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Thread: Terrific Crier article on school finances by School Committee member

  1. #16
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    John, I don't dispute that Dr. Kinney's letter took courage to submit. The presence of courage, of course, doesn't necessarily equate to wisdom. And I don't dispute that Dr. Kinney's letter had some merit. But as to the faults that I raised, you join Jeff Baron and Dave Bernstein in the conversation, and like them, you don't address the substance. The silence grows louder still.

    As for your knowing my intention in making a joke about financial experts, John, you are of course wholly ignorant.

  2. #17
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    Yes, of course.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Actually, Dave, you wholly miss the point of [grin]. It's to call attention to an attempt (successful or otherwise) at humor that might not come through in writing. I can't think of a single example of a time I've made a serious but perhaps controversial statement and attempted to hedge with a [grin]. Your convoluted assertion to the contrary is what's "ludicrous." Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
    I will remind you that the first step in escaping from a deep hole is to stop digging.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Now that you've dissected a brief parenthetical that's hardly the point of my original letter, do you by chance care to comment on any of that letter's substance? Generally, people haven't been shy about disagreeing with me on substance, yet in this case, the silence has been deafening. I wonder, then if they join me, however grudgingly, in finding the same faults with Dr. Kinney's original letter that I found.
    The central point of Dr. Kinney's article is that a pattern of inaccurate budgeting enabled by poor financial visibility made the situation appear more dire than was actually the case, resulting in sub-optimal decisions - like laying off teachers.

    Your response does not dispute this point; it focuses narrowly and defensively on whether year-end surplus funds could have been used to keep Loker open.

    A more constructive response would have endorsed Dr. Kinney's efforts to improve financial visibility and controls, as these will in turn improve credibility and resource allocation - to the ultimate benefit of Wayland's students.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The central point of Dr. Kinney's article is that a pattern of inaccurate budgeting enabled by poor financial visibility made the situation appear more dire than was actually the case, resulting in sub-optimal decisions - like laying off teachers.

    Your response does not dispute this point; it focuses narrowly and defensively on whether year-end surplus funds could have been used to keep Loker open.
    You're right, Dave, my response DID narrowly focus on correcting the error in the most inflammatory aspect of Dr. Kinney's letter. I formulated that response in the manner that I did so as not to dilute the point that I was making.

    Had I wanted to, however, I could have corrected the error in his wrongly asserting that (in your words) "a pattern of inaccurate budgeting enabled by poor financial visibility made the situation appear more dire than was actually the case, resulting in sub-optimal decisions - like laying off teachers." There were two years (which doesn't quite rise to the level of "pattern") with surpluses, they were unanticipated, and they were of a one-time nature. Even I, absent "formal financial training," know enough not to spend such surpluses on recurring expenses.

    Had I wanted to, however, I could have corrected the error in his wrongly asserting that (in his words, and with his exclamation point), "Dire predictions, yet the schools finished the 2009-10 school year with excess funds of $1,169,824. In FY11, the first year with the layoff, the schools would have excess funds of $1,229,723!" Considerable portions of those amounts were NOT excess funds--as I DID point out in my letter, wholly separate from the reconfiguration question, the use of SPED funding for other purposes (as Dr. Kinney suggests) is not appropriate.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    A more constructive response would have endorsed Dr. Kinney's efforts to improve financial visibility and controls, as these will in turn improve credibility and resource allocation - to the ultimate benefit of Wayland's students.
    You're right, Dave, as I have in the thread above ("To be sure, the Abrahams Report suggested a number of areas where the schools might improve their accounting processes." [Post 5]), I should have included one more sentence in my original letter to that effect. I suspect, however, that doing so would not have left me immune to such constructive responses as "Whether you were grinning or not, your implication that the value of formal financial training is diminished because some people who received formal financial training subsequently committed fraud is ludicrous."

  5. #20
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    Default Great Moments in Wayland Finances' History

    This, from Wayland Transparency:
    At the May 24, 2010 SC meeting, Superintendent Gary Burton told the newest member of the committee that he could look at the details of the 5 inch stack of invoices if he wanted to, but that they usually just assume that Business Administrator Joy Buhler got it right and vote to approve the accounts payable each week, without taking the time to review the individual invoices.

    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/priorities.php

    Topic:
    How have the Wayland schools past policies and mismanagement led to the situation we're in today?
    Discuss.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  6. #21
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    John, I am all for appropriate scrutiny and care and prudency. I'm not out to argue about whether processes were flawed (I think there's been general acknowledgement that we needed to do things better) or are now perfect or any of that. But I am curious about whether any of the increased reviews or audits have turned up any inappropriate purchases, invoices or payments.

    The implication of your fireplace image is that we as good as we threw money into the fireplace. If that's true, then I share your anger. If it's not, then maybe it's appropriate to tone down the inflammatory statements (and images) and focus on the real issues.

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Topic:
    How have the Wayland schools past policies and mismanagement led to the situation we're in today?
    Discuss.
    John, perhaps you might help define the discussion you wish to start.

    Q1: Which "past policies" do you mean? For those interested, the policy manual can be found here.

    Q2: To which ALLEGED "mismanagement" do you refer?

    Q3: What "situation" do you mean? Let me provide some specifics about "situation" around which we might converse:

    Boston Magazine ranks Wayland 7th among public Massachusetts school districts "in the classroom" and on "achievement scores." In both cases, it's not apparent how wide the gap is between 1st and 7th. As Superintendent Dr. Paul Stein pointed out at the most recent School Committee meeting, Massachusetts again scored tops in the nation as measured by NAEP, so ranking 7th puts Wayland among the best of the best. And while I don't have a reference handy. Massachusetts scores on international tests tend to place the state among the top scoring nations in the world.

    In Boston Magazine's "in the classroom" ranking, Wayland appears to be penalized by larger classes and fewer AP classes. To the latter point, I'd like to see more AP opportunities for Wayland students.

    In Boston Magazine's "on achievement tests" ranking, Wayland's MCAS scores appear to pull down its ranking, as its SAT scores (the more important measure, I'll argue) are higher than some districts that Wayland "trails." Additional MCAS detail is available here: Wayland ranks 16th in 10th grade English (out of more than 285 districts, with a score of 97 out of 100), 44th in 10th grade (90 of 100), and 53rd in Science (87 of 100). For my part, I'd like to see higher math and science scores, which have been typical of Wayland in past years.

    Wayland is blessed with an outstanding High School Building Committee that's worked well to bring in a construction project that appears likely to come in ahead of schedule and under budget.

    The Wayland Public Schools are pursuing a measured approach to continuing to integrate technology into the curriculum.

    The Wayland Public Schools Foundation has a long track record of providing funds to help enrich the educational experience in our district

    The School Committee led a search that has resulted in the hiring of a Superintendent Dr. Paul Stein who by all early measures appears poised to continue the strong work of Dr. Bill Zimmerman and Dr. Gary Burton. Dr. Stein leads a skilled group of central office administrators and building principals.

    These administrators in turn lead an excellent cadre of teachers who routinely work above and beyond the call of duty. We pay these teachers well to attract and retain them. To this point of pay, the School Committee has worked diligently over the past few negotiation cycles to bring the salary schedule down from tops among our peer districts to more in the middle of the pack. Teacher salary information is available here--keep in mind that average salaries are a function not just of the salary schedules but of the seniority of teachers within that schedule. Thus, a town might have a less expensive schedule than its average salary shows by virtue of a more senior teaching staff.

    I suspect that there are other examples of excellence that I'm not capturing, including athletic participation and success, great work in the arts, and general activities that broaden the meaning of education.

    John, thank you for providing the opportunity to elaborate on the excellent "situation" that describes the Wayland Public Schools.

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    You're right, Dave, my response DID narrowly focus on correcting the error in the most inflammatory aspect of Dr. Kinney's letter. I formulated that response in the manner that I did so as not to dilute the point that I was making.

    Had I wanted to, however, I could have corrected the error in his wrongly asserting that (in your words) "a pattern of inaccurate budgeting enabled by poor financial visibility made the situation appear more dire than was actually the case, resulting in sub-optimal decisions - like laying off teachers." There were two years (which doesn't quite rise to the level of "pattern") with surpluses, they were unanticipated, and they were of a one-time nature.
    Dr. Kinney's letter cited four consecutive years of surpluses:

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney (in his Town Crier article)
    At the end of FY08 (school year 2007-08), $651,752 ($335,348 encumbered, $316,403 “memo”) was carried forward into FY09 along with approximately $330,000 in SPED prepayment.

    At the end of FY09 (2008-09 school year), $873,033 ($133,592 encumbered, $357,365 “memo” and $382,583 SPED) was carried into FY10 and $3,240 was returned to the town.

    At the end of FY10 (school year 2009-10), $1,160,453 ($308,474 encumbered, $537,365 “memo” and $314,583 SPED) was carried into FY11 and $317,876 was returned to the town.

    At the end of FY11 (school year 2010-11), $702,300 ($356,371 encumbered and $345,929 SPED) was carried into FY12, $658,794 was returned to the town and $225,000 of excess was used to purchase unbudgeted computers.
    Recurring or not, four years of increasing surpluses of this magnitude certainly constitutes inaccurate budgeting. Your characterization of these surpluses as "unanticipated" confirms the diagnosis.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Had I wanted to, however, I could have corrected the error in his wrongly asserting that (in his words, and with his exclamation point), "Dire predictions, yet the schools finished the 2009-10 school year with excess funds of $1,169,824. In FY11, the first year with the layoff, the schools would have excess funds of $1,229,723!" Considerable portions of those amounts were NOT excess funds--as I DID point out in my letter, wholly separate from the reconfiguration question, the use of SPED funding for other purposes (as Dr. Kinney suggests) is not appropriate.
    Dr. Kinney characterizes "memo" funds as unspent, uncommitted funds that the school administrator chose to carry forward to the next fiscal year rather than return them to the town, a practice that has now been discontinued. Here's the unencumbered, non-SPED surplus for each of the four years Dr. Kinney cites in his letter:

    2008: $316K

    2009: $357K

    2010: $537K

    2011: $884K ($659K returned to town, $225K spent on unbudgeted computers)


    One doesn't need Accounting 101 to see the pattern.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    You're right, Dave, as I have in the thread above ("To be sure, the Abrahams Report suggested a number of areas where the schools might improve their accounting processes." [Post 5]), I should have included one more sentence in my original letter to that effect. I suspect, however, that doing so would not have left me immune to such constructive responses as "Whether you were grinning or not, your implication that the value of formal financial training is diminished because some people who received formal financial training subsequently committed fraud is ludicrous."
    You evidently conflate "constructive" with "uncritical". Criticism can be constructive, for example: "Whether you were grinning or not, your implication that the value of formal financial training is diminished because some people who received formal financial training subsequently committed fraud is ludicrous." As I will point out for a second time, the word "ludicrous" applies to your implication, not you.

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Dr. Kinney's letter cited four consecutive years of surpluses:

    Recurring or not, four years of increasing surpluses of this magnitude certainly constitutes inaccurate budgeting. Your characterization of these surpluses as "unanticipated" confirms the diagnosis.
    This issue here isn't recurrence, it's that the "memo carry-forwards" are NOT surpluses. As I understand it, "encumbrances" are when a service happens in year 1, an invoice is received in year 1, but the payment won't go out until year 2. "Memo carry-forwards" are similar: a service happens in year 1, an invoice will be received in year 2, and the payment will go out in year 2.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Dr. Kinney characterizes "memo" funds as unspent, uncommitted funds that the school administrator chose to carry forward to the next fiscal year rather than return them to the town, a practice that has now been discontinued.
    The problem here is that Dr. Kinney's characterization is not correct--the memo carry-forwards were committed (the commitment was just not at the level of an encumbrance, as I understand it).

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Here's the unencumbered, non-SPED surplus for each of the four years Dr. Kinney cites in his letter:

    2008: $316K

    2009: $357K

    2010: $537K

    2011: $884K ($659K returned to town, $225K spent on unbudgeted computers)


    One doesn't need Accounting 101 to see the pattern.
    The numbers above are not all surpluses, hence the alleged pattern is in fact not a pattern.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    You evidently conflate "constructive" with "uncritical". Criticism can be constructive, for example: "Whether you were grinning or not, your implication that the value of formal financial training is diminished because some people who received formal financial training subsequently committed fraud is ludicrous." As I will point out for a second time, the word "ludicrous" applies to your implication, not you.
    Of course criticisms can be constructive. I suspect that few would agree, however, that a criticism that includes the word "ludicrous" is likely to yield the intended effect of a constructive criticism. But getting back to your incessant harping on the brief parenthetical joke in my original letter, whether or not I was grinning--your ludicrous assertion to the contrary--makes all the difference in the world.

    As I will point out for the first time, the word "ludicrous" applies to your assertion, not to you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    This issue here isn't recurrence, it's that the "memo carry-forwards" are NOT surpluses. As I understand it, "encumbrances" are when a service happens in year 1, an invoice is received in year 1, but the payment won't go out until year 2. "Memo carry-forwards" are similar: a service happens in year 1, an invoice will be received in year 2, and the payment will go out in year 2.
    I don't think that's correct:

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney (from his Town Crier article)
    At the end of the fiscal year a report is run to determine how much money, if any, is left in the operating budget (i.e. unspent money). The schools should have some money left at year end for expenses incurred at the end of the budget year but not yet paid for. These expenses will be encumbered; that is the money to pay for them will be carried over to the next fiscal year but they are real expenses for the fiscal year just ended. Any other funds from the operating budget leftover at year end are “excess funds.”

    The schools may legally prepay some expenses for the following year with this money, most notably special education (SPED) for the first quarter of the next year (Wayland’s first quarter SPED ranges between $300,000 and $400,000). The schools sometimes make year-end purchases of things such as copiers with excess money. Any other funds should be returned to the town.
    (my emphasis)

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney (from his Town Crier article)
    One practice of “memo” carry forwards was used by the prior school business administrator to list end-of-year account balances that she wanted to carry forward into the next fiscal year on a memo, thereby carrying the money into the next year rather than return the unexpended amounts to the town. This practice has been discontinued by our new business administrator.
    (again, my emphasis).

    At the end of 2008, 2009, and 2010, the administrator no doubt got these surplus funds committed as rapidly as possible; that's over-budgeting 101: use it or lose it. But as Dr. Kinney points out above, these funds should not have been committed, they should have been returned to the town - as most (but not all) were in 2011: $225K of the 2011 excess funds was used to purchase unbudgeted computers. While I personally believe that equipping teachers and students with dedicated computers is a very good idea, this should be done out of an approved budget, not with year-end excess funds. Allowing the use of year-end excess funds - even for worthy causes - has the nasty side effect of encouraging over-budgeting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The problem here is that Dr. Kinney's characterization is not correct--the memo carry-forwards were committed (the commitment was just not at the level of an encumbrance, as I understand it).
    As described above, I strongly suspect that you are wrong on this point. If you can provide proof to the contrary, I'm happy to consider it.
    Last edited by DHBernstein; 11-14-2011 at 02:21 AM.

  11. #26
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    The "burden of proof" is on Dr. Kinney--his was the sole voice (until joined by you now) asserting that the memo carry-forwards constituted surpluses.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The "burden of proof" is on Dr. Kinney--his was the sole voice (until joined by you now) asserting that the memo carry-forwards constituted surpluses.
    A few moments ago, I spoke with Geoff MacDonald, WPS Business Administrator. He said that there were no purchase orders or other commitments for the funds that were carried forward by "memo" at the end of FY2008, FY2009, and FY2010. He would have returned these unspent, uncommitted funds to the School Committee for disposition - as he did with the funds unspent and uncommitted at the end of FY2011.

    Dr. Kinney's characterization of the memo carry-forwards as uncommitted surpluses is accurate, as is the four-year pattern of increasing end-of-year uncommitted surpluses posted earlier in this thread.

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    Perhaps one or the other (or both) of us is guilty of hearing what we want to hear. By way of the "proof" that you requested, I can offer this.

    1. When I was on the School Committee, we were told that other than special education funds, surpluses could not be carried forward from one year to the next. Memo carry-forwards were for items that the district intended to purchase in a given year but would not have an invoice in that years. By virtue of the lack of an invoice, these funds could not be designated as encumbered, but in spirit, they were the same thing.

    2. Recently, I spoke with a School Committee member to confirm that my understanding was correct. I was told that it was.

    3. This afternoon, following your conversation with the Business Manager, I asked about my understanding. I was told that in general, the memo carry-forwards were not surpluses, but rather, funds that were intended to be spent on current year items. I say "in general" because the Business Manager is not familiar with each and every one of these items from before his time in the district.

    The fact that the current Business Manager would have "returned" the funds to the School Committee for a decision on what to do with them is not the same thing as the School Committee returning surplus funds to the Town.

    I don't know if this leaves us at an impasse on this topic, but I stand by my characterization that Dr. Kinney (and now you) are incorrect in calling memo carry-forwards "surpluses." Moreover, I stand by my characterization that Dr. Kinney's suggestion of spending special education surpluses on non special education items would be inappropriate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Perhaps one or the other (or both) of us is guilty of hearing what we want to hear. By way of the "proof" that you requested, I can offer this.

    1. When I was on the School Committee, we were told that other than special education funds, surpluses could not be carried forward from one year to the next. Memo carry-forwards were for items that the district intended to purchase in a given year but would not have an invoice in that years. By virtue of the lack of an invoice, these funds could not be designated as encumbered, but in spirit, they were the same thing.
    "In spirit", eh? What a tight ship you ran.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post

    2. Recently, I spoke with a School Committee member to confirm that my understanding was correct. I was told that it was.
    So there were at least two School Committee members who erroneously thought that intention alone (without a purchase order) constitutes commitment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post

    3. This afternoon, following your conversation with the Business Manager, I asked about my understanding. I was told that in general, the memo carry-forwards were not surpluses, but rather, funds that were intended to be spent on current year items.
    Who told you this?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I say "in general" because the Business Manager is not familiar with each and every one of these items from before his time in the district.

    The fact that the current Business Manager would have "returned" the funds to the School Committee for a decision on what to do with them is not the same thing as the School Committee returning surplus funds to the Town.

    I don't know if this leaves us at an impasse on this topic, but I stand by my characterization that Dr. Kinney (and now you) are incorrect in calling memo carry-forwards "surpluses."
    In our conversation, Business Administrator Geoff MacDonald was clear that the "memo carry forwards" in FY2008, FY2009, and FY2010 were uncommitted surplus funds. To be certain there was no misinterpretation, I explained that I would be posting this assertion; he reconfirmed the statement without hesitation.

    Geoff reminded me that the School Committee is legally empowered to spend the school's annual budget however it deems fit, independent of whatever justification was made to the town when the budget was approved. At the end of FY2011, there were $884K of uncommitted surplus funds. The School Committee voted to spend $225K of this on computers, and returned the remaining $659K to the town. This is consistent with the statements in Dr. Kinney's article that "The schools sometimes make year-end purchases of things such as copiers with excess money. Any other funds should be returned to the town."

    Is that what happened in FY2008, FY2009, and FY2010, Jeff? At the end of each fiscal year, did the Business Administrator inform the School Committee that there were uncommitted surpluses of $316K, $357K, and $537K respectively? Did the School Committee then vote to use those surpluses to make end of year purchases rather than return those surpluses to the town?

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    My understanding is that school funds, other than those designated for special education purposes, cannot be and have not been carried over from one fiscal year to the next. For the two most recently completed fiscal years (FY10 and FY11), but not the two that preceded them (FY08 and FY09), there were substantive surpluses that were returned to the town at the end of those years.

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