HOLDEN, Mass. — The Holden Board of Selectmen is continuing its search for answers for the $2.7 million in accounting errors made by the former Wachusett Regional School District business manager.
The School Committee recently voted to terminate the contract of Business Manager Peter Brennan after it was reported that an error in the fiscal year 2012 budget led to an over-expenditure of $1.2 million and an additional $1.5 million shortfall in employee benefits and insurance for FY13.
The cause of the error was found to be the result of internal spreadsheets used by the business manager to monitor budgetary spending, which were not routinely compared and reconciled to the MUNIS system.
Monday night, the board voted unanimously to support a request to the district for both MUNIS system reports for all funds and expenditures and revenue acccounts for all periods within FY12, as well as copies of the spreadsheets that Brennan used, which were furnished to the school committee.
"These are the 'second books' that people are commenting on," Selectman Anthony Renzoni said.
"As a member town and contributing 54 percent of our tax revenues, I have some serious problems with where this money is goingm" he added. "I want to know because I don't know."
Renzoni also pointed out the options the board has in terms of initiating an audit by the state, including requesting the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to conduct their own audit on the district. The board could also make a request the State Auditor's office.
In an effort to get to the bottom of the errors, last week the Wachusett Regional School District's School Committtee voted 17-1 to develop an RFP for an independent stage I forensic audit, capping the cost at $50,000.
"If we have $50,000 to put a teacher back on the books with, I don't know why we're spending it on an audit," Renzoni said. "I hate to see them spending money hiring an auditor when these state departments exist for this reason."
The board requested that town counsel look further into this course of action.
The school committee initially estimated the cost of a full forensic audit from Fiscal Year 2011 to present at potentially $300,000, but in light of the severe educational reductions faced last week, opted instead to pursue an audit in phases.
"We've heard from several auditing firms already who recommended a stepped approach to see where the issues lie," said School Committe Chairman Duncan Leith. "If there are any issues that should be further investigated, they would be."
Leith said the school committee will move forward "until we get all the answers that we need."
"No doubt there's been some serious mistakes made in our budgeting process, and one thing that an audit will do is to help us set up better controls so you won't see stuff like this happen again," Leith said. "It's the public's money, we regret the situation we're in. We have a lot of good people on this committee and a lot of good people who are working in the school district who will make sure we take this seriously. We cannot have this go on and we shouldn't have had it happen in the first place, so I want to apologize for that."
Leith said that the district's own auditor, Powers and Sullivan, will be coming in next Monday. He also said they would not be considered to take on the independent audit.