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Salerno asks state to investigate town

WINSTED — Superintendent of Schools Blaise Salerno has formally requested State Department of Education CFO Brian Mahoney investigate the town’s conduct for not responding to a funding request made by the Board of Education.In the letter to Mahoney, Salerno wrote that on April 13 he hand delivered a letter of request to Town Manager Dale Martin for $154,430 for non-educational expenses that, Salerno claims, has become part of the district’s budget for this school year.According to a financial breakdown provided to the Board of Education at its regular meeting Tuesday, May 10, the expenses are related to fire code, snow removal and asbestos management expenses.The breakdown states that $68,612.31 has been spent this fiscal year by the school district in snow removal and $25,339.34 has been spent in asbestos management.Under fire code expenses, $51,000 is listed for crossing guards and $9,478.38 is listed for Berkshire Alarm.Salerno claims that he has not received an acknowledgement of either the letter or the request.“The greater majority of the expenses in my letter deal with our efforts to merely keep our buildings in operation so that we are in compliance with the requirements to have schools in session for at least 180 days and offer no less than 900 hours of instruction,” Salerno wrote to Mahoney. “School buildings belong to a town. Both the Board of Education and I believe that expenses associated with asbestos management, air testing as required by our asbestos management plan and the replacement of doors with paint covering lead are capital expenses that should be charged to the town, as they are the building owners.”As for snow removal, Salerno wrote that the town’s building inspector ordered Salerno to make sure heavy snowstorms did not cause structural damage to the town’s three school buildings.“I was required to vacate all three school buildings and hire outside contractors, plus a structural engineer, for up to seven days while snow was being removed from the roofs and the emergency exits,” Salerno wrote. “Although we did receive some help from the town’s Department of Public Works once the snow had been removed from the roofs, the entire cost for hiring the contractors and the structural engineer had to be paid from the education budget.”Salerno previously wrote to interim Town Manager Paul Vayer in February requesting that the town provide financial aid to the school district for snow removal funds.Vayer wrote back to Salerno that the town was not in a position to provide aid.“Unfortunately, due to the ongoing severity of the storms, the town’s resources are taxed to the limit,” Vayer wrote to Salerno. “As of this date, we still have numerous and serious problems that must be addressed by the town that continue to demand the full resources we have available.”In his letter to Mahoney, Salerno requests that the Department of Education launch an investigation of the town for the current fiscal year and to “invoke its right to impose a fine on the town as quickly as possible.”“I understand that the State Department of Education is reticent to involve itself in matters that imply miscommunication,” Salerno wrote. “However, it is well known by the department that over the last three years, the town of Winchester has continuously placed its Board of Education in a position where it is only able, at best, to minimally address the instructional needs of the town’s children and the educational interests of the state.”Salerno goes on to write about how the Board of Selectmen brought to town voters a proposed education budget of $18,600,000, which is approximately $1.5 million below the estimated minimum budget requirement.“This callous disregard for the law must be stopped,” Salerno wrote. “Indeed, the Board of Education is having to expend scarce monies on legal fees in order to pursue legal action against the town due to the town’s actions.”In response to Salerno’s letter, Martin said that he wishes to work together with the Board of Education and school administration to solve their problems instead of turning to outside counsel or agencies.“With the recent appointments of both [school business manager] Paul Petit and me, as well as the pending appointment of a new superintendent, perhaps we can move forward with a new perspective not hindered by past issues or personalities,” Martin wrote to The Winsted Journal in an email.

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