• School surpluses should be monitored
    March 17,2012

    In support of Gov. Shumlin’s level funding constraints on school spending, and Auditor of Accounts Tom Salmon’s investigative concern about embezzlement of school funds, I am compelled to bring attention to the following:

    Orange Southwest Supervisory Union — Randolph-Braintree-Brookfield School District — while claiming a 1 percent increase as level funding, actually has an increase (2012-2013) of 4 percent to 5 percent.

    The mechanism for hiding the actual annual increases are consistent budget surpluses: The amount of the annual surplus varies — $250,000 to $300,000 for the Randolph Union High School, with Randolph Elementary adding another $125,000, which is rolled over to the next fiscal year.

    The cumulative amount of surplus funds is $1.5 million to $2 million.

    The padding of the budget appears to have begun five years ago with the advent of the current Superintendent Brent Kay.

    Indeed, Mr. Kay, at town meeting, when asked about the consistent budget surpluses, responded, “We don’t want to go back to bond issues such as the $400,000 Braintree School roofing and upgrades project in 2005” — admittedly, the budgets are deliberately padded to create a surplus — a slush fund — that is used without either public approval or review.

    Please note: These are taxpayer dollars that are reconditely used; and surpluses have also spread (since ’05) to Braintree and Brookfield schools. The surplus funds are, ostensibly, to be used for “maintenance” purposes.

    But those surplus funds are used without either transparency, accountability, or taxpayer consent to award construction contracts under a very questionable method: a single individual, the school district’s facility manager, privately solicits bids via telephone; receives telephonic bids on different dates and times (for the same project); chooses the apparent low bidder and awards the contract. He then, solely, supervises and manages the construction contract — there is no oversight.

    This nonpublic advertising, nonpublic bidding process is tantamount to a corrupt process. There is a reason for publicly advertising for bids, for specifying a date and time certain for receipt of sealed bids; for publicly opening and reading bids aloud: It is to curb corruption.

    The Orange Southwest Supervisory Union (2010-2011) refused to provide bidding information that used surplus (slush) funds on a $300,000 metal building.

    The board chairman and vice chairwoman claimed no knowledge of bids, and in a grotesque disregard for fiduciary duty determined no oversight was required: “I’m busy, I cannot be responsible for every little thing,” said Laura Soares, OSSU vice chairwoman.

    By order of Orange Superior Court, bidding information was ordered produced pursuant to the Public Records Act.

    I have asked both our legislative representatives to bring before the General Assembly a bill to amend VSA 16 @ 559 “Public Bids” — that now allows a supervisory union board to invite (without public advertisement) three or more bids to provide services (construction or otherwise for up to $500,000).

    I respectfully request that Gov. Shumlin lend his support to get this necessary amendment-bill to the floor.

    William Kevan


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