DISCLAIMER:The following is my personal opinion and may not be agreed with or supported by a majority of the School Committee.
The Superintendent of Schools recommended we let the current Asst. Supt. of Finance leave our employment effective today July 8th. Despite my wanting assurances the fiscal year would be closed, He was confident he would have an Interim CFO available to start right away and the School Committee voted to allow Mr. Frisch to leave and we scheduled a meeting for this past Thursday July 5th to hire an Interim CFO.
That meeting was cancelled.
The problem is, we have many challenges closing this year (including an IG investigation into a busing contract), the submission then disappearance of a $478,460.00 transfer request for Regular Ed Transportation without explanation and the Superintendent attempting to pay a Principal $6,590 ($82.375 an hour) for allegedly being a construction Supervisor in the summer of 2017 for 10 days without pre-approval from the School Committee and possibly in violation of Mass State Law c.268A.
There is also the fact that this Superintendent has a reputation in the MA. Municipal Financial circuit of poor performance based on his time in Winchendon where the Gardner news stated
Under Dr. Khelfaoui’s watch, the school district contributed about $2 million to the total $3.4 million town deficit. Much of the deficits for the town and school district were created by a combination of accounting errors in the health insurance trust fund for all town and school employees, as well as a high number of catastrophic illnesses. However, the school district overspent trust fund accounts and depleted reserves.
Under the current Superintendent we have no Asst. Business Manager, No Transportation Director, an Interim HR Director and a DESE audit that found questionable overcharging in InDirect cost to the food service account, along with a 2018/2019 budget that includes a $500,000 deficit, the elimination of libraries in our elementary and middle schools and multiple layoffs including the Senior Production staff at the Creegan TV Studio after the Superintendent informed the School Committee that the City was providing $250,000 to cover most of that cost which turned out to be untrue.
Faced with all of these issues the Superintendent seemed surprised that he had to notify us that he can’t find anyone willing to take the interim position!
All three candidates referred to us have declined the position. We have two more candidates we are talking to. They want more time to decide
In my view this presents the School Committee with an opportunity!
The opportunity to recruit and hire a permanent Business Manager / Business Administrator and not have to wait and go through a long drawn out process that leaves us floundering for the better part of the school year.
Last time the School Committee waited for the process and hired an interim, a permanent CFO wasn’t hired until February and that year the City of Lowell gained and School Dept. lost $500,000 from the Circuit Breaker Account because the newly hired CFO didn’t understand what he was doing.
We as a School Committee can do in Lowell what we saw Sal Lupoli and the Chelmsford School Committee do a couple years ago. (The quote above is close to what Sal stated during that time). Hire a person you know is qualified without dragging out the process, even though a process is set up.
There are QUALIFIED people who might be willing to accept the challenges that Lowell is faced with if the position that is offered is the permanent position, not an Interim one. I’m willing to find out if what I think is true and if it is, I will bring in a motion to interview and hire.
The big question will be if the Mayor and the remainder of this School Committee fully understand the shaky financial position we are in and the danger of dragging it out and will they allow themselves to follow the law and not hold to a process that could further damage our already shaky financial state ? Will his 3 diehard supporters be more concerned they would upset the Superintendent by taking control of hiring the Business Manager which is still allowed even after Ed Reform ? Is a majority of the Committee willing to drag it out with an interim and face even a bigger budget / financial challenge during the upcoming year? Sooner of later this house of financial cards will fall…will the School Committee and Mayor allow that to happen or act first to shore it up?
With the financial challenges this School Committee is facing on several fronts and the frailty of the current budget which is challenging to say the least. It is time in my opinion for this School Committee to do their job, step up and hire a permanent School Business Manager themselves and not leave it up to the Superintendent.