School Committee on Reported $1M in Encumbrances: ‘Who Authorized These Things?’

Haverhill School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan. (WHAV News file photograph)

Haverhill School Committee member Member Gail M. Sullivan. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Members of Haverhill’s School Committee dug into the preliminary outside financial review issued by Hopkinton’s Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials at Thursday’s meeting, and while the district was praised in several areas, there is still work to be done.

While longtime School Committeeman Scott W. Wood Jr. said the report didn’t contain anything “earth-shattering” that he hadn’t heard previously—such as best practices tied to personnel and contract issues with bus services, for example—others on the Committee were taken aback at the mention of $1 million in reported encumbrances.

Member Gail M. Sullivan was among the first to raise concern over the planned expenditures—especially after the city’s Business Manager Brian O’Connell deemed the school department’s budget to be in solid shape. Sullivan called the situation a “travesty.”

“That’s one of our biggest responsibilities is the budget and to prioritize,” she said. “I feel like by having a million dollars left at the end and in 15 days, coming up with a million dollars of encumbrances that the School Committee didn’t have any say about is a travesty of budget-making.”

Speaking to O’Connell partly in jest, Fiorentini argued that the department’s goal should be to prioritize students—not spending. “If you were a department head that worked for me, I’d fire you,” said Fiorentini, as some on the board chuckled.

“You don’t have to have this wild (notion of) ‘We have to spend every cent.’ That’s not the goal of the school department,” Fiorentini told O’Connell. “The school department’s goal should be to educate children and plan for tomorrow.”

Attorney Paul A. Magliocchetti was more concerned with the lack of transparency, asking O’Connell “Who authorizes these things?” At the Vice Chairman’s request, a follow-up discussion on the budget concerns raised Thursday will take place at the next meeting. After all, Magliocchetti said, city taxpayers deserve to be kept in the loop.

“This is all about the taxpayers and about transparency,” the attorney said. “They have a right to know where their tax dollars are going and that’s really what this is about.

The review was conducted by former Attleboro School Superintendent Joel H. Lovering, Springfield Schools Financial Data Administrator and former city Budget Director John A. Manzi and Reading Public Schools Director of Finance & Operations Mary C. Delai.