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Scanlon releases audit findings

Date: 8/24/2009

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW - Two of three finalized audit reports evaluating expenditures attributed to a 2003 Teachers Quality Federal Grant were recently made public.

According to an independent audit performed by Thomas J. Scanlon & Associates, about $700 in expenses, in their opinion, did not meet the criteria for payment under expenditures allowed from town/school appropriations.

"It is our opinion the supplies and materials in the amount of $715.28 for the retreat bags should not have been processed," the report continues, "[and] the lunch in the amount of $41.16 for Mr. McGowan [Thomas B. McGowan, former School Committee member] and Dr. [Edward] Costa should not have been processed. The lunch is not connected to a business meeting or the conference.

"The other lunches are connected to the conference/retreat and are permissible. We do however question the expense for lunch at the Student Prince on an invoice dated July 20, 2003 in the amount of $344.61. In our opinion this expense appears excessive for 12 people.

"In addition to the expenditures we were requested to review we also noted the following: Several lunches being served in schools at various meetings. These lunches were brought in by local vendors and were charged to the Teachers Quality Grant. We did not find any expenditures for travel, gas for the boat or any other boat related expense being paid from this grant.

"We recommend the School Committee establish guidelines over expenditures for travel expenses, conferences, lunches and meetings to avoid any future questions regarding allowable costs," Scanlon recommended.

Town Accountant Thomas Caliento's audit findings were along the same line and also recommended that the School Committee designate "two member(s) to review and test such expenditures from each warrant prior to the Committee's signature to release warrant for payment."

Board of Selectmen Chair Enrico "Jack" Villamaino said the board turned Scanlon and Caliento's findings over to the School Committee, "and maybe we could look at a better way of reviewing expenditures. We don't want to affect the credibility of the town when we apply for grants," Villamaino said.

A final audit from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is still pending.

"The DESE is waiting for the final results and then we will reconvene as a School Committee to discuss those findings," School Committee Chair William Fonseca said. "We as a committee felt that it would be appropriate to have the DESE look at the grant expenditures as well. We're waiting for all of the reports to come to have a conversation."

Costa said they expect the DESE audit within the next five to 12 days. He explained that it was the School Committee who reached out to the DESE and requested the audit.

"In July they wrote the letter to State Commissioner Dr. Mitchell Chester and forwarded it through School Committee Attorney Peter Smith. They followed it up on Aug. 4 with a letter to the Board of Selectmen saying that the state department agreed to do [so]," Costa said. "[When this final audit report arrives] that's when everything will be complete. I don't understand why the selectmen are trying to rush. It is politically motivated. It's time that the facts come out."

David LeBlanc from the Audit and Compliance Unit of DESE, which manages and coordinates all financial and compliance audit functions for the department, visited the East Longmeadow school district to conduct an audit.

"It was very thorough because this is a education grant. He wanted to see numerous documents, agendas, the books we used. This was not a paper audit," Costa said. "This auditor wanted to see receipts but there was a plethora of academia that he wanted to see - textbooks, agendas. The things that gave relevance to the expenditures ... It's very important that the School Committee and Board of Selectmen and the greater community wait and see this state audit. That's where the true facts will be known about the education grant."

Costa added, "I will be the first to say that the guidelines for state grant money are completely different and have greater allowability with expenditures than what a town budget's operational money [allows]."

The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to meet with the School Committee to discuss the Scanlon and Caliento audit findings on Aug. 25.