Wellesley Audit Committee Chairman Rusty Kellogg recommended at a Board of Selectmen meeting last night that the School Department hire a chief financial officer for the Business Department, which has been under fire since failing to collect about $169,000 in school lunch debt.
“We’d continue to have a school business manager, but we’d also have a CFO person to beef up current staffing,” Kellogg said in an interview. The business office, he noted, handles a budget of nearly $70 million.
“Part of the problem with the current situation was there was more work than could be done,” said Kellogg. “A lack of staff, of total horsepower.”
The official title for the position would be up to the School Department, said Kellogg, but their duties would be that of a chief financial officer.
The person would oversee the business office, and “provide additional resources, management, oversight, and experience to the office,” said Kellogg.
The school’s business manager, Ruth Quinn Berdell, is currently on voluntary paid administrative leave, and an interim business manager is filling her position.
Berdell faced harsh criticism after an audit, triggered by the business office’s failure to collect the lunch money debt and released this fall, found sloppy accounting practices in the business office. No misappropriation was uncovered.
It has been a rocky year for the district. Superintendent Bella Wong resigned last month, effective at the end of the school year, citing “ongoing public concern over school operational protocols” that had put the department on the defensive and undermined her capacity to advocate effectively for the district.
Kellogg said that the choice to hire a chief financial officer would fall to the new superintendent, whom the School Committee hopes to have in place by the end of this school year.
“Our hope was that the School Committee, in seeking a new superintendent, would mention that this is a proposal out there, so the superintendent would know that the schools would support the superintendent hiring what would be a new position,” he said.
The position, said Kellogg, would need to be funded in the budget for the next school year. He declined to estimate a possible salary.
“It will be expensive, but I don’t think it’s beyond the capacity of the school budget,” he said.
The district is waiting on the results of another audit of the business department, conducted by the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials, due before the end of the year.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.