Windham Northeast school board to hire special auditor for payroll issues

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WESTMINSTER — The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union School Board has agreed to conduct an audit to unravel the payroll problems that have been plaguing the school district for months.

The board voted unanimously to set up a committee to establish the outlines for the audit during a special meeting last week.

Board member Jack Bryar of Grafton said a so-called forensic audit, a term some people had been suggesting, would be too restrictive for all the questions the school board and its employees have.

Teachers and board members suggested conducting an audit last month as a means of insuring that all problems were uncovered and addressed.

Teachers and staff at the Bellows Falls area schools have complained that deductions were handled erroneously, and that many if not all deposits in teachers' 403b tax-free savings accounts were not made for several months, while others said health insurance and health insurance savings accounts also had serious problems.

Other teachers and staff said they had not yet been paid for special projects they completed, or conversely, had been overpaid.

As a result, the teachers and staff wondered whether their W2 tax forms would be accurate and whether they would have to refile their taxes once the Ameritrade 403b account problems were resolved.

The school board has pledged to pay for any interest their employees may have lost for those months the deposits were not made.

Many of the payroll problems were blamed on the state's new statewide accounting system, eFinance-Plus, which the WNESU district adopted about 18 months ago.

Board member Deborah Wright of Rockingham said the only way to regain the trust and support of the staff and the community is to conduct an audit and do it quickly.

"I think the only way is to have an audit," said Wright, noting it would be separate from the annual financial audit the board conducts.

"It's not the board's job to do the investigating," said David Clark of Westminster, chairman of the WNESU board, who suggested establishing a committee to prepare for the audit..

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Wright said she felt the audit should be conducted "as quickly as possible."

The committee, Clark said, would determine who could do such an audit, what its parameters and cost would be, and how quickly it could be done.

Board member Jessa Westclark of Grafton suggested the audit committee also add "business practices" to the mission of the committee.

Wright, Bryar, Westclark and Priscilla Lambert of Rockingham will serve on the "Business Practice Analysis and Audit Committee."

At the same time as the audit, Superintendent Christopher Pratt said he expects a report at the end of the week from Marilyn Frederick, the retired business manager for the Lamoille North Supervisory Union in Hyde Park. Frederick has been working in the business office for about two weeks. Pratt said Frederick's study would determine "how we got to where we are."

"She's looking at it from different levels," he said, not just the school district's well-documented problems with eFinance Plus, the state-mandated school finance software.

Clark and Pratt both said a special meeting would be held once Frederick's report comes out.

Several school district employees told the board there are still problems with the payroll system, and this time, they said, they were overpaid.

A smaller contingent of teachers and staff from earlier meetings attended the special meeting, held at the Bellows Falls Union High School, but they didn't raise questions until the end of the meeting when the chairman wanted to adjourn into closed door session to discuss Pratt's ongoing evaluation, among other confidential matters.

But a majority of the board overruled him on a 4-2 vote, saying they needed to hear from the teachers and staff.

At that point, several questions were raised about the progress the board and Pratt were making to resolve the payroll problems.

Clark later apologized for his "inadvertently rude behavior."

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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