Smith & Co., has finished the special audit ordered earlier this year by the council, Councilor Kevin Cookson said. The results of that audit will be released during Monday's public meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Town Office.
It will not be given out before that, he said, because he wants councilors, school officials and the public to get the information from Smith firsthand at the same time.
"I didn't want it released before Monday so that there wasn't any indication we were trying to hide things by presenting it to one body and not another," Cookson said.
Smith earlier this month offered a few highlights of the then-unfinished audit during a public meeting with councilors that drew a few dozen school officials. Smith urged the town to develop a system that has greater transparency and control over those who are allowed to spend public funds. Current practices leave hundreds of thousands of dollars susceptible to spending without proper oversight, he said.
Tension between municipal and school officials has mounted since June, when an auditor flagged problems with the school spending accounts. Town councilors froze the accounts to prevent spending without council approval.
Councilors in July rejected the school board's 2013-14 budget proposal, which was about $500 less than the 2012-13 budget. Councilors said they could not approve a budget until they receive the auditor's final report, a stance Smith has supported.
Winthrop Superintendent Gary Rosenthal has told councilors that their decision to reject the 2013-14 budget has forced teachers and other staff members to go without basic supplies because of uncertainty about how much voters will agree to spend on the new budget. The schools serve students from kindergarten through grade 12.
Cookson said today that he hopes councilors and the school board will meet soon to begin finalizing a new budget to present to the voters. He hopes that may happen as soon as the middle of October.
Smith's presentation is the only item on Monday's agenda. Smith has said the report is lengthy and it will take time to present the findings during the meeting. Smith will not only provide an overview of what has occurred, Cookson said, but he will make recommendations on how to improve the system moving forward.
"There were some issues on the municipal side as well as on the school side," Cookson said.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642