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School board members seek more spending oversight

March 27, 2019
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board is considering a change in its oversight of school district spending.

Melissa Suckling of Danbury suggested the change after questioning why the board approves spending after the checks have already gone out. In a longstanding practice dating perhaps to the formation of the Newfound Area School District, the school board has reviewed and approved a manifest of the prior month's spending — and sometimes a backlog of several months' manifests — as a form of after-the-fact auditing. Suckling asked why they couldn't review and approve spending before it takes place.

Chair Jeff Levesque — re-elected to the position earlier in the March 25 meeting — said the reason it is done that way is because reviewing the manifest is a lengthy task. If done ahead of time, he said it would require about an hour and a half per week.

"We discussed it in the past, but none of the board members wanted to do that," he said.

School Administrative Unit 4 Business Manager Michael Limanni said it is possible to pre-approve spending with the district's software, which allows remote login and live vouchers. He offered to set up a demonstration of how that would work if members were interested.

The district treasurer now uses the electronic system for her work, and Limanni said it has worked out well.

Heidi Milbrand of Bristol agreed with Suckling that it would be better to make the change.

"It would be easier to carve out time to do that than to drive down to the office and do it," she said. "I can sit at my desk during the day and do that."

"I work in Hanover," Suckling said, "so to get to the SAU office by 4, and get through the traffic I can stay at work for an hour or a half-hour later every day, and I can power through it a little more easily."

Limanni said the administration audits itself through purchase orders, "so there are layers of oversight, but the software is there, and we could do a live voucher."

The catch is that there are legal requirements for when certain bills get paid, so they would need a commitment from the board members to use the system, Levesque cautioned.

"I'm not opposed to it, we just need to make sure it gets done, however we choose to do it," Levesque said.

Superintendent Stacy Buckley suggested that Limanni prepare a demonstration for the board to see how such an approval process would work.

Vice-Chair Jason Robert of Hebron suggested that members of the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee should attend the school board meetings "to be more aware of what's discussed."

Levesque agreed, saying, "They have very little clue to what's going on and they make decisions based on what they know, which isn't always factual." He said if the budget committee wants to take the lead in budget preparation, as some members have suggested, "they need to be here and do the job."

Voters this year chose to give the budget committee the authority to calculate the default budget, rather than the school board, after the board had exploited a provision of the Official Ballot Law to use a liberal interpretation of what constitutes a "one-time expenditure" and include money voters had never approved in the default budget.

Voters also approved an advisory article that would have capital expenditures appear as separate warrant articles. The school board has not yet discussed whether to accede to the voters' request.

The board did vote to approve the 2 percent salary increase for custodians that the budget committee had included in its version of the budget. The school board did not include the raise in its budget proposal.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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