ABOUT TOWN: Amid Concerns from Selectmen, Town Accountant Plans to Audit Stoughton Schools
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TOWN ACCOUNTANT PLANS TO AUDIT SCHOOLS: On December 14, Stoughton Town Accountant Bill Rowe informed the school department, through an email to Stoughton Public Schools Finance Director Jessica Denison, that he would like to perform an audit of the school's payroll operation on Wednesday or Thursday this coming week.
He said the request came as a result of "an unfortunate action on the part of selectmen," but that their "concerns are understandable given the continued refusal by the School Department to provide our office with certain employment contracts."
He told Denison that Susan Herman, Internal Auditor for the town, and he would perform the audit, adding, "I will provide you a list on Monday of the preliminary information that we will need. Please let me know which day works best for you."
Rowe said that on December 13, Selectman Bob O'Regan asked him for an assertion that he had all the documentation to back up the numbers on the December 12/13 payroll warrant item on the Selectmen's agenda.
In the letter, Rowe writes, "Unfortunately, since I was unable to provide him with that assertion, he refused to sign the warrant. Selectmen John Stagnone and John Anzivino had similar concerns. They did sign the warrant, but expressed reservations about future warrants. Selectmen Steve Anastos will not sign any warrants."
Rowe said that if the audit results are favorable, "it may help to mitigate some of the Selectmen's concerns about signing the warrants."
School Committee Chair Deb Sovinee says she has no reservations about a payroll audit. She tells me on Saturday, December 15, "It should be a normal procedure. It's a simple audit. It's a good practice that I assume is policy for all areas of town government."
But, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi didn't seem to agree. She wrote About Town, "This development is very sad and frustrating. Our attorneys will meet them at the door and be handling this matter. There are so many ways we could be working together for the good of the town."
School Committee member Dr. Erdem Ural, who made About Town aware of the situation, wrote that he finds the disagreement between the school committee chair and the superintendent revealing.
“Unless Rizzi is planning to go out and hire her own attorneys, she must be talking about the school committee attorneys. I am hoping the committee will no longer give the superintendent free and unlimited access to lawyers at the expense of Stoughton," Dr. Ural said.
"My experience with the administration tells me that the internal checks and balances of the School Department are compromised," he continued. "Selectmen, School committee, Town accountant, and treasurer are responsible for any misdeeds that may have occurred. Therefore, I applaud the Town Accountant’s initiative to perform an audit. No matter what the audit results are, I am hoping this humiliating experience will awaken the superintendent and my esteemed colleagues on the school committee.”
Selectman John Anzivino wrote, "Mr. Rowe has my full support in obtaining the documentation necessary for his office to sign off on ANY warrant being submitted to the Board of Selectmen for signatures. Mr. Rowe made me aware of the payroll issue Thursday evening. I restated my opinion his signature on a warrant indicates to me his office has all supporting documentation for that warrant."
Selectman Chairman John Stagnone writes, "The Town Accountant and Internal Auditor responsibilities are to verify that the taxpayer's money is being spent and reported as approved by town meeting and in accordance with all State and Federal Laws. For the Town Accountant and Internal Auditor to do their jobs they need to have a copy of all contracts, municipal and schools, they do not have all contracts from the school department."
Stagnone continued, "Hopefully copies are forth coming, because without them this issue does not go away no matter the out come of the audit. Once contracts are on file with the Town Accountant as required by law and the new payroll system is in place after the first of the year, audits can take place as part of routine review along with other accounts of the town, without the need to make an appointment. The Board of Selectmen have to sign off on all payments and we take this responsibility seriously. We rely on Town staff that each payment is made in accordance with all applicable laws."