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Schools Operational Audit to See the Light Next Week

The operational audit of the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District will be publicly presented at a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at Buker Elementary School.

The results of the of the school system - designed to review its efficiency - will be released to the public next Thursday, and likely no sooner.

Enough is Enough, a citizens group that pushed to undertake the operational audit and then later assisted town officials in developing the request for proposals to hire a firm to complete the work, had sought to have a copy of the report released before next Thursday’s presentation by the audit firm, Evergreen Solutions.

Bruce Wadleigh, a member of the Enough is Enough Steering Committee, said in an interview that the group would have liked to see the report in advance of next week’s meeting so it can read through it to check to make sure that all of the parts of the audit were covered and come up with specific questions for the presentation, based on what the report says.

“(School and town officials) told us we weren’t going to see it until the public sees the final results,” he said.

Jennifer Scuteri, chairman of the Hamilton Board of Selectmen, told members of Enough is Enough that even though the group helped lead the passage of a vote to implement the audit, the report can’t be released to Enough is Enough without making it available to everyone.

“We can’t give greater rights to one public group than any other public group,” she said.

Molly Martins, chairman of the Wenham Board of Selectmen, said that when the report – which is a few hundred pages long - is final it will be posted to the Internet and copies will be available at the in and the .

Both school and town officials have said that the final report will remain private until next Thursday’s public meeting at at 7 p.m.

The audit offers “no smoking gun” and the cost savings it recommends, “are mostly one-time fund transfers,” according to someone who did not see a draft copy but was briefed on its contents. The draft copy of the audit does recommend closing an elementary school, the person said.

The draft audit was previously distributed to School Committee Chairwoman Alexa McCloughan, Superintendent Dr. Raleigh Buchanan and Assistant Superintendent Peter Gray earlier this month and they both returned their “technical review” comments to Evergreen.

Scuteri said the review of a draft copy earlier this month was designed to avoid factual errors, citing an audit report a few years ago in Gloucester that recommended adding a principal to a school that had been closed.

Scuteri, in an interview, said she’s also hoping that there’s some savings recommendations in the audit that can be implemented for the fiscal 2012 budget year, which begins July 1.

Originally, the boards of selectmen in both towns had planned to jointly meet later this week to hear from the audit firm. But Evergreen was asked to go back and examine some areas in further depth.

“It’s lagging a week now because we have asked (the firm) to dig deeper into the data,” Scuteri said last week.

Wadleigh said that he didn’t think any changes would be made between the draft version and final version but that the concern has “been bantered around.”

Hamilton Town Manager Michael Lombardo said those concerns are unfounded and said that all of the feedback sent to Evergreen had to go through him and he wouldn’t allow any changes, he said.

“You have to have trust in the process that we will get a quality product,” Scuteri said.

Hamilton Selectman Bill Bowler also defended the process.

“We don’t want to get a $90,000 report and find flaws in it,” he said.

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