Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By Susan McMillan email@example.com
(Continued from page 1)
The Winthrop Public Schools board approved a budget, but the Town Council rejected it and hired RHR Smith & Co. to perform a special audit.
More than 70 people, many of them school employees, attended the meeting on Monday. Smith's presentation and questions from audience members and councilors took more than three hours.
Smith previously spoke with town and school officials about improving their practices, and he said some problems have already been solved. The school department, for example, has ended the practice of using money from student activity accounts to buy Sam's Club memberships for teachers and their family members.
Most of the accounts should be taken out of the town's name, Smith said, such as employee association accounts for law enforcement and ambulance employees.
Smith said, however, that each school building should have a student activities account, for money from student fundraisers and gate receipts from athletic events, for example. But the town should not transfer tax money into the accounts, as has happened in the past, and about $50,000 in student activity fees intended to subsidize the school budget should be turned over to the town for that purpose.
Smith said he doesn't know much about the school board's proposed budget for 2013-14, and he'd want to know more before making a recommendation on whether to send it to voters.
School Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said the school department is chipping away at problems the current leadership inherited, such as the questionable accounting practices and deficits in food service and summer salaries.
Rosenthal said he did not hear much in Smith's report that was new, given conversations between Smith and school officials.
"I don't think anything rose to the level of illegality," Rosenthal said. "It think it comes down to common practice, best practice and improvement (of) your practice."
Town Council Chairman Kevin Cookson said the audit report provides more clarity about the town's financial situation, including the school department; but he thinks the school board still will need to cut employee health insurance before Town Council will approve a school budget.
Cookson was receptive to Smith's suggestion of a central finance office to handle school and municipal business.
"It's all one pot of money, it's all town funds; so having one person responsible, I think, would be much easier," Cookson said.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645