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Letter to the Editor: School District Audits Demand Attention

Members of Enough and Enough write in a letter to the editor that a recent financial audit, plus previous audits, of the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District demand attention from the School Committee.

To The Editor:

Recently, the Boston Globe ran an article in the North section claiming that $1.6 million was "found" in the financial accounts by a newly hired accounting firm.

The findings came as little or no surprise to many town officials, taxpayers, parents and especially to Enough Is Enough, the fiscal watchdog group that was formed three years ago in Hamilton and Wenham to stave off the school district's process of "budgeting by overrides" which has resulted in burdening residents with two of the highest property tax rates on the North Shore.

According to the article this was the third time in the past year that the HWRSD was found to have significantly more money than had been indicated.

One of the two other cases concerned funding that the HWRSD stated it needed in order to pay for a new boiler for the . Faced with the urgency and dire need expressed by the School Committee that no funds were available, voters, along with support from Enough is Enough, approved bonding at both Town Meetings to help pay for the project.

Now we are told that the funding was unnecessary and that the district paid $794,000 for the heating system out of existing funds. The question now, of course, is whether the School Committee will still seek the bond approved by the voters for the boiler and attempt to divert those funds to other projects…such as work on the High School auditorium…a project that was previously rejected by the voters.

We do not feel that funds appropriated for the Cutler School boiler should be redirected to any other projects without the approval of the voters, particularly if the project turns out to be one the voters disapproved before.

According to the Globe article, School Committee chairman Alexa McCloughan praised the work of the new financial accounting firm, stating "I think we have finally cracked the code on how to demystify school accounting" and she felt that new accounting practices would lead to better efficiency.

Enough Is Enough wishes that Ms. McCloughan felt the same way about the thorough and after having been overwhelmingly supported by voters in both towns. That report clearly supported a previous report (The Blue Ribbon Report) that had found that the HWRSD .

The operational audit clearly paved the way for correcting the school cost differences by offering specific cost-saving recommendations. Unfortunately, the School Committee and district , choosing instead to implement the few cost-increasing initiatives from the report.

This failure to improve the efficiency of our school district, after being handed the $90,000 Operational Audit roadmap for doing so, remains unacceptable. Combine an apparent unwillingness to act on the Operational Audit with the recent financial audit which uncovered $1.6 million, and we find that better efficiency is not, as implied within the article, a primary concern of the School Committee.

"You're going to create a better budget going forward if you know where you're coming from," McCloughan stated.

We believe that should be a naturally true statement and hope that the School Committee will not continue to ignore the cost reducing recommendations of the Operational Audit when preparing their budget. It is well past time to implement the recommendations of the Operational Audit and enhance the efficiency of our school district.

Respectfully submitted,

Enough Is Enough Steering Committee:

Bea Britton

Jim Kent

Robert Sica

Betty Dunbar

Ed Howard

George Lamontagne

Bob Gray

Bruce Wadleigh

Jay Burnham

Michelle Bailey February 27, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Are you upset there aren't more snacking opportunities at the school? Do you want the School Committee to stop ignoring the $312 annual cost savings to adding 2 vending machines at the HS (recommendation 7-11, if you're following along in the audit document)? There are 23 "cost saving" recommendations in the Operational Audit. The SC has implemented some, is investigating some, and has rejected some as unworkable given constraints in our facilities. When you say, "We...hope that the School Committee will not continue to ignore the cost reducing recommendations of the Operational Audit" what do you mean?
T. Red February 27, 2012 at 02:54 PM
What he means is the school should do what every other private sector business on the planet has to do and operate within its means. They need to do their job and start acting responsibly. A reasonable way to begin would be to immediate cut $2M/year from the budget and then go from there.
Michelle Bailey February 27, 2012 at 03:20 PM
How do you think the SC should reduce costs? The private sector does that through reducing production, sending jobs oversees, selling of subsidiaries and laying-off employees engaged in those activities. Which school or grade(s) do you think the SC should halt production, send oversees, or sell-off?
T. Red February 27, 2012 at 03:40 PM
If you knew anything about the private sector you would know that reducing production and selling subsidiaries would not reduce costs, they would reduce income. Businesses cut costs by reducing staff, eliminating redundancies, increasing efficiency, lowering admin, shrinking overhead, and focusing on top priorities while cutting everything else. But no, the hard choices are never made in our school district. Why? Because its so much easier to present the threat / false choice of higher taxes or our kids don't get a certified education. But now, thanks to the operational audit, the entire town now sees that the emperor has no clothes.
Michelle Bailey February 27, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Which "hard choices" do you propose the SC make? The large "cost savings" come by cutting general fund expenses or teacher lay-offs. How many teachers do you think we should lay-off this year? About 26 would get you to a $2mil. savings. That would be the equivalent of 2 elementary schools worth of classroom teachers. I've read the operational audit, cover to cover more than a few times. The taxpayers paid $79K for a document that has multiple errors, does not give us a specific recommendations on where to cut expenses or staff, and double counts many cost savings. That's the emperor with no clothes. The operational audit does have some valid recommendations many of which have been complete by the SC already.
Stacey February 27, 2012 at 05:56 PM
T. Red, how do you follow an audit when there are so many errors and it never got fixed in the final report. As for the SC trying to follow up on the audit, I believe that they have worked on half of the findings, either have done or in the next budget. I wish people would use their real names when commenting.
Jay Burnham February 27, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Stacey...T. Red is using as "real" a name as yours..."Stacey". How about everyone using their FULL NAMES and filling out their profiles? Then, and only then, will readers know who they are dealing with, their credibility, their motivations and possibly their reasons for commenting. Take, for instance, the Operational Audit. Without knowing your full name, we can't ascertain your agenda within your comments. With Michelle, it's easy... She did not support and voted against the Operational Audit from the beginning... and in maintaining her opposition now insists that the audit was "flawed". But at least most people are aware of her agenda and therefore her credibility as regards to her statements.
Jim Smith February 28, 2012 at 04:07 PM
It's time for Hamilton voters to vote in Austerity measures for the town of Hamilton/Wenham, the new Greece of the Northshore. Soon our elderly will be thrown out into the streets and children given condoms in lieu of nutritious food. Entitlements either need to be cut in Hamilton or allow Hamilton to default, go bankrupt and default back to Start. Hopefully we can do it right the next time around. Greece eventually will be allowed to go Bankrupt, this is what You the Hamilton voters want. After all you support Mitt Romney and Kerry Healey, all locals who believe in letting companies go bankrupt without federal funding. So it makes since to let the towns of Hamilton/Wenham go bankrupt and then we will no longer be obligated to the NEA or Teachers Unions, since republicans do not support unionism. The town of Hamilton is comprised of mostly Republicans so what is said here should be of no surprise to any of you fellow plebeians.

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