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Costa in crosshairs over grant

Date: 8/11/2009

By Natasha Clark, Assistant Managing Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW Over the last few months Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edward Costa has found himself at the center of many hot topics involving the East Longmeadow Public School District.

Last week the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said they are looking into whether or not $1,001.67 in grant funds from a 2003-2004 Administrator Retreat week were misused.

"We are looking into the matter," JC Considine, spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said. "Our goal obviously is to respond as quickly possible."

In addition, it has recently been announced that receipts from fiscal year 2005 are being evaluated as well.

Town Account Tom Caliento also has the charge of looking into the expenses incurred between July 28 and July 31 of that fiscal year. Expenses being scrutinized pertain to lunches, items purchased for the retreat week such as T-shirts and hats and a boat trip that took place on the final day of the retreat.

"The Board of Selectmen was notified that there were concerns over expenditures on this particular trip and the board asked the town accountant to look into it," Board of Selectman Chair Enrico "Jack" Villamaino explained.

The trip was a conclusion to a week of professional development facilitated by Costa. On July 31 administrators participated in a day of team building in Branford, Conn.

Costa invited the administration to ride on his 26-foot boat and participate in "Leader-ship."

"I did this voluntarily. I did not spend a penny on my boat," Costa said. "I paid for all my fuel and maintenance and I paid for marina charges."

Costa said on the boat administrators participated in team building activities. Since none of them had driven a boat, administrators were taken through safety initiatives and took revolving roles as captain that mirrored analogies between leading a crew and heading a school.

"This is the purpose of this grant," Costa said. "This is extra money, through my applications, I went out and got to do these things."

The Department of Education Web site said funds could be used in a variety of ways including professional development activities, signing bonuses, providing financial incentives to retain teachers and administrators and more.

There is also a discrepancy over signatures approving reimbursement of grant funds spent. The process was that the town was awarded the grant, Costa spent money out of his pocket in relation to the retreat and then the town would reimburse him with the grant funds. However, Caliento is examining whether the appropriate signatures were used to seek reimbursement.

The first signature (A) required on the form is of the person seeking reimbursement, in this case Costa. The second signature (B) is supposed to be the administrator supervisor and the final signature (C) should be the town accountant's (See graphic).

"Line A is whoever wants reimbursement," Costa explained. "Line B is always me (the executor). [But], an administrator cannot approve his/her own transaction. Line C, the town account has to sign."

Costa said because he is seeking reimbursement the business manager also signs the document and then it goes on to the town account, who was Sandra Choquette at the time. He said, "The town accountant has to review it and then the town account has to sign. Why isn't the town accountant signature on it? I can't answer that. It is a question for the Board of Selectmen, who governs Town Hall."

Costa said the East Longmeadow School District is known for the superior professional development and team building retreats it hosts. In fact, he said he has spoken at both the state and national level on the topic.

Villamaino said he expects a report from Caliento this week.