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Thread: Terrific letter by Shawn Kinney in today's Crier

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    Default Terrific letter by Shawn Kinney in today's Crier

    Shawn has once again done a terrific job of bringing up a subject and asking questions that many wouldn't ask about the schools' illegal bank accounts.

    It doesn't seem to be posted on WickedLocal yet, but you can find it in the paper version of today's Crier.
    John Flaherty

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

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    Hi John,

    I read Shawn's letter today and I wish I could adequately describe my feelings and reaction to you. Demoralizing I guess sums it up best. John, I don't believe Shawn is on a truth hunt--I think he is on a witch hunt and I don't think he'll ever stop because he's not going to find the evil he seeks. You know I work in the schools and you know I handled the accounts he's talking about (at Happy Hollow) and I can tell you that he is being misleading and spinning the facts to suit some purpose I don't understand. Is it political? Or does he really believe what he's saying? He's breaking my heart and he's having the most negative impact on teaching and learning I've ever seen -- and he's increasing our costs of doing business. I would be happy to have a face-to-face conversation with you about this. I don't like to respond to these types of posts, but I just couldn't leave yours out there like this. Please don't support this, John.

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    John, thank you for bringing Mr. Kinney's letter to everyone's attention. You might take a look at your spell-checker, however. You've misspelled "Terrible" in your thread title.

    As a Citizen, Mr. Kinney has helped to identify school accounting practices in need of improvement. Setting aside the matter of the manner with which he's brought this issue to light, we are better off for the fact of his involvement.

    As a Wayland School Committee member, Mr. Kinney is deserving of no such support.

    The objective of an effective school board member should advocate for the education of the students in the district that he or she in part oversees. Of course, it's possible that a member might not care at all about this objective and might instead be intent on cutting the budget for purely financial reasons, undermining the administration and/or teachers, or worse. I hope that we can all agree that there's no room in Wayland for a member of that sort.

    To be sure, advocating for students does not mean agreeing with all or even a majority of the administration's decisions. Towns far less fortunate than Wayland have school boards that need to change a district's course against the wishes of the administration. I hope that we can all agree that there's no need in Wayland for a board of that sort.

    I take strong exception to Mr. Kinney's positions on school matters. Prior to his election, he voted against the High School Project. While on the Committee, he alone voted against the One to One Learning Initiative. At a meeting earlier this month, he alone expressed support for the administration spending what could be hundreds of hours they don't really have preparing a budget that would cut 10 percent. It's unfortunate that Mr. Kinney was absent from the joint Finance Committee-School Committee meeting this past week. Not a single speaker advocated for such cuts, and those speakers included many who don't fit the profile of the stereotypical school proponent.

    I take strong exception to Mr. Kinney's style on school matters. Rather than work with the Committee and the administration to address issues and make improvements, he all to often takes to the press with bombastic and error-filled missives.

    In short, Mr. Kinney is terrible--not "terrific"--for the Wayland Public Schools and the students our schools educate.

    His most recent letter to the Wayland Town Crier is no exception. Let's take a detailed look.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    WAYLAND — A good mystery story always has a problem which on the surface most characters dismiss with a simple but incorrect solution. But one character, noticing an inconsistent clue, rejects the simple solution and pursues the problem.

    Along the way to the ultimate solution, the character is confronted with incorrect “facts,” lies, obfuscation, as some attempt to throw him or her off course. Twists and turns, dead ends and setbacks are encountered until finally all the facts are out and the mystery is solved.
    Ah, Shawn Kinney, hero, white knight, cavalry, superhero! Also, self-aggrandizer.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    The mysterious off ledger illegal checking accounts within our schools appear to have everything required for a good mystery, we are just awaiting the ultimate solution.
    Calling these accounts "mysterious" may make for good narrative, but nothing more. Calling them "illegal" (a word Mr. Kinney finds reason to use eight times) is certainly technically correct, but to my ear, Mr. Kinney uses it to suggest malice on the part of school personnel. I'll stick with the standards of American jurisprudence and assume innocence until proof of guilt. It's of course possible that some funds were used in a manner to which a reasonable person would object. Should evidence of such action emerge, appropriate action should be taken. Until then, we might all think about substituting the word "incorrect" for "illegal" (if my understanding is correct, these accounts were not "illegal" when they were first established).

    It is illegal to run a red light at 3am when not another car is in sight. But is it wrong? No. Let's reserve judgment on "wrong."

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    The principal’s discretionary accounts (PDA) and several other off ledger checking accounts remain even more of a mystery today than when they were first exposed after an employee was caught stealing from one, in the summer of 2010 (click here).

    In the past two years many facts have come to light that contradict statements made by school and PTO officials. After the theft from a school off ledger checking account, then Superintendent Gary Burton described the incident to the press as a theft from a petty cash account. This was not a petty cash account but rather an off ledger illegal checking account maintained by a school. The illegal school accounts were identified by the town auditor and noted in his audit report of November 2010, and they were noted in the Abrahams Group’s report of April 2011, both of which pointed out that they were off ledger and lacked controls.

    Despite this, illegal accounts would remain open, some for well more than a year after the theft in 2010.

    Money collected by the school – whether from students for various activities such as field trips, PSATs, lost books or from donations – are supposed to be delivered to the town treasurer to deposit into bank accounts known as Student Activity Accounts (SAA), one for each specific school, with subsidiary accounts for each particular purpose for which the money is collected or donated.

    Each school is then allowed per Massachusetts General Laws to have a checking account (known as Student Activity Checking Accounts) to expend the monies for the purpose for which it was collected.

    The schools request money from the town treasurer, and after approval from the School Committee, the money is deposited in the checking account for the schools to spend. By this process, appropriate controls are ensured to prevent loss, theft or misappropriation.

    This process has just begun in Wayland. For many years, monies collected by the schools and some school-run programs were deposited into off ledger accounts, and payments and deposits were made with no controls.

    The town treasurer, Paul Keating, set up proper legal checking and savings accounts for the schools using the town tax ID number, also known as the employer identification number (EIN). Despite the presence of these proper checking and savings accounts, some individuals represented themselves to local banks as having the authority to open checking and savings accounts for the schools. They opened accounts with social security numbers or EINs that they applied for. Why? Why not use the legal proper accounts? Who are these individuals? On what authority were they acting to open these accounts? Why do we still not have answers to those questions?
    Mr. Kinney, the answer to your last question is so simple, it amazes me that you would even write it. The Audit Committee's work isn't complete. Rather than trot out this tired retread of a letter that adds nothing new to the conversation other than promoting your "brand," why not do the responsible thing and wait for the Audit Committee to do that work?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    To confuse matters further, a PTO treasurer-assistant treasurer for the prior 18 years attended the School Committee meeting on March 21, 2011, to clarify matters surrounding the illegal PDAs. During the meeting she would state the money from the PDAs was “not buying inappropriate things or spending inappropriate things.” She would explain that the “source of the funds (deposits) was solely parent donated fund raised funds” and “it (the deposits) came from parents, is my point, it was donated by people in the community that wanted to give funds to the school.”

    She would subsequently publish an article in The Wayland Town Crier on April 21, 2011. In her article she stated, “There is no evidence of fraud or misappropriation in these accounts.” How could she know? Did she review the schools’ illegal accounts? She was not responsible for their operation, school administrative staff was.
    Mr. Kinney writes, "How could she know?" I read this statement to mean that the employee was aware of no evidence.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    A recent cursory review of some of the accounts revealed misappropriation, i.e. money not spent for what it was intended to be spent for, and shockingly bad practices. For example, the High School’s PDA subsidiary account for lost books, in which money was collected from families whose children had lost school books, had gross misappropriation. Money collected for lost books should be used to purchase, of course, books. However, very little of the money was spent for books. Instead the lost books account paid for food for staff meetings, parent meetings, for a holiday event at a local restaurant, for staff stipends, for retirement party expenses, and reimbursements to staff.

    Some of the checking accounts had numerous instances of checks written to cash or large ATM withdrawals with no supporting documentation. Why? What was this money used for? Who authorized the expenditure of lost book money spent for the items mentioned above? Our school money was clearly misappropriated.

    In March 2011, then Superintendent Gary Burton, the School Committee chair and a PTO official explained that only small amounts of money were handled through these accounts and that the money was primarily from donations with appropriate controls in place. It is clear today that none of that is true.

    Over $1.2 million had been processed through the High School PDA, while $600,000 passed through the Middle School PDA. The majority of the money did not come from donations, in fact only a very small percent of the money was derived from donations.

    The majority of the money was from student activities like field trips, PSAT and other fees assessed to parents and students. Why did school and PTO officials state there were only small amounts of money processed through these accounts? How could they believe the money in the accounts was from donations? If the money was from donations, why wasn’t it turned over to the town treasurer as required by law? How could these practices have been allowed in our schools?

    The Abrahams Group, an outside independent firm hired to look for efficiencies in our schools, would report there was a “significant lack of controls” in our school finances. The Abrahams Group reported the existence of the off ledger checking accounts. They further noted that taxpayer money had been inappropriately deposited into a checking account (which would later be found to be off ledger and illegal), stating “a payment of $2,500 in May 2011 to Pegasus (so a town check was paid to a town revolving fund). The voucher simply said – pay to us $2,500 for ‘petty cash.’ A town check was issued and paid to the Pegasus Program and deposited in a (off ledger) checking account.”

    Funds were transferred from a revolving account to an off ledger checking account. The Abrahams Group reported, “On March 2011, $3,500 was approved by the business office for payout from the athletic account to the principal’s discretionary-lost books account. This information was stated on the voucher – however there were no receipts or documentation. The statement said that the ‘lost books’ account (off ledger at the time) paid for various athletic expenses.”

    Why was the business office depositing town money and revolving fund money into off ledger accounts?

    A lot of money in some of the subsidiary accounts in the PDAs was used to pay stipends for staff. For instance, the PSAT subsidiary account in the High School checking account was used to pay stipends to staff for administering the PSAT. This is a proper use of the money, however the stipends were not paid out correctly. They were paid without the required withholdings for state and federal employment taxes. Over several years, tens of thousands of dollars would be paid out from this subsidiary account for staff stipends. What of the other accounts? Who is responsible for the withholding taxes that should have been paid? Were these accounts used to try to avoid payroll taxes? What is the liability of the town for the payroll taxes, interest and penalties? What liability does the person(s) who opened the illegal checking account have? Who are these people that opened the accounts? What is the liability of the teachers?
    It is irresponsible of Mr. Kinney to suggest without evidence that someone within the Wayland Public Schools was actively trying to avoid payroll taxes. This despicable statement is reminiscent of Kent George's recent diatribe of unfounded allegations. There's no place in civil discourse for this sort of harmful drivel.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    Whoever opened these accounts has put the town and our teachers in a terrible position, as unpaid tax liabilities over many years may result in additional costs from penalties and interest.
    "Terrible?" Unfortunate, perhaps, but again, Mr. Kinney travels the route of bombast without any supporting information.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    The PDAs were ultimately closed but another three off ledger accounts would be left open and funded in part by the school business office until they were ultimately closed in January 2012. Why weren’t these accounts identified and closed when the PDAs were? Why did it take so long to close the PDAs?

    This situation clearly requires a thorough audit of these accounts to determine the extent of the problem. How was the money spent? Clearly there was misappropriation of funds. Was there any theft? How large is the payroll tax liability?
    It is important that we distinguish between misappropriation in the sense (1) redirecting funds from one supportable purpose to another compared with (2) taking for one's own personal gain. Other than the $2,000 theft that was quickly discovered, acted upon, and resolved, I'm aware of no evidence of the latter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Kinney
    Fortunately, the town has a new Audit Committee comprised of several individuals who have the background and experience to select an audit firm, direct the audit, and review the report from auditors. Hopefully the Audit Committee, with the permission and blessing of the Board of Selectmen, can finally unravel the mysteries of the off ledger checking accounts.
    I too look forward to the findings of the Audit Committee.

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    It was nice talking with you yesterday, Ramah.

    I'm quite sure that Shawn is not on a witch hunt, but that he just wants some answers. I think that he wants the same thing that you and I and everyone else in town wants - for this accounting mess in the schools to be over, so that our administrators can focus on administrating again.

    The knee-jerk reaction of the previous administration was to sweep anything like this under the rug. And that would certainly be the most expedient and painless way to move forward even now. However, there is real value in understanding what happened, why and how. Armed with this information, we can address the root of the problem and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

    Shawn's article has now been posted on WickedLocal:
    http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/t...#axzz29atcwtvd
    John Flaherty

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

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    If Mr. Kinney "just wants some answers," why does he toss around such loaded charges as "incorrect 'facts'," "lies", "obfuscations," and "avoid payroll taxes?" Why does he never once state that a goal of his is to strengthen future procedures? The hostility that pervades his writing and his style in general is not just about wanting answers.

    As for the laughable notion that "the root of the problem" and "nothing like this ever happens again" require the work of the Audit Committee and the antagonistic tone that Mr. Kinney brings to the issue, we're already armed with plenty of information. The root of the problem began when law changed after the proper establishment of the accounts in question and continued in part due to a lack of awareness and in part due to inadequate accounting systems. As for "ever happening again," the lessons are already learned and circumstances are fundamentally different.

    Those factors will carry far more weight and be more effective long after the incremental findings of the Audit Committee are published, understood, and forgotten. In short:

    1. It is no longer proper to establish the type of accounts that were properly established many years ago
    2. Changes were already underway before the Abrams Report was published
    3. There is now general awareness of the new requirements
    4. Systems consistent with the new requirements are in place

    I'm not suggesting that the Audit Committee's work shouldn't be done. I'm just suggesting that Mr. Flaherty's case for that work and for Mr. Kinney's approach is impressively thin.

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    It's been pointed out to me that I'm incorrectly referencing the Audit Committee, which is the body tasked by the most recent Annual Town Meeting (Article 5) to explore the municipal (non-school) side of town expenses. Instead, I meant to refer to the school audit requested by Article 28 of that Town Meeting to look into school fee-based programs from FY2007 through the present.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The objective of an effective school board member should advocate for the education of the students in the district that he or she in part oversees.
    I can't think of a better way to advocate for the education of the students than to make sure that the hard earned money of their parents is not being squandered. The more we spend our money wisely and efficiently, the more benefit there is for the students.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Of course, it's possible that a member might not care at all about this objective and might instead be intent on cutting the budget for purely financial reasons, undermining the administration and/or teachers, or worse. I hope that we can all agree that there's no room in Wayland for a member of that sort.
    You seem to be implying that Shawn is "a member of that sort".

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I take strong exception to Mr. Kinney's positions on school matters. Prior to his election, he voted against the High School Project. While on the Committee, he alone voted against the One to One Learning Initiative. At a meeting earlier this month, he alone expressed support for the administration spending what could be hundreds of hours they don't really have preparing a budget that would cut 10 percent. It's unfortunate that Mr. Kinney was absent from the joint Finance Committee-School Committee meeting this past week. Not a single speaker advocated for such cuts, and those speakers included many who don't fit the profile of the stereotypical school proponent.
    I was one of the many at that meeting who advocated against this -10% budget. I don't know what profile that makes me fit, but my feeling is that while we still need to continue to look for efficiencies and correct existing problems, it would be foolish to make an arbitrary across the board cut to the schools.
    As to Mr. Kinney's votes and positions you list, while you and I may not agree with all of them, there is something refreshing about finally having SOMEone on the board who is not in lockstep with everyone else which invariably has led to one unanimous vote after another. I'd rather see a board that is diverse and engaging on matters like these because it generates discussion. Not simply an intellectual exercise, different perspectives can lead to new ideas and can make existing ones better. And on rare occasion, one person's contrary position on a topic can turn the entire vote around. I'm reminded of the sexual predator law that the BOS proposed a few years ago. On the surface, it seemed like a no brainer - no one wants sexual predators in their neighborhood, and the vibe in the room was certainly that this would fly through. That is, until one person spoke against it. She and subsequent speakers made so much sense, pointing out that BECAUSE no one wants sexual predators in their neighborhood, this well intentioned article had the unintended consequence of creating neighborhoods in which these predators could live, as other neighborhoods were deemed off limits to them.

    The diversity of opinions that someone like Shawn brings are, to me, a welcome change from the unanimous vote, which always leaves me wondering - did each member really consider this thoroughly, or are some just going along with the others because it's easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I take strong exception to Mr. Kinney's style on school matters. Rather than work with the Committee and the administration to address issues and make improvements, he all to often takes to the press with bombastic and error-filled missives.
    Going back to all of your "he alone" examples above, I'm pretty sure that Shawn HAS tried to work with the rest of his committee and the administration, but has gotten frustrated by the opposition that "he alone" gets from the other members.

    I applaud his determination.
    John Flaherty

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

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    I was NOT implying anything about Mr. Kinney when I wrote, "Of course, it's possible that a member might not care at all about this objective and might instead be intent on cutting the budget for purely financial reasons, undermining the administration and/or teachers, or worse. I hope that we can all agree that there's no room in Wayland for a member of that sort." I have no idea if any or all of those are his objectives.

    I have no objection to a diversity of opinion. That doesn't require me to agree with those diverse opinions, however. I certainly can't agree with Mr. Kinney's vote against the HS, his vote against the One to One Learning Initiative, or his speaking in favor of creating the -10% budget. In those cases, I'd prefer unanimity.

    I've seen little evidence to suggest that Mr. Kinney has tried to work with the rest of the Committee. Since before his time on the board, he's taken a hostile stance. He frequently goes around the Chair to pursue his own agenda. And his vitriolic columns--in this case, not even bringing something new to the table--in the Town Crier are disrespectful and create distractions that go against the interests of educating the students of the Wayland Public Schools.

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    Part of the discussion at this past Monday's School Committee meeting focused on the school audit and Mr. Kinney's letter. Video of that discussion is available on WayCAM here. You can also get there directly by going to waycam.tv, selecting "On-Demand Programs" from the top navigation, and then "School Committee 10/22/2012 pt. 1".

    Here's a breakdown of the discussion relevant to Mr. Kinney's letter.

    14:56 - Update from Wayland School Committee (WSC) member Shawn Kinney (SK) on progress of the school audit that he's overseeing

    16:25 - WSC discussion of SK letter: in particular, member Ellen Grieco takes reasoned and passionate exception to the SK letter

    40:15 - Resident's* public comment in support of the SK letter and the audit

    43:05 - A second resident's* public comment taking strong exception to the SK letter

    52:15 - end of public comment

    Definitely worth a watch.

    *Even though they gave their names on camera, there's some question as to whether it's permissible to mention them here, so I won't.

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    It's encouraging to see the response to Mr. Kinney's terrible letter emerging in a number of quarters. School Committee member Ellen Grieco's reasoned and passionate comments at the 10/22 School Committee meeting now serve as just one example (my prior post in this thread has a link to the video--see the 16:25 mark). Moreover, the other members of the Committee were hardly silent in taking exception to Mr. Kinney's irresponsible actions.

    In the 10/22 meeting's public comment period, as noted above, a resident (43:05) delivers an articulate, thoughtful, and well-supported response that shows Mr. Kinney's ugly letter for what it is.

    Now, in this week's Town Crier, another resident speaks out against Mr. Kinney's unfortunate attempt to draw attention to himself while harming our schools and detracting from the school audit process that's behind schedule despite his being the one leading it. (Analogies to foxes and chicken coops come to mind--if he wished to demonstrate integrity, he would recuse himself from this role.)

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