Business manager responds to accusations
The VillageSoup on Jan. 13, published online then in print Jan. 16, the text of a speech attacking me given by Brian Messing at the school board meeting Jan. 9. In a public meeting, Mr. Messing called me a liar, questioned my competency as business manager for Regional School Unit 13, and called for me to be fired.
The board chairman allowed this defamatory verbal assault on me, even though sound practices would never allow any school employee to be personally attacked in a public forum without notice or any opportunity to defend himself.
Since Mr. Messing clearly had direct access to information that was not public, which apparently the superintendent provided to him, it is clear this was a deliberate attempt to defame me publicly, damage my reputation, and cost me my employment despite the fact I hold a contract that was just renewed through June 30, 2015. Thus although I would not normally condone public discussion of such matters, I want to set the record straight on a few things.
Mr. Messing’s primary attacks on me were related to the food service and insurance payments. He identified problems with these and laid all the blame at my feet. I’m not afraid to take responsibility for my share of any errors. I don’t want there to be any errors, any more than anyone else does. But Mr. Messing’s attacks on me are both inaccurate and unfair.
Mr. Messing states the auditors have had to spend weeks beyond their regular auditing time because of all the errors they were finding, again apparently based on insider information fed to him. But I was told by the lead auditor on Oct. 10 that he agreed completely with my estimated fund balance for FY 2013 and that they were done with just a day at most of clean-up. On Oct. 13, I notified the board of my concern the budget approved by the voters was being overspent due to added positions not budgeted for. This is the very kind of thing that has resulted in serious budget problems in other school units. Since that notification, I have had my authority stripped and been ousted from my position. The auditors have spent upwards of 15 to 20 additional days auditing and billing the RSU. My budget concerns remain.
Mr. Messing is right that the food service program has not sustained itself for years, which is a fact well-known to him and the superintendent and on which I and others had worked looking for solutions. I supported the suggestion of building in an annual appropriation to help reduce the operating deficit in that account, which was and still is being done. He falsely accused me of not following instructions of the board to carry that out and lying about the deficit. The charge is ridiculous. Why on earth would I do that when I supported the effort to bring down the accumulated deficit? This is not an unusual problem. Many school units struggle to balance their food service accounts. He failed to note, for example, the SAD 5 programs was it self running in the red and that debt was paid off as part of the consolation. He talks in generalities of a $350,000 to $400,000 deficit. The actual number is slightly less at $319,147. This is not acceptable but a solution is being pursued, a solution I supported.
Mr. Messing notes that last year’s budget was overspent. His comment was a direct quote from the draft audit that he as an individual resident had no right to see. And he blames all this on me. However, the June 30, 2013, financials I distributed to the School Board Finance Committee for its Aug. 22, 2013, meeting had the budget under spent by $620,946. I agree this was off and accept my fair share of responsibility for it. It happened we now know because of an under reporting of BC/BS and Dental insurance payments made with respect to employees who received no paychecks during the summer months. The error understated the June 30, 2013, expenses by slightly less than $300,000 — still leaving the budget $320,000 under spent.
The insurance reporting error happened because of an accounting glitch in our payroll and accounts software programs that went back to the consolidation and which we and the auditors have been trying to resolve. This problem showed up in earlier audits and was adjusted by accounting entries to reconcile the figures, but that did not solve the problem. Only last fall, after the auditors spent four days studying the problem with our staff, was it determined why this had been happening. Of course I agree this problem needed to be fixed. I had worked on it and had asked for the auditor’s help or recommendations. But if I am incompetent as Mr. Messing says because of a problem it took an experienced auditor four solid days to figure out with my staff, then so be it.
Mr. Messing inaccurately said there was a fund balance of only $700,000 to $800,000 for FY 13, again apparently relying on the nonpublic draft audit he somehow obtained. The actual audit shows a fund balance of $1,207,210.
As for people who have voiced their support in me, it has been very humbling and I’d like to think my transparency, honesty and accountability is what they support. I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I place my trust in the board to be fair to judge whether they consider me incompetent after they listen to more than one side of this story. I am willing to take responsibility when it is due and am ready willing and able to complete my contract with RSU 13 with the same dedication and diligence I have always tried to bring to the job.
Although Mr. Messing has rendered many years of service to the district, I find I simply have to disagree with him on his main contentions.
Scott Vaitones is the business manager for RSU 13, which includes schools in Rockland, Owls Head, South Thomaston, Thomaston, Cushing and St. George.