$2.7M snafu irks district towns; School superintendent a no-show; officials challenge Leith.


Byline: Melissa McKeon

HOLDEN - An absent Wachusett Regional School District administration left school committee members on the hot seat with the five-town region's boards of selectmen and finance committees about this summer's revelation of $2.7 million in mistakes, raising the prospect of fragmenting the district.

School committee Chairman Duncan Leith bore the brunt of the ire from town representatives, especially over the issue of how such mistakes went unnoticed and where the money to cover them came from.

But the district's response to cover those is also under fire, this time from the state. Mr. Leith said the district received a response from the state Department of Revenue that line-item transfers in August to cover shortfalls in the previous fiscal year's budget, which ended June 30, took place too late and would not be allowed, leaving fiscal 2012 in the red.

The budget transfers that covered the $2.7 million in mistakes were particularly galling to Paxton Selectman John Malone, after Paxton asked during the last budget year to have the district budget cut by $3 million and was told it couldn't be done.

"Your problem, you find $3 million; our problem, there was no way you were going to do it," Mr. Malone said, noting that his town had to face layoffs, reduced staff hours and closing of some town departments.

Holden Board of

Selectmen Chairman Anthony Renzoni and Rutland Selectman Sheila Dibb challenged Mr. Leith on the constant threat of cutting teachers when any budget cuts are requested by the district's towns.

Municipal representatives also challenged Mr. Leith on the district's audit, and the work of the district administration's business office to help in the budget crisis this summer.

"As a taxpayer and a person who had four children go through the system, I expect those people to do that all the time," said Holden Selectman Kenneth Lipka. "I expect them to work hard, because I work hard every day, too."

Several Finance Committee members and selectmen said they'd like to see the district try to stay inside the constraints of Proposition 2 -1/2 that the towns must use to govern increases in their budgets.

The district is presently undergoing its five-year review of the regional agreement. Holden Selectman James...

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