GOP summons feds
WINSTED — Republican town officials have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education raising concerns about the recently issued audit of the Winchester school district for fiscal year 2009-10.The audit, which was completed in November after at least 11 months of delays, showed that approximately $636,000 in expenditures were not properly documented by the school district.At a special Board of Education meeting on Dec. 6, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Danehy said the district properly spent the funds.Danehy said that in November 2009, the school district received $1.1 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, which he said was partially spent on salary payments to employees.However, recently elected Board of Education member James Roberts said he is skeptical of Danehy’s claim.On Monday, Dec. 12, Roberts released a letter to local media that was sent to the U.S. Department of Education.The letter, which is dated Dec. 1, was signed by Roberts and three other town officials: Selectmen Ken Fracasso, Glenn Albanesius and Board of Education member Carol Palomba.Fracasso, Albanesius and Palomba are all members of the Republican party, while Roberts is an unaffiliated supporter of the local GOP.The letter describes and recounts the findings that were deemed questionable in the audit, along with a list of concerns by the officials.“We note that the quarterly ARRA filings by our Board of Education in support of its ARRA spending appear to accord neither with the reality of the school district’s staff hiring and retention record, nor with the district’s most current disclosure as to the detail of its ARRA expenditures,” the town officials state in the letter. “We understand that a Connecticut-centered investigative process is the ‘starting place’ for further reviewing and adjudicating these matters, but we are concerned that the majority members of both our Boards of Education and Selectmen fail to appreciate the gravity of these matters and are not exercising a level of financial oversight commensurate with what our auditor has termed ‘material weakness’ in our Board of Education’s financial controls. “We are told by our civic leaders that problems of the kind detected by our auditor should be considered ‘normal course.’ Should the Department of Education find that repayment of these monies is required, such liability far exceeds our town’s extant available fund balance and will give rise to significant fiscal difficulties for our community.”The four town officials go on in the letter to ask whether the town is liable for the expenditures that were not properly documented in the audit.“We wish to make this information available to you,” the town officials state in the letter. “If our concerns are unfounded, if the Department of Education is aware of and comfortable with these audit findings, if they are truly ‘normal course,’ we would appreciate confirmation that neither the Town of Winchester nor the Boards of Selectmen and Education or their respective board members face any liability, financial or otherwise, in connection with these matters. If the converse is true, the town of Winchester will need as a community to develop contingency plans as soon as possible.”In an interview with The Winsted Journal, Roberts said the thrust of the letter is a concern by the town officials to find out whether the expenditures that were deemed not properly documented need to be repaid.“If we need to repay this money then we need to make some contingency plans because it’s obvious that the town does not have the money,” Roberts said. “The first concern I have is whether or not paying teachers with ARRA funds was a legitimate use. More seriously, if the grants were used for teachers, then why did the district file in fiscal 2009-10 with the state that they used it for different things? Why did they claim to use the money to hire teachers when it looks like the teachers never existed? It’s a pretty serious matter. If we have filings that are incorrect, then we have a major problem.”In the past year, Roberts, along with Fracasso and Albanesius, have been vocal against the town funding the school district’s Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) set by the state.Before the municipal election in November, Roberts was a vocal critic of both the boards of education and selectmen.Despite his election to office, Roberts continued to criticize both boards on his public Facebook page, “James Roberts for Winsted BoE.”“The boards of selectmen and education vie for the privilege of bankrupting our tortured community,” Roberts wrote on Dec. 7.