Former School Business Manager Speaks Out
By: Alex Scofield
Former Bourne schools’ business manager Peter O. Simpson said that those questioning what led to the more than $300,000 deficit in the Bourne School District’s budget in Fiscal Year 2009 need look no further than to an audit conducted of the school’s finances during the previous year.
The audit, which was done by Sullivan, Rogers and Co. of Burlington in Fiscal Year 2008, indicated that there were “significant deficiencies” in how the school district handled a federal grant allotted to the town for educating students from the Massachusetts Military Reservation.
Mr. Simpson said that the grant, officially known as P.L. 874, is different from traditional grants, like Title One, because it is commingled with the town’s appropriation to the schools, rather than held in a separate, revolving account.
“The P.L. 874 grant nailed it,” he said. “And I don’t have a fingerprint on that.”
In a financial management statement sent to the schools on August 10, Mr. Simpson wrote that a significant portion of the deficit could be attributed to the district’s handling of the $243,000 grant, which he was not able to oversee.
“I am not consulted about the expenses associated with the P.L. 874 grant; all the decisions and entries are conducted by the Town of Bourne Finance Director,” he wrote. “I do not have any input or control of the grant.”
In an interview with the Enterprise this week, Mr. Simpson said he was not sure exactly what went wrong with the P.L. 874 spending, as he did not oversee it, but he said the town should have seen a problem coming after the Sullivan, Rogers and Co. audit.
“It’s a waste of money,” Mr. Simpson said in regard to $50,000 financial review the town has called for in response to the current deficit.
“It really shocks me [that they’ve called for this financial review],” he said. “It makes it seem as if they have not read the [Sullivan, Rogers and Co. audit], and it’s the most important document in the town right now.”
Both Town Finance Director Linda M. Marzelli and Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino said they are awaiting the results of the latest financial review, which is also being conducted by Sullivan, Rogers and Co., before they make any further statements about the school’s financial situation.
Mr. Simpson, himself, had remained silent for the last two months, choosing finally to speak out this week by sending an e-mail to various members of the local media, which contained his financial management statement to the town.
He said he chose to speak out in order to defend his reputation, which he said has been “utterly destroyed” since the deficit was announced, and to shed light on some of the overall deficiencies in the school’s accounting practices.
Mr. Simpson said that purchase orders were frequently made without his knowledge and that he was not privy to information regarding the contracts of consultants and instructional support personnel, all of which made it more difficult for him to get a firm grasp on the school’s financial situation.
According to Mr. Simpson, purchase orders adding up to thousands of dollars were made out in Fiscal Year 2009 after a spending freeze was put in place.
Purchase orders can be made by Superintendent Edmond W. LaFleur, Assistant Superintendent Joyce G. Harrington, or Mr. Simpson.
Mr. LaFleur denied those accusations.
“Any purchase orders that were approved after the freeze were either required by contract, grants or instances of emergency,” Mr. LaFleur said. “At a meeting of the budget subcommittee in the spring, Mr. Simpson complimented the administrators for adhering to the budget freeze. In July, he sent an email to administrators and central office staff thanking them for their diligence and stating that ‘the FY2009 budget is balanced.’”
Mr. Simpson admitted that he had also made serious mistakes in his handling of the school’s financial situation, including signing lists of purchase orders, called warrants, that he considered “questionable.”
He said he “should have been more forceful” in protesting expenses that showed up on spending warrants that he considered wasteful.
Mr. Simpson said there were frequently times when expenses would be listed on warrants that he did not approve of, but would still sign them, as stopping a warrant process will halt payments to every item on the warrant, even those he considered legitimate.
“The first time I saw this happening I should have marched into Mr. LaFleur’s office and said ‘this is not working,’ ” he said. “That’s one area where I will share some blame.”
Mr. Simpson’s predecessor, Johannes H. Baumhauer, who currently works for the Nauset Public School System, said that his relationship with both the superintendent and the school committee was an open one.
He said that there was not an institutional practice of signing purchase orders outside of the business administrator’s purview.
“We always worked well together,” Mr. Baumhauer said. “The information I needed was always readily available. I had access to basically everything.”
School Committee Chairman Richard A. Lavoie said that Mr. Simpson should have had access to any information he needed, as well.
“We asked him on numerous occasions if he needed any more information, and he said ‘no,’ ” Mr. Lavoie said. “We asked him at numerous subcommittee meetings if the data he had was up-to-date and accounted for and he assured us that it was.”
Mr. Lavoie also contested Mr. Simpson’s claim that the school committee has used him as its scapegoat.
“We have not parceled out the blame other than to say the business manager was responsible for oversight of the finances, and when that didn’t happen the way it should have, we took the appropriate action,” he said.
For his part, Mr. LaFleur said he accepts his portion of the blame for the FY09 deficit, and has chosen, on his own accord, to give up his raise for this fiscal year.
Mr. Simpson said he was concerned, though, that the school committee had not called him to any of their meetings regarding the budget over the last two months.
“I would gladly go before the school committee or the board of selectmen to discuss this,” he said.
Mr. Simpson suffered a head injury in a fall down the stairs inside the school administration building during the same week the deficit was discovered. He said the fall was a result of exhaustion, after working 70-hour weeks throughout the summer.
He has not returned to discuss the budget with town officials since the fall, but he is ready to now.
Mr. Simpson said that if selectmen or the school committee discovered through conversations with him that he was responsible for the deficit or had erred seriously in his service to the district, he would accept that.
“I’m not afraid of the truth,” he said. “And if the truth turns out to be that I made mistakes, then I’ll say it.”
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