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School Criticized In State’s Audit

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The New York State Comptroller’s Office released their audit of the Sag Harbor School District, from July 2006 to November 2007, this week and found three areas in need of corrective action.
The audit states “the district did not have adequate controls in place to disclose possible interests in contracts with district employees, the district’s business official had administrative access rights to the computerized financial system, and the board of education did not solicit a request for proposals for independent auditing services.”
Superintended Dr. John Gratto called the audit “very innocuous.”
“There certainly was no malfeasance of any kind, and the problems that existed at the time of the audit have been corrected long ago,” he said on Wednesday.
The first area of concern the audit addressed was the hiring of Bob Schneider as an interim assistant principal at Pierson in 2007. The audit found that Schneider and his wife, Marian Cassata who was also appointed the district’s interim Director of Pupil Personnel Service at one point, owned and operated a company the district once contracted with. According to the audit, neither Cassata nor Schneider properly disclosed their interest in contracts with the districts.
Secondly the audit identified that district business manager Len Bernard had access to the computerized financial system. It states, “With [Bernard’s] broad financial responsibilities he should not have the ability to control access to the system.” Further the audit found that nine users had unlimited ability to override cash disbursements and purchase orders.
Bernard said at a board meeting last month the auditors checked his computer and found he had never even logged into the system.
Thirdly, the audit found that the district failed to issue a request for proposals to hire an independent auditing firm for the 2006-07 school year.
In a statement from board of education president Walter Wilcoxen included in the audit, he addressed the problems.
As for the issue with Schneider, Wilcoxen said “the board should have better disclosed the fact that [Schneider] had had for a number of years provided consulting services to the district in the from of service learning.”
Further Wilcoxen said, “Since the comptroller’s staff made our district aware of this situation, no individual has been hired under similar circumstances.”
Pertaining to the district’s computerized financial system and the access by Bernard, the board president stated, “This was a situation that was already being addressed by the district at the time [of the audit] as the district was in the process of transferring the responsibility for system coordinator from the business official to the technology director and adjusting access rights accordingly.”
Wilcoxen also states that the adjustments were made prior to the comptroller’s office’s audit being completed.
And in response to the independent audit, Wilcoxen pointed out that the auditors being used by the district in the year prior to the audit, “were involved in the Roslyn debacle and the district faced the need to sever ties with the accounting firm.” He said the decision to go forward with issuing a request for proposals was made “in effort to secure auditing services on very short notice.”
Wilcoxen also pointed out that a request for proposal was issued for the past two years for the district’s independent auditing.

Top photo: Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and board president Walter Wilcoxen insist all the problems identified in the state’s audit have already been corrected.

Hired & Questioned

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A number of vacant positions in the Sag Harbor School District were filled at Monday’s school board meeting. It was also revealed that at least two of those positions would be reviewed during the course of the upcoming school year to perhaps revise the charges of the position or to decide whether they are needed at all.

Gary Kalish was appointed Pierson’s new assistant principal at a salary of $105,000 after a vacancy was created when Donnelly McGovern stepped down to return to teaching and coaching this year. Kalish is a 1997 Pierson graduate who according to board member Dan Hartnett “has been a very successful teacher in New York City.” This will be his first administrative position.

Board member Wes Frye voted in opposition to the appointment and questioned whether the board had done their “homework,” not on the applicant, but on the position in general.
“[McGovern’s] absence maybe opens up an opportunity for us as a board to review the entire position, to rethink what is [the position’s] critical task, and job description. Have we done enough to think about what are the true activities an [assistant principal] needs to do?”

Frye said he would prefer not to simply “backfill” a position but to rethink what the position entails.

“To that end, the board agrees,” said president Walter Wilcoxen. “We’ll ask the superintendent to report back to us by the end of the school year about that.”

As part of her PTA update, Chris Tice asked for clarity on a few issues she said “we’re floating around” among members of her group. One specifically dealt with the assistant principal position and possibly elimination of one. Currently the district has two assistant principals at Pierson and one at the elementary school.

Superintendent John Gratto said when any position becomes vacant it is prudent to examine whether that position is needed.

Parent Vanessa Leggard also asked about the position.

“The superintendent will work to flesh out job descriptions of all the administrators and what they do,” said Wilcoxen. “From a personal point of view, it’s a matter of communication. We hire them, we pay their salaries and we should understand what they do.”

Tice also brought up another issue, whether or not Gratto was considering creating an assistant superintendent position in the district. Gratto said he had no intention of creating the position “at this time.”

“I said I would listen and learn until about mid year and see what I find out,” he said. “But I don’t know enough about that yet to make a decision.”

The Pierson music teacher position left vacant when John Immerso resigned last year was also filled on Monday. Eric Reynolds was hired at a salary of $51,128. Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols told the audience Reynolds “graduated from Boston University, taught in the Brockton public school system in Massachusetts, did his student teaching at the high school level and also worked with the New York Symphony for a couple of years.”

However, Gratto proposed to the board the hiring of a consultant firm for the early part of the school year to look at how collaboration and continuity between the two schools’ music programs can best be achieved. The board held off on replacing Immerso last year in order to analyze the district’s overall music curriculum. Currently there is one music instructor at the elementary school and two at Pierson. There has been widespread criticism over the fact that while the elementary students are taught strings, when they reach Pierson there is no strings class, only chorus and band.

Again, Frye voted in opposition to the appointment and questioned the notion of hiring both a teacher to fill the position and a consultant to ultimately determine whether the position is needed.

“I like the idea of a consultant, but are we putting the cart before the horse,” he asked the board.

Gratto said he has heard equal points of view as to the filling of the position. But, he said, the decision to fill it was made because he felt the students might miss out on “valuable lessons.”

Frye mentioned the need to look at the number of students who take advantage of the music curriculum in relation to the need for the position. Gratto said he did believe “enrollment drives staffing” and that the analysis should take place, but that it was “wise” to fill the vacant position.

Gratto said once the consultant firm is hired he expects a final report on the music program by January.