School Committee Quizzes Administrators Over Financial Report

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

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

Several Haverhill school administrators Thursday night were quizzed by the School Committee over the results of a financial operations review.

Members of the committee inquired these administrators over findings on maintenance and budget proceedings from the review provided by Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials of Hopkinton.

Committee member Richard J. Rosa asked Facilities Supervisor Heather Forgione about how her department plans to track the various repairs that are needed throughout the district and their costs, such as leaking roofs, boiler repairs, and kitchen upgrades. Forgione said she has been working with Business Manager Brian O’Connell to form a plan and project forward on what repairs will be needed in the future.  However, she also said a plan like this has not been attempted before.

“I don’t think there’s ever been, to my knowledge, kind of a comprehensive pulling together of all that information. So, it’s going to be a little daunting, but we’re hoping, gradually, over the next couple of months, to be able to pull all that information together to then start from scratch with that kind of five, 10, even 15-year projection,” Forgione said.

Committee member Gail M. Sullivan was concerned over learning that $1 million was left over from this year’s budget proceedings. Sullivan asked O’Connell why this was, as she had originally had been told they would have only $150,000 left over and felt much could have been done with the $1 million.

“Because if the School Committee had known that it was going to be a million dollars, there’s certainly many things we could have done. We could have provided extended learning in the summer. There are many things we could have done with a million dollars,” Sullivan said.

O’Connell argued he was doing everything he could to avoid a deficit for the school district, as he had promised when he was sworn into the position. He said he had warned teachers and staff during budget proceedings that their requests may be denied based on available funding. He then suggested the School Committee be more closely involved during budget proceedings in the future.

While committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. could not attend the meeting, he issued a statement defending O’Connell and the additional surplus that Sullivan mentioned, saying that “Mr. O’Connell has been a great business manager. Since he has been here, the district has not gone into deficit because of his management. Attorney O’Connell did what every business manager in the Commonwealth does at the end of the year, he prepaid for purchases in the next fiscal year.”

Wood also criticized the committee for how they treated O’Connell, describing it as a “witch hunt” and saying that those who were unaware of the $1 million were not paying attention to O’Connell.  Wood said, “any school committee member that claims that they did not know we anticipated a budget surplus is either lying or didn’t pay attention at the budget hearings when attorney O’Connell informed us all there would be a surplus he would use to prepay expenses in the next year.”