WESTBROOK — Frustrated city officials left a school Finance Committee meeting last week with confusion and concern about the actual size of the School Department’s budget deficit and how it will be remedied.

Director of Operations Dean Flanagin talks about the school’s corrective actions to avoid accumulating more deficit. Next to him is Jodie Mezzanotte, assistant superintendent. Chance Viles / American Journal

It was the second attempt by School Department Director of Operations Dean Flanagin and the school Finance Committee to explain the shortfall, which was revealed Feb. 3 in a city audit.

Flanagin on Feb. 12 presented balances for each account with a deficit, showing the deficit has been lowered to roughly $1.4 million from the $3.5 million shown in the audit. A large chunk of Flanagin’s numbers, however, did not match city audit numbers, including the deficit as a whole. Flanigan’s balance sheet that showed the initial deficit to be $3.2 million. In addition, not all of the funds the school says it has on hand show up in the city’s accounts.

The city requested another balance sheet be presented with more clarity and numbers that match those the city has on record.

“The city does not show that a lot of this (money) has been received. These numbers don’t check out, and it’s concerning how confusing this is,” Mayor Mike Foley said at the meeting.

“I am confused, my finance team is confused and the public is confused and it doesn’t seem like we are coming out of the confusion after these meetings,”  Foley said.

Resident Christine Latini said at the full School Committee meeting that followed the finance committee’s meeting that she was frustrated with a lack of answers from the School Department, and she called for a reorganization of the finance department and the use of a public accountant.

“For the past six weeks, I’ve attended these meetings. I’ve read and listened, and I understand the circumstances of the (billing), but these were noted in previous audits,” Latini said.

“I am concerned, and these meetings haven’t effectively addressed the school’s shortcomings, which aren’t entirely financial,” Latini said.

Flanagin also presented a plan to stop expenses from accounts with deficits.  He also said some $80,000 in non-essential expenses that had been planned will not be made. Other expenses, such as a clinical social worker’s salary and other services, will be moved from the Medicaid fund to the general fund.

The plan did not address how the School Department will eliminate the existing accumulated deficit.

“This is a good start to stop the bleeding, but this needs to also address the deficits that have grown in the past two years,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said at the finance meeting.

Flanagin said he will again meet with City Finance Director Suzanne Knight to work on matching numbers and a clear presentation of the remaining deficit.

“As a finance committee, we are working on a plan to present to (Mayor Foley) and the City Council,” member Mary Hall said.

The deficit was caused by over-expenditures that were the result of not billing or billing late for Medicaid reimbursements, an oversight compounded by a staff shortage throughout the year, Superintendent Peter Lancia has said.

Hall hopes to work out a solution to the deficit and exact numbers by the time the school budget is presented to the finance committee, which is set for March 4.



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