‘Budgeting error’ in 2018 causes WLC shortfall

WILTON – The budget deficit of about $350,000 was caused, according to the superintendent’s office, “by a budgeting error in fiscal year 2018 that was carried through to the FY 2020 budget.”

The shortfall was noticed by new Business Administrator Lizabeth Baker when she started her position this fall. “I started to review this year’s budget and noticed shortfalls in several salary and benefits accounts.” She added, “A lot of research has been done for contracted employees.”

The cause of the error, and why it was not detected earlier, has not been determined, Superintendent Bryan Lane said. “When it is, we will bring the information to the School Board. We will be totally transparent.”

The problem was discussed at some length on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at a joint meeting of the School Board and the Budget Committee.

Salaries and benefits make up 72 percent of the school district budget. A “deficit analysis” was done on Sept. 19, Budget Committee Member Bill Ryan said.

Baker said, “Things went awry in FY 2019. This is not an accurate budget. It was overspent by $210,000 and that was carried forward.”

It was noted that the special education reserve fund has been drawn to $46,000.

The School Board voted to freeze the budget, pay only for contracted obligations – salaries, utilities, etc. – and to notify the town administrators of the situation. No purchases will be made except for safety concerns.

In the meantime, the board will consult with their attorney as to the how to proceed, which could mean a special district meeting.

The board will do a complete analysis of the FY 2020 budget, department by department. They said they “need to create a 2021 realistic budget with sufficient contingencies and build up the capital reserve funds again.”

Department heads will be asked to look at their actual expenditures “and leave out extras.”

Asked what went wrong, why the numbers were so inaccurate, Lane said, “FY18 was an anomaly. It was the first year of a new teachers’ contract. The inaccuracies were continued into 2019.”

For unknown reasons, the costs of kindergarten screening and summer custodial work were not included in the budget.

Asked why the inaccuracies weren’t discovered by the auditors, Lane said the audit is “procedural, not financial.”

Suggestions by the Budget Committee included hiring an outside payroll service, having an outside audit done, providing the Budget Committee with a monthly statement.

Baker said she was creating a salary and benefits spreadsheet, from last year’s appropriations through projections.

Asked if “services promised aren’t delivered, are we open to law suits?” Lane said yes.

Lane was asked “to get all of the figures to be discussed at the next meeting,” a joint session with the budget committee to be hold on Oct. 8.

In an overview of the 2021 budget, Lane said, “We will be looking at all department budgets, and the addition of a second grade teacher.” He noted a 5 percent increase in health insurance, a 2.5 percent raise of non-contract employees, and the addition of a School Resource Officer.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents expressed outrage, bewilderment, and concern.

Lyndeborough resident Charlie Post, a former board member, said, “I’m stunned. The numbers don’t make sense. An apology is due to the towns.”