HOLDEN, Mass. — The Wachusett Regional School Committee's Budget and Finance Subcommittee is moving forward on the drafting of a request for proposals (RFP) for the initial phase of a forensic audit, though members of the audit advisory board hope to narrow its focus.
Early in August, the school committee voted to develop an RFP for an independent stage I forensic audit to get to the bottom of errors made by Business Manager Peter Brennan that resulted in an over-expenditure of about $1.2 million for the 2012 fiscal year and an additional $1.4 million shortfall in employee benefits and insurance for 2013. The cost of the first stage audit would be capped at $50,000.
The district's auditors, Powers and Sullivan, completed field work on their own audit last week, and are in the process of compiling a report.
Though School Committee members presented an early draft of the RFP Thursday night, members of the audit advisory board were hesitant to see it go forward as broadly as drafted and repeat work being done by Powers and Sullivan.
Phil Mighdoll, board member from Princeton, said that a lot of what was in the RFP was a "replay of what Powers and Sullivan is doing." He said using the word "forensic" for the audit suggests something criminal was done.
"In my opinion, what we really need to do is something called a management process assessment," he said, which would look at the checks and balances and operations of the school's business office and school committee.
Board member Richard Carr, of Holden, said that while he understood the need to restore trust in the school committee, he said that unless there was something that led the school committee to believe there was criminal activity, such as missing money not as the result of an accounting error, "this is almost a witch hunt."
Brian Quinlivan, of Rutland, said he believed the forensic audit was a waste of money.
"We've decided to spend money on what we already know happened to build trust in the community, so my daughter is going to go without oil paint in her art class so we can build trust for the committee," he said. "If we want to spend money to review our entire accounting process, and come up with one that's going to be more efficient and less likely to make errors, then that's maybe where we should be going."
District human resources director Susan Sullivan said the Massachusetts Association Of School Business Officials has offered to do a review of the district's controls and procedures.
Audit School Committee member Julie Kelley said the community has asked loudly and strongly for a forensic audit and that the first stage would be directed at "the problems as we know them," with the findings to determine if a next phase would be necessary.
Committee member Michelle Sciabarassi, of Princeton, emphasized the motivation was to get to the absolute truth of the matter, have everyone understand it, and to make changes.
"We're all responsible for this budget," she said. "It's an $80 million investment, and I think $50,000 to clear the air is a very small amount."
To further guide the focus of the RFP, the subcommittee agreed to reconvene for a presentation of Powers and Sullivan's report and look at an RFP used by the Nashoba School District when it conducted a forensic audit 12 years ago.