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Selectmen refer school deficit to district attorney

Posted by Brock Parker  September 14, 2010 11:00 AM

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Arlington selectmen voted Monday to notify the Middlesex District Attorney’s office of a $1.5 million deficit in the school department’s budget for fiscal year 2010, and called a special Town Meeting to address the budget gap.

The board voted unanimously to notify the district attorney’s office of the deficit, which school officials announced in mid August, more than a month after the conclusion of fiscal 2010.

Several town officials have criticized Superintendent Kathleen Bodie for failing to reveal the extent of the deficit sooner, and Selectmen Chairwoman Diane Mahon told School Committee members Monday that they need to take “swift and decisive action” concerning the deficit.

“I take great exception to what has happened,” Mahon said.

Bodie has said the deficit was caused by several factors, including rising special education costs and a reduction in grant funding. But she said the total amount of the deficit was not known until August and was then revealed to the School Committee. Bodie said the deficit will not lead to additional cuts in the school department, which has already had layoffs and fee hikes this year.

Town Counsel Juliana Rice said Monday that the district attorney’s office must be notified of the deficit under a Massachusetts law that prohibits any department from overspending its budget.

But Rice said it does not appear that the shortfall has been caused by a misappropriation of funds, and she’s unaware of any instances in which the district attorney’s office has taken action on similar types of cases.

Rice said the town will work with the Department of Revenue to address the shortfall.
Selectmen also called a special Town Meeting to be held on Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. in Town Hall so the meeting members can vote to cut the school department’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget and re-appropriate the money to cover the fiscal year 2010 deficit.

Town Manager Brian Sullivan said that at a minimum the town also needs to hire independent auditing firm Powers & Sullivan to review budget procedures in the school department to investigate why the shortfall occurred and how to prevent it from happening again.

The School Committee has already requested a separate independent financial expert to review the district’s budgeting process, and several committee members were in attendance at the selectmen’s meeting Monday.

School Committee member Joseph Curran said the School Committee has to learn a lesson from the shortfall.

“I say shame on the School Committee for not demanding monthly expenditures and revenue reports, and shame on me myself,” Curran said. “I say shame on those who can not and simply do not want to reveal such information.”

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