On March 11, 2020

Voters approve school budget with possible ‘math errors’

By Curt Peterson

Voters approved the Windsor Central Unified District $21.7 million budget on March 3, 1677-1216.

On Monday night before the vote, Killington school district representative and Select Board member Jim Haff explained to voters at the pre-election information meeting that he would be voting “no” on the proposed budget. He said he suspected there was an accumulated deficit from 2019 that could reach $1 million, that the administration had failed to itemize the budget presented and complained the district administration had “mismanaged” the district’s finances.

Killington voters subsequently defeated the budget 239-112.

Reading also rejected the district budget 127-102.

In Barnard the budget passed, 176-114; in Bridgewater, 173-131; in Plymouth, 126-70; in Pomfret 213-85; and in Woodstock 775-450.

Haff isn’t the only board member concerned about the budget. At another district meeting March 9, Carin Park, chair of the Barnard School Board, read a letter expressing voter concerns at the Barnard Town Meeting.

The narrow victory for the FY2021 budget “reflects a lack of confidence in the financial management of Unified District funds and frustration with the opacity of the budget development process,” Park read from her letter.

Park said voters want a public explanation for the current financial situation in the district, admission of insufficient pre-vote budget information, a deadline for public release of the still incomplete FY2019 audit, announcement of how and how often financial reports and budget status will be made public, and confirmation the director of finance and operations will provide monthly financial reports for acceptance by the board.

“Measures such as these are necessary to cultivate trust, transparency, and inclusion across towns and stakeholders,” Park read.

Killington Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth and resident Roger Rivera both echoed Park’s demand for more transparency and board oversight regarding district finances at the March 9 meeting.

Responding as chair of the finance committee, Jennifer Iannantuoni of Killington said it was true that the FY2018 audit had been completed and sent to the district with some final questions 15 months ago without response, and the board was told it had not been done at all.

“That audit is done and signed-off on now,” she said. “And the FY2019 audit will be done by our March 23 meeting.”

She said she has confidence in Ron Smith, who has done the district’s audits for some years.

“He says we are facing a potential deficit of between $200,000 and $700,000 as of 2019, and he’ll have a reasonable estimate of where we are now in the current [FY2020] budget,” Ianantuoni said.

At the March 4 finance committee meeting Smith urged the board to “freeze all non-essential spending immediately.” He said the district has a problem, and he will offer possible solutions at the next board meeting.

“It won’t be an easy fix,” board member Jim Haff (Killington) said.

Smith told board members his firm was unable to get complete FY2018 figures from the finance department, which relied on audited FY2017 figures to produce the last budget reflecting any surplus or deficit that may have existed.

Auditors were able to produce an audit review for FY2018 15 months ago – roughly September 2019, still with some questions about the figures. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to get a response. The tentative review showed a deficit.

Without a final FY2018 audit, the FY2020 budget was produced with no accounting for any deficit hanging over the district’s head.

“And proposing the FY2021 budget [just approved by voters] without having an audit of FY2019 done is problematic,” Smith said.

Banios said there had been some math errors, indicating what “appeared” to be the remainder of a FY2016 surplus still in existence.

Assuring the committee the problem is “not insurmountable,” Smith explained there had been $300,000 left of the surplus going into FY2019, but the district spent by $900,000, leaving themselves short more than $600,000, a “fairly accurate” estimate, with some revenue details for FY2019 yet to be completed.

On Monday, March 23, when the WCUSD Board meets at Reading Elementary School, Smith will have the FY2019 audit completed, have accurate figures regarding the accumulated deficit going into FY2020, give a rough idea of current FY2020 status, and offer some practical options for resolving the problems.

Possible statutory strategies including budgeting the deficit payoff over three years, borrowing from a commercial source or from reserve funds, or turning the debt over to the seven member towns.

Concessi said he is confident that the FY2021 budget contains no deficits on its own.

“It’s built from the ground up,” he said. “Whatever deficit exists, it won’t come from this new budget.”

Haff cautioned the committee and board members in the audience – “Just remember,” he said, “when things go wrong with the district’s finances, the responsibility is ours as a board – we get the blame.”

Smith agreed, and urged Concessi and Banios to make sure the accounts are kept up to date, and that the board gets at least quarterly financial status updates.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Robert Hecker appointed to Killington Select Board

May 15, 2024
By Curt Peterson Robert Hecker has been appointed to take Steve Finneron’s seat on the Killington Select Board. The announcement came after an executive session Monday night May 13. The position lasts until next Town Meeting Day vote, when voters will choose the person to fulfill the remaining year of Finneron’s term.  Hecker was one…

Town resolves eminent domain 

May 15, 2024
Deal with landowner called ‘win-win’ By Polly Mikula The town of Killington will not pursue an eminent domain hearing scheduled for May 20, having recently resolved the case with the landowner.  Eva Nagymihaly and her sister, Theresa Rust, own land on the east side at the base of Killington Road to the intersection with Route…

Logging company fined for wetland and water quality impacts in Bridgewater, Thetford

May 15, 2024
The Agency of Natural Resources Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Vermont Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) announced May 8 that Thomson Timber Harvesting and Trucking LLC (Thompson Timber), a company that performs logging activities in Vermont, was fined $32,550 for violating the Vermont Wetland Rules and failing to follow acceptable management practices (AMPs) for…

Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum celebrates expansion

May 15, 2024
By Polly Mikula Saturday, May 11, Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum held a grand opening celebration from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Merchants Row downtown. While the museum relocated to its current location (66 Merchants Row) last spring, this was the first time the organization has celebrated that expansion. The move allowed Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum to tripled in size with new…