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Common ground still hard to find

If you think the Winchester Board of Selectmen and Board of Education have found common ground and are working together well since the 2011 municipal election, you should think again. After all of the arguing over the minimum budget requirement (MBR) for the school system and the Board of Selectmen’s decision to fully fund it at $19.9 million, there are still points of contention that refuse to go away.The most recent disagreement concerns any potential penalties that may arise out of the Board of Education’s accounting errors identified in an audit of the 2009-10 school budget. Winchester selectmen have publicly announced their intention to fully fund the MBR, but if any penalties come from the state or federal government for the school board’s past accounting practices, selectmen have said they will hold the Winchester Board of Education responsible for paying the fines.That sounds fair in theory, but the school board is already on track to spend the $19.9 million in MBR funding that it has always expected for this year. At the end of the year, with that money spent, the school district will be left with a zero balance. If selectmen think the school board is going to do anything other than spend the money allotted to the schools, they are deluding themselves. School officials have repeatedly said they expect to spend the full MBR this year and are operating on that premise.At the same time, it is unlikely that you will find anyone on the Winchester Board of Education who will agree with the concept that they are responsible for accounting errors that occurred under the leadership of a previous superintendent. Blaise Salerno was at the helm when the accounting errors took place in 2009-10, and it was on his watch that the school system received federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to supplement state Education Cost Sharing (ECS) money. There are also new members on the school board who had nothing to do with the schools during the 2009-10 school year, so it’s hard to imagine how they are responsible for the past errors.The reason state and federal officials are looking into the matter at all stems from irresponsible suggestions by town Republicans that school officials are doing something illegal. Time and time again, the accusations have been leveled and shown to be false. State and federal officials are nonetheless completing their own independent audits of the books, which should not result in any penalties to the school district. Everyone but the GOP’s attack dogs will breathe a sigh of relief, and that will hopefully signify the end of the argument.

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