Education board advisement letter to be sent after legal review

Following a lengthy discussion, the Board of Finance Tuesday voted to defer to legal counsel regarding the letter of policy and procedures recommendations it intends to send the Board of Education.

The finance board has talked about creating a “management letter” to give the education board, following the legal settlements investigation, that points out “control weaknesses.”

During their July 29 meeting, John Kalamarides told fellow board members that residents have expressed their disapproval of the recommendation letter.

“I have had at least a dozen Wiltonians speak to me about this mode of inquiry and they highly disapprove of it,” said Mr. Kalamarides.

“They disapprove of it because the Board of Finance does not have the authority ... according to the charter or any of the laws in the state of Connecticut to go and do this.”

Furthermore, said Mr. Kalamarides, the finance board is setting up a confrontation with the education board, “whose members are responsible for this.”

“These people feel that we really ought to back off from this. They don’t want to see us at war in committees as we see in Washington going on all the time,” said Mr. Kalamarides.

“So, I respectfully submit that we should modify this — in fact, we should drop it at this point.”

Lynne Vanderslice, the Board of Finance’s acting chair for matters pertaining to the investigation of Board of Education legal settlements, said her concern is that “the people who made those comments don’t understand what we’ve done.

“We had legal advice on what we can and what we cannot do, and we’re not doing anything outside of that,” said Ms. Vanderslice.

“Part of our responsibility as a board of finance is to look at financial controls, and that’s what we’re looking at.”

Recommendations

Ms. Vanderslice presented the proposed recommendations for the finance board to make, many of which, she said, the school district is either in the process of adopting or has already adopted.

The finance board’s recommendation to have written policies and procedures for special education is already underway.

“Ann Paul has told us that she’s in the process of doing that,” said Ms. Vanderslice.

“So, my recommendation is that we express our support for that and recommend that once those are completed, they be put on the district website with easily identified links to each school’s webpage.”

Ms. Vanderslice said written policies and procedures are “a key component of a strong system of internal controls.

“They are the road maps of how transactions and processes are supposed to occur. Within them, there are financial controls,” she said.

“When it’s documents, it gives somebody the ability to audit it or hold somebody accountable. That’s the basis for why we would think they are important and why we would want to see them in writing.”

The second recommendation Ms. Vanderslice outlined was the augmentation of the Section 504 policies and procedures.

“Ann Paul provided us with a packet of 504 policies and procedures and I felt that it needed some work,” said Ms. Vanderslice.

“It needed a table of contents and it needed a little bit more explanation to make it more parent-friendly.”

Ms. Vanderslice suggested the finance board also recommend having the Section 504 policies and procedures posted to the district’s website.

Due to a lack of written financial policies and procedures for legal settlement agreements, Ms. Vanderslice recommended they be put in writing.

“I think it’s important that those policies be documented and I would recommend that any other financial procedures that are undocumented be documented for the same reasons expressed.”

The fourth recommendation pertained to Director of Financial Planning and Operations Ken Post’s involvement in the legal settlement negotiations. A decision was made that as of July 1, Mr. Post would be part of the negotiating team on financial issues.

“I think we all applaud that and should recognize and support that decision in the document,” said Ms. Vanderslice.

Her last proposed recommendation was “a further strengthening of controls.”

“The superintendent has unlimited authority for any expenditure he deems necessary so long as it doesn’t exceed that annual Board of Education budget,” explained Ms. Vanderslice.

“A good system of controls would put a parameter on what the one individual can approve without having to go to the Board of Education.”

Ms. Vanderslice said there should be a control, such as the superintendent getting formal authority or giving notification before executing such a transaction.

Finance board member Richard Creeth described the superintendent’s unlimited authority as “a potential major control weakness.”

“What we’ve discovered here is a situation where the superintendent has signing power that is limited only by the total extent of the Board of Education budget, and with an undocumented process,” said Mr. Creeth.

“This is a control weakness and it’s fundamental to what the Board of Finance does, that when we discover control weaknesses like this, we should recommend that they be closed.”

Purview concerns

Finance board member Al Alper told Mr. Kalamarides that he once had concerns about the Board of Finance overstepping its bounds.

“With counsel, we made sure that what we were about to undertake was well within our purview by charter and not in any way, shape or form infringe on any statute, and/or the authority of any other board or commission,” Mr. Alper said.

Since the educational system is covered by the laws of the state of Connecticut, said Mr. Kalamarides, the Board of Finance many violate some state law by sending over their letter of recommendations.

“The other thing you’re doing is advocating the duties of the Board of Education members. It’s their responsibility to do this,” said Mr. Kalamarides.

Chairman Warren Serenbetz told Mr. Kalamarides that in the charter, the finance board has “fiscal responsibility for the town of Wilton, which includes the Board of Education budget.

“That fiscal responsibility allows us to ask them for any financial information that we want,” said Mr. Serenbetz.

“In the same sense, we can recommend — they don’t have to do it — what we think are appropriate policies and procedures to plug up financial holes, and that’s what we have here.”

Mr. Alper suggested that the Board of Finance run the recommendation letter by legal counsel before sending it to the education board “to make sure we’re not in violation.”

“To John’s point — to make sure that we are well within the boundaries of what we’re allowed to do and to ensure that the language, as well, caters to that,” he said.

Mr. Alper said he thinks the special education and 504 policies and procedures recommendations are outside the finance board’s purview.

“They talk about policies and procedures of how they mete out the educational process and that’s none of our business,” he said.

“I may completely agree with what was written here, but I don’t think the Board of Finance, who envelopes itself in the responsibility of financial controls, should speak about the way in which they execute special education or the 504 process.”

Votes

The Board of Finance voted to continue to send out the letter, with Mr. Kalamarides as the only member to oppose.

Next, the board further discussed and voted on what the letter should include.

Mr. Alper moved to not include recommendations on special education and Section 504 policies and procedures.

Mr. Serenbetz, who said during the board’s discussion that “only policies and procedures that deal with finance is a Board of Finance concern and the rest if a purview of the Board of Education,” seconded Mr. Alper’s motion.

Ultimately, the majority of the board voted to keep the two recommendations. Mr. Kalamarides abstained.

The Board of Finance will have legal counsel review the recommendation letter to make sure the board is not infringing on any statutes and ensure that the language is appropriate.

The Board of Finance’s Aug. 19 meeting is canceled, and the board will next meet in September.