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Mascenic

District needs to hire 12 to fill staff vacancies

Swath of contract non-renewals at heart of personnel cuts

NEW IPSWICH — The Mascenic School District has several Title I teachers or specialists, as well as staffers in multiple business office positions, who will not be returning in the coming school year.

There are currently a dozen positions listed on School Spring, an education employment listing site for the district, including a listing for the director of information technology, a district business manager, a part-ime computer integrationist for the elementary school, a media specialist for the middle school, five positions for Title I teachers, a long-term substitute position for a school psychologist, a speech language pathologist or speech language assistant, and a career and transition life skills special education teacher at the high school.

A staff member whose contract was not renewed this year confirmed that the positions for the Title I department and speech and language position were the result of non-renewals of current teachers. The staff member asked not to be named for fear of professional repercussions.

Protests have come on behalf of the district’s business administrator, Jenifer Krook, whose position was not renewed for the coming year. Krook was placed on paid administrative leave at the Nov. 7, following the release of an internal controls audit.

Krook’s supporters have asked for a more complete explanation from the district on the reason for her dismissal. The school district has declined to comment on the matter, but Krook’s husband, Mark Krook, was the author of a recent petition asking for a public hearing process 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 administrators’ non-renewals, and the expense involved in hiring contract employees to cover administrative positions. The School Board declined to accept the petition, noting that they would need five percent of district voters to sign such a petition for it to be valid, and even then, may not be able to accede to the demands, because of the personnel issues involved.

Updated MRI Internal Controls report

Following the release of an initial internal controls audit in October, which identified several issues in the district, the district hired Municipal Resources Inc. to provide business administrator services, technology services and to conduct an internal investigation of some of the issues raised in the internal controls audit conducted last October. MRI based its investigation on that report, as well as yearly audits done over the past three years and correspondence between the audit company and Jenifer Krook, according to the company’s investigation report.

MRI and the district agreed, according to the report, that there were several issues raised by past audits. Among them were a lack of effective entity-level controls, inferior oversight of the district’s finances, waste of public resources, approval of inappropriate grant expenditures, and an inordinate number of budget line transfers.

The report, which was posted on the district’s website earlier this week, details deficiencies identified in three particular areas: The district’s IT department, business and financial department and issues with district Title I grants. The report also details some of the steps the district has already taken to resolve the identified issues.

IT problems

One of the listed positions, that of director of technology, has already been filled by the district, according to the report, and the person hired will begin work on July 1.

Among the issues with the district’s technology department and hardware identified were that no backups had been performed for district systems, the IT staff had limited knowledge in district systems and needed training, IT staff salaries were inconsistent, employees were not required to sign a confidentiality agreement, and the website was built on a problematic open-source system.

Approximately $114,000 worth of equipment is obsolete, either being out-of-warranty, beyond replacement date or otherwise problematic, according to the report.

In addressing some of the IT issues raised by the internal controls report, the district has allocated $25,000 to address the most egregious issues, and Goguen has been working with an MRI consultant to prioritize concerns and put systems in place to solve them.

Business/financial concerns

There were also multiple deficiencies noted in the business office and with the district’s financial processes, including inappropriate management of building aid projects dating back several years, inappropriate payment of longevity increases prior to qualifying dates, a lack of understanding of the budgeting software among the staff, a lack of documentation for payroll expenditures, lack of review for pay rates, and at least one place where two positions overlapped, and a lack of evidence that all parties were correctly following the bidding process laid out by the school board in its bidding policy.

The district is in the midst of several steps to rectify some of the deficiencies identified, including seeking a new full-time business administrator. Goguen has directed all employees to follow the School Board bidding policy, and the MRI consultants have revamped the day-to-day operations processes to ensure that all aspects of the financial integrity of the district are intact. Training for building administrators will occur during the summer of 2014, and staff contracts are all being reviewed.

Title I grants

According to MRI’s report, during the investigation, the company found several issues with how funds from grants to fund the district’s Title I program have been used. Among the issues identified were overspending of accounts, purchasing items prior to board approval through purchase orders, untimely reimbursement applications and discrepancies between the Department of Education’s accounts and the Mascenic ledger when it came to Title I grants.

Some of the expenditures of the Title I grants have been found by MRI to be excessive, inappropriate or questionable. The special education coordinator position has been funded up to this point by an IDEA grant, which is not allowable under the terms of the grant, according to the report, and the position is intended to be funded through the district budget. Goguen is taking steps to remedy that situation for the 2015 year, according to the report.

Other purchases made with the Title I grant, which is meant to serve Title I students, have been questionable, said the report, including purchases made for the Title I office, such as a refrigerator, coffee maker, furniture and air conditioners. Some technology purchases, including two smart boards, one in the library and another installed in a non-Title I classroom, and purchasing WiFi access points at Highbridge Hill Elementary School, do not solely benefit Title I students, as the grants intended.

There is also a lack of clarity in how students are identified as needing Title I services, according to the report, with some entering the program with a teacher recommendation or by team decision, without a data-based reasoning, which could result in students requiring services not getting them, or including students who are not really in need of the services. Some of the documentation supporting the Title I program, including the parent’s right-to-know documents, complaint process, and information about the parent involvement policy are not available online as required. The district also does not have a parent involvement policy in place for each individual school, as is required, and do not have an involved parents group that meets at least once a year, which is a grant requirement.

In response to the findings and deficiencies identified in previous reports, the district contracted an MRI grant specialist, who has been re-write all grants to ensure an appropriate application, scrutinize existing grants to ensure the grants follow N.H. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Education guidelines.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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