Conrad to review accounts monthly
NASHUA – The city’s incoming superintendent wants to re-establish the process of briefing the Board of Education with monthly financial reports as early as September.
At a meeting Tuesday night, Conrad, who was the school district’s business administrator prior to leaving for Bedford in 2006, showed members of the board’s finance committee the type of monthly report he distributed when he worked in Nashua.
The June 2006 report showed how much of each account was used up to that point in the year and also reflected any transfers made that month that required reporting to the board.
Conrad said some type of consistent financial reporting to the board is an important part of making sure the district is being held accountable during the year.
“This not only informs the board, but disciplines the person providing the report to make sure they’re on top of the finances,” he said.
Conrad is still splitting time between Nashua and Bedford before filling the city’s vacant superintendent position full time at the end of August.
Conrad said his two to three days a week in Nashua have been spent focusing on dealing with the district’s projected $3 million deficit for the upcoming school year.
That projected shortfall for this year is in addition to a $3.36 million deficit in last year’s budget, which Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is proposing to make up by taking money out of the city’s school capital reserve fund.
It’s not yet clear how the deficits occurred, though it appears that not enough had been budgeted in certain areas, such as salaries, severance and special education.
Jack Kelley, who was on the board when Conrad previously worked in Nashua, said the reports stopped being distributed at some point after the board eliminated its support services committee.
Kelley said the members of the committee would become proficient in reading the reports and would be able to ask questions about them.
While the reports might not have prevented the district’s current financial crisis, Conrad said starting the practice again could only help to improve the board’s understanding of where the district stands financially.
“What it forced me to do was make sure I was on top of reviewing the accounts,” he told members of the committee.
Conrad said that when the reports were being provided to the board during his tenure in Nashua, board members would often respond with questions about specific line items or transfers.
“I knew if some of these accounts looked like they were going into a deficit, somebody would ask me a question and I would need to be prepared to answer that,” he said.
Conrad has already decided to leave 53 full- and part-time positions unfilled for the upcoming school year as a first step toward making up the projected deficit. That includes leaving 23 vacant teaching positions unfilled.
Those positions only make up about half of the projected deficit. Conrad is working with administrators to look at other areas where cuts can be made without impacting personnel.
But Conrad said the focus of Tuesday night’s meeting was to come to an understanding about what type of involvement the board wants to ensure members are kept up to date about future financial problems.
Board members at the meeting were receptive to the idea, and it will be discussed further at next week’s full board meeting.
Board President Tom Vaughan said it would be helpful in future reports to show the pattern of spending in certain accounts. Some accounts only see activity at certain times of the year, he said.
Conrad said he was reviewing the school district’s financial policies and procedures and meeting with principals and department heads to plan for the upcoming school year.
Conrad said the city’s financial system is limiting to a certain extent when it comes to accounting for personnel actions. One of the problems may have been temporary positions being carried over to the next year, he said.
“Part of financial control is not just procedure, but management,” he said. “It’s about really having a dialogue with principals to say, ‘You’re going to have to work with the resources you have.’ ”
Conrad said a committee that was formed to review how the district ended up with a shortfall in the two budgets has met but is in the early stages of gathering information.
He anticipated it would likely take until at least mid-September before a formal report could be presented to the board with some answers about how the deficits occurred.
Part of that process will be speaking with Jim Mealey, the district’s former chief operating officer. Mealey is now working for the North Andover, Mass., school system with former Superintendent Christopher Hottel.
Conrad said several things are going on concurrently, but the top priority is making sure schools are ready to open Sept. 1.