Mascenic School District

School Board adds $19K to MRI bill

Funds will add hours for training new, permanent employees during transition

GREENVILLE — The Mascenic School District recently agreed to spend an additional $19,000 with Municipal Resources Inc., for contracted services, to include projects and training that will ease a transition between the contractors and permanent staffing.

During its May 19 meeting, the school board agreed to pay the money to continue using contracted services provided by Municipal Resources, Inc. through June 30. The price will include an extension of the services MRI is currently providing, including some projects which will make the transition between the current staff and new hires more seamless.

The school board recently approved $52,396 to continue MRI services from April 1 through June 30. That would have covered wrapping up of the end of the year spending, federal and state grant tracking and reporting, and preparing for the end-of-year audit. On the business side, MRI employees will be moving the upcoming budget onto new budgeting software.

The School Board requested that MRI come back to the board with plan that would include a more comprehensive coverage of the district’s needs. During the May 19 meeting, MRI brought forward a additional plan that would allow for the district to include some additional projects.

Among the options listed were putting together a financial operations manual, implementing training for building administrators and clerical staff in the district’s new budgeting software, doing general ledger reconciliation, and training employees in payroll setup, along with general district support. The additional services were estimated to cost $27,550. However, as the board had delayed making a decision on whether to extend the services, in order to discuss it further at a follow-up meeting, MRI consultants reduced the plan to a cost of $19,000, due to the reduced amount of time between the board’s decision and the end of the school year. The reduction in time meant that MRI would not have time to finish the operations manual, but it would allow for the rest of the work to be completed.

By June 30, the district expects to have paid MRI approximately $154,000 for its services, dating back to November.

Controversy continues

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Mark Krook, the husband of Jenifer Krook, the district’s director of financial services, called once again for the board to offer an explanation to both his family and the public about why his wife was put on paid administrative leave in November. Krook said the decision has not been explained to Jenifer Krook either at the time of her leave, or since.

“If I were all of you, I would be ashamed,” Krook told the board. “You’re still paying an employee. Why not speak to her?”

The board accepted Krook’s comments, but would not comment on the issue.

The Krooks had recently generated a petition seeking a special district meeting to determine the basis for the decision not to renew Krook’s contract as the director of financial services. The petition also asks for a procedural due process for Krook in regards to the ending of her contract, including the right to question Superintendent Ruthann Goguen about the non-renewal of the contract. It also requested that the School Board conduct a hearing to investigate Krook’s and other administrator’s non-renewals, and the expense involved in contracting employees to both cover administrative positions, to make sure they are in the district’s best interests.

Mark Krook also questioned the board on changes that were recommended in a recent internal controls audit done by Melanson Heath and Company. Among the recommendations of the audit was a limiting of line-item transfers, the practice of taking funds from under-budget line items to pay for overages on other line items. The district made 240 such transfers during the last school year, according to the audit, when recommended practices say the district should have none or very few. It also recommended that such transfers should be initiated by department heads, and not the finance director, as had been the district’s practice.

Krook noted that in the past two School Board meetings, the MRI consultant who has been fulfilling the role of Director of Finance has initiated several balance transfers. In a update on the progress of the district in meeting the goals laid out by the audit, it is noted that the district’s policy was revised to prohibit line item transfers and that the upcoming budget would be developed to more accurately reflect the amounts required for each budget item, to reduce the frequency of line item transfers in the future.

School Board members Tara Sousa and Jim Kingston also noted that they would need clearer accounting for those line item transfers, for budgeting purposes for the next year. The board needs to know which line items are over, which are under, and why in both cases in order to judge which budgets may need to be adjusted for the coming year, they said.

Audit update

In a update on the auditor’s internal control report issued by the district on May, the district outlined several steps it had taken to address concerns outlined in the audit completed in November. Several goals have been met, including hiring a part-time human resources coordinator, which was not a position that the district previously had, and hiring a treasurer who was not otherwise affiliated with the district.

The district has also purchased cell phones for employees who are required to have a cell phone for work, to avoid issues identified with employees using personal cell phones for work, or vice-versa. The district is also in the process of developing a School Board Finance Committee to review the budget and give the board recommendations.

Other areas are under review by the district, or in the process of being resolved. The audit noted several internal control issues with several members of the business office being able to sign electronic checks, and issues with overlapping financial duties. The district, through MRI consultants, is outlining new internal business procedures and practices and training administrators on expenditure reporting and purchasing procedures. The district is also in progress of reviewing proper controls of electronic check signing, and having all disbursements reviewed by a second administrator prior to checks being issued.

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