Overspending error leads to ANeSU fiscal revamp

BRISTOL — After a $241,000 deficit emerged in the Mount Abraham Union High School books six months after the close of the 2010 fiscal year last June 30, administrators are taking steps to ensure that such a large deficit doesn’t occur again.
By redistributing responsibilities, replacing personnel and bringing in outside consultants, Addison Northeast Supervisory Union administrators hope to reduce future deficits. But, in the face of tighter budgets, this task will prove challenging, according to ANeSU Superintendent Evelyn Howard.
“Deficits occur because we experience unexpected expenses,” Howard said. “These unexpected expenses … (were caused last year by) a change in programs to meet student needs and a change in employee benefits.”
As budgets are cut back due to the economic hard times, Howard said, “We don’t have room to accommodate for unexpected expenses … The way that we’re budgeting has a greater opportunity for deficit because we don’t have any margin of error. We budget for what we know about.”
In the wake of ANeSU fiscal issues earlier this winter, district business manager Greg Burdick decided to move on. The ANeSU board accepted his resignation in January, and Burdick is expected to continue on until the end of this fiscal year, June 30.
Consequently, the district has begun searching for a new business manager under the guidance of George Cormier, the retired business manager from Lamoille South Supervisory Union.
“He is a widely recognized business manager who understands Vermont’s (education) funding systems,” said Howard. 
Cormier, consulting to ANeSU, is looking closely at the qualifications, experience and potential of prospective business managers. The position has attracted several applicants from websites where it has been posted for several weeks.
As the school district looks for a new business manager, Howard is also developing a strategy to better monitor the district’s fiscal status. She is currently in the process of reorganizing the district’s fiscal monitoring systems and considers it an ongoing task.
“It will probably involve several different approaches: internally looking to change some things, having some outside eyes to look at things, and then probably a group of people will need to set some priorities and targets,” she said.
One step that ANeSU took last year to improve the efficacy of its monitoring system was to create the food service cooperative director position, currently held by Kathy Alexander. Howard indicated that this position has thus far been successful in directing food-related responsibilities away from the business manager and building administrator.
“This position, in part, is meant to develop a sound system to better monitor fiscal activity (for the district’s food system) … and jibe with the business manager,” Alexander said.
Another remedy that Howard thinks will help the district run smoother is the creation of a “facilities manager” position. This position would provide oversight of short- and long-term facilities planning, looking at energy upgrades, repairs and grants to improve ANeSU facilities.
Meanwhile, administrators are searching for a consultant to improve the efficacy of its financial management.
The goal of these reforms is to keep better track of fiscal developments.
“It doesn’t mean that we will have a crystal ball,” added Howard. “We will continue to experience the unexpected. But, we want a system that keeps us informed in an accurate and timely fashion.” 
Reporter Andrew Stein can be reached at [email protected]

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