Opposing Lindberg, school board might share town's auditor

Opposing Lindberg, school board might share town's auditor

'I don't care who said what. Let's grow up.' - Member George Hemond

NORTH SMITHFIELD - Supt. Stephen Lindberg provided extensive paperwork to prove why the School Department should seek a separate auditing firm from the municipality for fiscal 2014, despite the stated recommendation of the Town Council.

But in a somewhat uncommon display of independence, members of the School Committee overruled him, defeating the idea 3-2, and opting instead to try cooperating with the town.

Lindberg had urged members to advertise separately for a new auditor.

"I think you'd be wise in starting the process to protect your interest on the School Committee side," he said.

"When we talk about working together, there was ample opportunity to do so and that simply never happened."

The same tense rhetoric that dominated the budget process over the past year prevailed throughout the first half of the committee's regular meeting this week.

The Budget Committee, a volunteer group assembled by the council to help examine town spending, had recommended several changes to the School Department's financial operations. Those changes included the switch to a single auditor to review town and school finances, and an increase in reporting of revenue from funds such as Medicaid, and fees collected through rental of athletic fields.

Currently, the department retains those fees and then spends them as needed on facilities, without knowledge or input from the council.

Committee Chairman Robert Lafleur said he sees no reason for the school board to change that process.

"I don't think we have an obligation to go before the Town Council every time we want to spend a dollar on trash containers, or needed signs at the athletic complex," he said.

Committee member William Connell, who currently serves as the committee's liaison to the council, suggested explaining their position on the facilities account to the town board, but Lafleur disagreed.

"As long as we're covered by law and able to use such funds as needed, I don't see a reason to go before them," he answered.

Lindberg and Lafleur were prepared to take a similar approach to the town's recommendation that the two bodies pursue a single auditing firm. North Smithfield is the only municipality in the state that hires two separate firms to examine school and town finances, and the council voted to ask the committee to collaborate on a single request for proposals for the upcoming contract.

In a July 12 letter from the state Auditor General's Office, Auditor General Dennis Hoyle asked Lindberg and Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton to submit a joint request for 2014.

"We believe it will be more cost effective for one auditing firm to perform the audit of both the town and School Department," Hoyle wrote.

"I recommend the committee vote to continue the pursuit of auditing services for the School Department," Lindberg said. "Mrs. Marcotte provided great detail attached to the memo the reason why. It's very well known that there's no legal requirement to get a single audit."

Connell was the first to object.

"I would like to see us discuss this issue with the council," he said.

School Committee member George Hemond agreed.

"I feel very much the same and suggest that the best positive action is to approach the Town Council or the municipal side and say 'let's work together to develop a joint RFP.' Let's get some fresh air in the room," he said. "Can we put our gun in the holster for a month?"

Lindberg seemed to take offense to the phrasing.

"My gun was never out. Guns were pointed at my head and at your head telling you what you were doing was against the law."

Hemond replied "I don't care who said what. Let's grow up."

With Lafleur and Lindberg speaking over Hemond, Vice Committee Chairperson Christine Bonas jumped in.

"I agree with Mr. Hemond. I think at least the courtesy of saying to the Council or whomever 'it is our intention within one month to go forward with an RFP - would you like to discuss it before we move forward?' I think this sends a bad message. I think it says that we're going to do what we want to do regardless of what their opinion is."

Budget Committee head Michael Clifford attended the meeting and asked if the school board had read the recommendation of the Auditor General. His input nearly derailed the discussion.

"The School Department, like the Police Department, like the Animal Shelter is a department of the town," said Clifford.

Lafleur responded "Respectfully, I disagree with that because there's no other department within the municipality that is governed separate statute, which is Title 16. Regardless of what the town wants, if we want to, we can go forward with an audit,"

Ultimately, however, Lafleur was overruled,

Members vote 3-2 to delay action for a month, with Lafleur and member Donna J. Narodowy voting in the minority.

"Let's be polite and professional and say there's an opportunity," said Hemond of the reasons for his decision. "Let's get together."

Comments

It appears someone from the schools finally injected some reason in the process and is willing to take a collaborative stance. I applaud the effort and commitment to supporting a step into the future for this Town. Just maybe the two individuals who have waged the fiercest battle to keep School Department segregation alive will now begin to see some light and join the new thinking. If that happens they could have a great deal to contribute. I don't understand why one would refuse to see the benefits of more openness. By initiating a new proactive and collaborative relationship with other Town officials the result can only be greater clarity, less divisiveness, a lifting of the cloud of accusation and open accountability on the part of all parties. Actions by the School Committee seem to indicate a great first step has been taken. Thank you on behalf of all Town constituents.