$100,000 mistake found at Barre Supervisory Union
BARRE TOWN — A six-figure mistake that went undetected for two years was uncovered recently in an audit of the Barre Supervisory Union’s books and must be corrected, according to Superintendent John Bacon.
However, members of the board responsible for running the two-town, three-school supervisory union weren’t willing to go along with Bacon’s recommended fix after being briefed Wednesday night.
First they want to review the draft audit, talk to a member of the accounting firm that produced it and weigh their options for dealing with what Bacon described as a $100,000 deficit.
That deficit, he said, can be traced to an administrative oversight at the supervisory union level.
According to Bacon, in 2010 the supervisory union funneled money to elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town for programs that were eligible for state reimbursement. Barre Town Middle and Elementary School received roughly $70,000, and Barre City Elementary and Middle School received about $30,000, he said.
The problem is no one applied for reimbursement, and Bacon said it’s too late.
The mistake means the supervisory union has less money in its bank account than it has been carrying on its books for the past two years.
“It is a finding that we really need to address,” Bacon told the board, which is composed of members of the Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding High School boards.
The solution he recommended involved committing the Barre and Barre Town boards to repaying — perhaps over time — the money with any year-end surplus.
Brenda Buzzell, chairwoman of the Barre Town School Board, said she didn’t like the sound of that. Absent a cash flow problem at the supervisory union level, she questioned why what she described as a paper deficit couldn’t be written off.
“It just doesn’t seem after all this while and in these hard times that (the supervisory union) should be asking for (the money) if we don’t really need it,” she said.
Lucas Herring, chairman of the Barre City School Board, said he was troubled that the local school districts were on the hook for a slip-up by supervisory union personnel.
“We’re being penalized at each of the individual schools for an issue that happened at the (supervisory union),” he said, suggesting the supervisory union be required to “eat” the shortfall based on its failure to secure available state reimbursement.
“It’s not the schools’ fault that the (supervisory union) didn’t apply for the grants on time,” she said of the mistake, which was made before Business Manager Mark Lyons was hired and was caught with an accounting system he developed.
Bacon didn’t dispute that assertion.
“You spent the money, we sent the money to you … and we didn’t get the money from the state,” he said, noting that didn’t change the fact that the ensuing deficit had to be dealt with.
“We need to balance our books,” he said.
Bacon said billing the schools that benefited from the services that were paid for with supervisory union money seemed to be the fairest option. The alternative would involve assessing Spaulding High School and the Spaulding-based Barre Technical Center for a portion of the costs and would require taxpayers in Barre to pick up a portion of the services that were provided in Barre Town.
“Essentially the way the SU would ‘eat’ (the deficit) would be to split it up into an assessment equally between the districts,” he said.
Herring said it would be premature for the board to act without reviewing the draft audit, and Buzzell said she wanted to consult the supervisory union’s accountant and Lyons before making any decision. That meeting has been tentatively set for Thursday.
Wednesday night, board members did approve a $1.9 million budget to pay for the operation of the supervisory union during the fiscal year that will start July 1. That budget reflects a spending increase of roughly $420,000 and will be funded primarily by assessments to the three participating school districts.
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