Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BOE Member Writes Superintendent, Voices Concerns Over Missing Funds

On April 7th, Board of Education member Linda Szynkowicz (R) sent the following letter to fellow board members voicing her concerns over the education budget citing concerns on the lack of information given to members to review prior to the vote. On April 29th, she also sent the below certified letter to Superintendent Dr. Patricia Charles with a list of questions regarding the accounting of various funds, information about which has not been disclosed to board members who are responsible for appropriating funds between line items in the budget. 

On Monday, Szynkowicz, who is also currently running for state representative in the 33rd District, appeared on Comcast's cable access show "The Variety Hour" hosted by Middletown Republican Candidate William Wilson. Szynkowicz stated for the record that she regrets having voted to approve the budget; Szynkowicz discussed what she feels is information that has been systematically with held from the board members & lack of transparency & accountability on the part of the school administration overseeing taxpayer supplied education funds. Szynkowicz reiterated her dedication to education and emphasized she wishes more funds went to students and teachers, instead of being wasted. She stated to date, the questions to the superintendent & board below have not been addressed.  
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As Board of Education members, the budget is ultimately our responsibility. We take ownership of the budget and essentially tell the taxpayers that we believe in the budget we present. It is taken for granted that we are aware of where and how the taxpayer’s money will be spent. In the past five months since I was elected by the tax payers to this office, I find the way the budget and how the monies are being spent – a mystery.

The information we receive on a monthly basis consists of transfers and an overall expenditure of funds. It does not include income from grants and other income received by the schools or any information on leased rooms, buildings, pools, etc. A real budget has income and expenditures. I personally have never even seen a school’s individual budget, yet every month I am asked to transfer money from one line item to the next.

In these difficult times, we need to make the tax payer’s money stretch as far as possible. How can we do this if the actual budget’s (Income and expenses) are unknowns? Do we as board members know how many students and teachers are in each school and what part of the budget each one makes up as part of the overall budget? For safety concerns, in the event of an emergency at any particular school, do we have any idea how many students, teachers, staff, paraprofessionals and or visitors are in each school? Do we know the actual needs of each school?

I know that we were told back in January 2014, that Woodrow Wilson Middle School is in desperate need of a new security system which will cost approximately $16,000. I personally toured the school this past Thursday and saw their security system. I walked with the principal up and down hallways, seeing staff and the principal with walkie talkies and personally viewed the antiquated security monitors.  This should be a priority, not only for the safety of the students, but staff, as well. We talked about the other needs of the school and he made mention of what he’s had to do with his budget. Sadly I had to tell him, when he was making reference to certain line items, that I have never seen his actual budget. That I have no idea how much money is spent at each school or where the money goes. This is embarrassing as a board member who is supposed to know where the money goes within the school system. This has to change.

How can we know where we can stretch the dollars to get more “bang for our buck” if we have no idea about the answers to some very basic questions? How would we know if we had a problem in any one of the schools with their electrical if we cannot compare the costs for electricity for each school?

We, as BOE members, should be given a copy of each school’s budget on a monthly basis which would include expenditures and income. It should include the salaries of the teachers, paras, staff, etc of each individual school. We should treat each school as an individual “business” and have all accurate accountings of all the major assets, including computers, how many and how old.

The overall budget should include the breakdown of each school’s entire budget (again this is income and expenses).

We need to see the list of vendors, what we buy from them, for how long and whether or not the contract went out to bid. Along these same lines, we need to review the bid process conducted by the BOE. Do we have guide lines similar to the City of Middletown where anything over $2500 up to $15,000 needs a minimum of three (3) hard quotes (written on official letterhead by the prospective vendors) and anything over $15,000 has to go out to a formal bid? For all of the BOE members that believe the current vendors have given us the “best deal”, through a real bid process, we will actually be able to see what a “good deal” we have been getting or if we could be getting a better deal utilizing other vendors.

We receive millions of dollars in grant money, yet we do not know where the money goes from each one, let alone the name and purpose of each grant. Do we know if we have gotten all the grant money from all the grants that are available to us? This is a daunting task and the efforts put forth by those involved in the grant processes should be acknowledged and appreciated for the monies we receive, but what are the grants and where does the money go from each one? No one can be 100% aware of the available grants, so how can the public help to give information about previously unknown sources of funding, if we, the public and the BOE members don’t know who gives us what money?

I propose a listing of all the grants received by Middletown school system to not only be provided to the BOE members, but be posted on the website for the general public to see and have the opportunity to add to the list of grant providers.

At the January meeting regarding the budget and needs of the BOE, it was brought to our attention that Dattco gave us back $100,000. Where did that money go to?

The Sodeco contract needs to be looked at. We had to transfer $16,000 last month to pay for the hazardous waste removal at the schools which should have been included in the original contract.

We, as a board, need to have all these issues addressed. Again, we, as board members, have a responsibility to the taxpayers to have the money for Middletown’s students be used for their needs for learning. We are competing with magnet schools and are paying out thousands of dollars for the students in Middletown that have decided to gain their education elsewhere.

We should no longer rely on the statements, “This is the way it’s always been done.” We need to be proactive and create a comprehensive accounting of all the dollars received and spent within the Middletown School system. The first step to change, is finding out where all the money is going and what monies are coming in. We need to make sure that the venders are giving us the best deals and this is done through a bid process and hard quotes for items under $15,000.

I am asking that we call for a special meeting later this month to have all these issues and more addressed. Ultimately, if we can find a savings of even 5%, we can have all the wish list items that have been presented to the board.

I welcome any thoughts and ideas presented by the members of the Board of Education, as well as those of the general public. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Linda J. Szynkowicz

Board of Education, Member
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April 29, 2014
Dr. Alfred B. Tychsen Administrative Building
Middletown Board of Education
311 Huntington Ave.
Middletown, CT 06457
Attn: Dr. Pat Charles

Dear Dr. Pat Charles:

Three weeks ago I sent a letter to all the Board of Education members spelling out what I believed to be the responsibility and need for us, as Board of Education members, to know the budget – both income and expenses, in order to make sure that we are doing everything we can to not only have a balanced budget, but to find cost savings in order to be able to pay for all the wants and needs of the district. I have included the original letter with this letter.

I find it necessary to spell out what I would like from the Superintendent’s financial office, instead of the special meeting I had requested, since one has not been set to date.

1.      Detailed accounting of all income and expenses for each school on a yearly and monthly basis. This should include the breakdown of all salaried personnel within each school and all expenses and income within each school.

2.      A complete listing of all grants received, their dollar amounts and where they are applied in the budget. When they are received is also important.


3.      A comprehensive listing of all vendors utilized within the district, what their services are, their total cost, when they went out to bid and when their contract(s) expire. I would also like to see copies of all contracts that went out to bid and were awarded to the vendors.

4.      A separate listing of vendors we utilize that did not go out to bid and what services they provide and the cost of their products/services we purchase.


5.      A listing of what products and services are purchased collectively as a district and what products and services are purchased separately by each school and the Superintendent’s office.

6.      A detailed accounting of how much Sodexco has saved the district. It is my understanding that they have a one year contract and should have a comprehensive review in order to be renewed.

7.      I would like to review the bid process for the Board of Education. Is it the same as the City’s?


8.      Where did the $100,000 given back by Dattco last year go? I have also been told it was more like $500,000. A detailed accounting would be appreciated, with an accurate accounting of exactly how much was “given back”.

9.      A detailed report on Dattco’s billing practices, as mentioned in the April Budget Committee meeting, being “messed up.”


10.  Are jobs being subplanted in the Alliance grant application for 2014-2015 and which positions are they?

11.  What is the dollar amount being proposed to be pushed into the next fiscal year as allowed by the State? (1%) and what is the money going to be put towards? and why?


12.  As of a month ago, there was $934,000 still not received by the State of CT from the Alliance grant. What has been received and where is it going to?

These are a few of the questions, I would like addressed, as soon as possible. As Board of Education members, we need to know where all the money is being spent, since we are ultimately responsible for the budget.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Linda J. Szynkowicz
Board of Education Member

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