Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Dr. M Peter Wright told board members Twin Valley ended the year with a $187,000 fund balance. “That makes us pretty solid,” he said.
But board member Tom Manton said it was crucial that taxpayers weren’t under the impression that the surplus was the result of cuts or savings that could have been anticipated before the budget was passed by voters. “We didn’t necessarily save $187,000 this year,” he said. “The fund balance rolls over. It’s not like we budgeted $187,000 more than we needed.”
At least $33,000 of the fund balance is in unexpected special education revenue. “That’s not something we can count on year to year,” Manton said. “That’s a floating decimal.”
The board’s fiscal officer, Dennis Richter, said he had some concerns about a few of the bills the board was asked to approve. One of the items that caught Richter’s attention was an invoice for kitchen equipment. “I didn’t realize we were putting so much money into the renovations,” he said. “There are invoices for scales, worktables, stockpots… Were we aware of this?”
Board member Jack Kincella said the budget for the improvements had been discussed at a board meeting and district food service director Lonny Paige was given the go-ahead to make the changes at the cafeteria. “Lonny is buying all that at a reduced rate,” Kincella said. “He found the tables and everything, used, at a discount.”
Richter said he was also concerned about bills for various items of computer equipment. Kinsella, who is Whitingham’s fiscal officer, echoed Richter’s concerns, and asked school administrators if the board could be informed of technology purchases before they’re made. “It gets to be thousands and thousands of dollars,” he said. “Do we get a discount from these guys (CDW) or do we just always buy from them?”
Kincella has also raised similar concerns with the Whitingham board, pressing administrators to search for the lowest prices or negotiate terms for the purchase of school supplies. “Are we getting anything from them? Service? Support?” he asked.
Wright said the purchases had been budgeted, and the budget was approved. “Yeah, but if I have $10 it doesn’t mean I have to spend $10.” Board member Leitha Cipriano cautioned the board against “micromanagement.” “We worked on a budget for these folks,” she said. “If they’re spending it, I don’t think it’s our job to be managing each line item. We typically don’t get involved unless something goes over a line item.”
Kincella said there are certain expenditures he wants to know more about. “I want to have an idea what we’re planning on spending, that’s all,” he said. Manton noted that the board planned to establish a technology committee, and he suggested that the board might want to wait until the committee’s work was underway before they started making recommendations on computer purchases.
“Hopefully the tech committee will shine a light on this for us,” he said. “It’s scattershot now. We have PCs, we have Macs. We ought to let the tech committee dig into then pursue the economies.”
But Richter said it was never too early to start looking for ways to save money on the purchases the school was scheduled to make. “I hope we do some negotiating,” he said, “but a lot of it looks like we don’t do any negotiating. There was a $7,000 bill in here (pointing at the pile of invoices) that didn’t look like there were any negotiations. We paid standard prices for Apple computers.”
“Well, maybe Apple doesn’t have much wiggle room,” suggested Wright.
“Sure they do,” said Richter.