Sunday Notes August 21st 2016

School Dept. has a $527,000 deficit: Admin. either deceitful or inept

Salah  Khelfaoui Sun Photo Bob Whitaker
Salah Khelfaoui
Sun Photo Bob Whitaker

This is my final post regarding the fiasco that was the close of the 2015/2016 School Dept. Fiscal year. My frustration has been well documented and it appears nothing has or will change until the School Committee is faced with a filling a funding shortfall of $527,000 and having no funds to pay for the Kindergarten Para’s.

When the City doesn’t have the funding, maybe then the Committee will wake up and realize how either deceitful or inept this Supt. and his hand-picked CFO really are.

It appears only Connie Martin and Bob Gignac are as concerned about the finances as I am and the remaining School Committee members are instead concerned with giving contracts, giving an Asst. Supt. a HUGE raise and Deputy title that isn’t needed along with giving child predators a free bus ride to the elementary and middles schools once a month. To hell with the deficit lets just spend more and blame the city for improper funding.

I’ve stated often that this was exactly what was going to happen with this Supt. and administration. The 2016/2017 budget was going to be short and they would want the city to bail them out.

I might have had my issues with the gang of 4 who hired this SUPT.(and then left for various reasons) but I cannot in any way, shape or form see them letting the financial situation that is being presented, re-presented, supposedly corrected and presented again happen. On top of that they pushed to close schools on Election Day due to the unrestricted public access while this committee votes to open the doors wide two hours a month for potential predators and provide them a free ride to boot.

This Supt. and his hand picked inexperienced in Mass Municipal practices CFO have continuously presented misinformation or partial information on a regular basis, they have clearly shown they either do NOT know the general laws nor understand them or are simply trying to be deceitful and hide money and facts from the committee.

This Administration presents such half fact information that in no ways makes understanding the numbers easy for either the public or School Committee and that is totally unacceptable if Jay Lang and Jean Franco had done even a little of this, they would have been criticized and admonished by the Scott-Conway-KRS and Mayor Elliott group and rightfully so!!

Today Andy D – Hoey – Doherty and Mayor Kennedy want to praise and give contracts and raises for providing this nonsense.

Gendron seems to be walking a fine line not being very critical (most people speculate that he feels indebted to the Supt. for his handling of a past incident).

Had a majority of the School Committee or City Council members heard before Wednesday night’s sub-committee meeting about the supposed “understandings with the City side to cover the $527,000 shortfall? I’m hearing not !

The “SURPRISE” News that the City has “agreed” to provide additional funds or supposedly return funds to the School Dept. wasn’t known by many before Wednesday’s meeting. I’ve never heard the City side talk about it and based on comments in today’s Sun Column by the City Manager, I’m pretty confident NOTHING is “guaranteed” when it comes to the $527,000.

The story that I heard most this week from several sources is the Mayor approached the Manager in late May stating that the schools would have approx. $2.1 million in “free cash” but would need approx. $600,000 to cover Kindergarten Para cost and could that amount be sent to a suspense account.

Supposedly the Manager agreed only to see instead the Supt. and his CFO play games and spend millions in June on Technology and other items, only to declare they had $51,000 or so remaining in local funds. That supposedly is the $600,000 the Supt. says the city agreed to refund. He never mentioned nor did the mayor state to the Manager that the School Administration was going to fleece the city out of the other $1.5 million by using all the local free cash.

The Supt’s reputation for being difficult to work with, especially for town / city managers seems well deserved.

There is also no CLEAR explanation available on-line or in the School Committee packet that shows exactly what was left over in the Circuit breaker account or with $548,000 of that account being returned to the city, What was the need to transfer $132,000 into that account?

The CFO and Supt. can’t even keep their misinformation straight!

If you follow the infamous, convoluted transfers presented by the SUPT. and CFO in June it only adds to the head scratching.

Look at the First Transfer submitted by the Supt. / CFO dealing with the Circuit Breaker funds
Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 8.51.23 AM

It shows a total of $940,461 transferred to cover Special Ed Out of District Cost and it notes that it was their (Supt./CFO) plan to carry over in excess of $3,090,016 into the 2016/2017 Fiscal year.

At that School Committee meeting Connie Martin was the ONLY school Committee member who even questioned why we didn’t want to use the Circuit Breaker funds and the CFO stated they didn’t want to because if they used “local money” the city couldn’t take it back as “free cash”. With the exception of Bob Gignac who has been questioning things all along the rest sat there like they had no idea what was going on.

Between that meeting and the June 15th meeting, the Administration found out that by law they could NOT carry-over more than roughly $2.3 Million (This is what happens when you hire inexperienced people they don’t know the laws yet we pay them at the experienced salary level)

So at the June 15th meeting they “modified” the June transfers to show this with the attached explanation.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 8.50.29 AM

So now only $132,986.00 was being transferred to the special ed account instead of the original amount of $940,461 with the explanation that the money would be paid from the Circuit Breaker acct.

That is is difference of $807,475.00 so the “in excess” of $3,090,016 was actually closer to $4,000,000?

Did the CFO and Supt. NOT know that?? How and Why if they did, didn’t they bring in the full amount? If they didn’t know, Why didn’t they?

If the Circuit Breaker really only had $3,090,016 or even if it had $3,590,016 then the $807,475.00 expense instead of the $940,461.00 would have left $2,282,541.00 or $2,782,541.00 which is pretty close to the $2.3 Million allowed to be carried over.

If the Circuit Breaker had $500,000 or $600,000 left over, why was there even a need to transfer $132,986 into that account in the first place?

So why did the CFO/SUPT. come in with the $3,090,016 number? To purposely be deceitful or are they just unaware of how much money was available and what the real expenses are?

Was there really $500,000 or $600,000 left over in Circuit breaker account? Let’s not forget at one point the Supt. and CFO CLAIMED (Erroneously)that they received 5 payments instead of 4. They didn’t realize that the first payment in July was for the 4th quarter in the previous year! That’s just another example of the lack of understanding in the Finance Department of the Lowell School System.

This is my issue with the Supt. and CFO, they are either deliberately supplying false or half fact information purposely or they have no real firm grasp on what they do actually have. Our schools had come a long way and the crash that is ahead under this leadership will take years to rebuild.

The lack of clear information should be setting off all sorts of RED FLAGS but so far it’s only Gignac and Martin who seem the least bit concerned. Let’s see what the concern is when they have to find the funding for the Kindergarten Para’s because the city doesn’t have the money!!

With the budgets always growing due to insurance and labor cost, transportation and outside tuition for Special Education always rising and the increase cost of materials, we need a SUPT. and / or at the very least a competent CFO to insure the fiscal health of this department and we need a School Committee that will DEMAND 100% facts the first time they are presented with issues not wait 1-3 meetings for things to shake out and get corrected.

It has reached the point that I almost wish Kim Scott – KRS- Dave Conway and Mayor Elliott were still there!

They at least all showed a fundamental understanding of how the system worked and understood the relationship between the Supt. / CFO was supposed to work. They were the bosses! With the exception of Martin and Gignac the others appear to want to defer to the Supt. / CFO

I wanted to throw up when Jackie Doherty made a motion to ask the Supt. /CFO to present a dollar figure they felt was required for the School Committee to vote to approve for transfers. Especially with Gendron and Gignac supported it.

The School Committee should be telling the Administration that ANYTHING that isn’t under the same Heading (the same page as the CFO calls it) MUST be approved and that anything over $10,000 or 5% on the same page needs to be brought forward for approval.

You were elected to be the people’s eyes and voice and to watch over and run the schools, not sit there and ask the Supt. How are things?

If you, as members of the school committee are NOT going to work to understand the budget, the transfer process and your fiscal responsibilities and demand 100% accurate and complete information the first time from the Administration, do the voters a favor and don’t run for re-election.

You’ve already supplied challengers with plenty of reasons to oust you. Thanks for your attempt but you are failing so you need to walk away.

If you intend on staying, do your homework, start holding the CFO and Supt. accountable and stop allowing the half fact information or allowing for their “inexperience” to be used to justify their screw ups.

They are getting paid at the rate of experts, make them act like they are or come November, do the right thing for the District, the City, the Parents, Staff and students of Lowell and DO NOT re-appoint this Supt. for another year!


Published by Lowell School Committeeman Gerry Nutter

I've been interested in Schools since I worked at the Greater Lowell Tech and substitute taught in Dracut. I've followed the finances and issues with the Lowell School for the past 8 years while blogging and contributing to Saturday Morning Live! Currently serving my 1st term.

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