State awards ANwSU funding, cites progress

VERGENNES — After a recent meeting with Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials, the Vermont Agency of Education has agreed, with conditions, to restore grant funding to ANwSU that has been withheld from the Vergennes-area school district because of accounting and reporting problems.
In an Aug. 4 letter to ANwSU board chairman Jeffry Glassberg and new ANwSU Superintendent JoAn Canning, Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe wrote that her agency is “reassured by your swift and thorough response to our concerns, and your clear commitment to ensuring that ANwSU meets its various financial reporting obligations to the AOE, while implementing and maintaining best practices at the central office of the SU.”
Glassberg also said the ANwSU board has scheduled a public forum for residents to learn more about what officials are doing to address the financial issues. That meeting will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Vergennes Union High School.
“We understand the public will have questions and concerns,” Glassberg said.
Time will not be set aside at other school board meetings to deal with the larger ANwSU financial picture.
“That’s not the place to try to talk about this, so we want to have a special forum where we can have some dialogue,” Glassberg said.
Glassberg and Canning met with Holcombe and two other Agency of Education officials in Montpelier on July 31, and Glassberg said Holcombe’s letter confirmed his belief the meeting went well.
“They reported being pleased with the progress being made, and importantly for us indicated they are willing to begin funding again,” Glassberg said. “That was really the critical thing.”
The AOE began in April to withhold ANwSU grant funds that officials said typically total more than $1 million a year. They include money for federal Medicaid, Title I Migrant, and Teacher Quality programs, plus funds to support math and literacy programs and special education. They also include state funds for afterschool and Reading Readiness programs.
Current ANwSU officials said they were unaware of those sanctions until a July 3 letter arrived that called the ANwSU’s financial record “very weak.” That letter cited many accounting problems listed in a July 1 report that in turn summarized a June 10 fiscal monitoring visit by AOE officials.
After the letter arrived, ANwSU officials placed business manager Kathy Cannon on paid administrative leave. Glassberg said Cannon remains on paid leave, but otherwise could not comment on what he called a personnel issue.
Holcombe’s letter refers to ANwSU’s commitment to “taking, or already taking, the following steps,” one of which is, “You agree that any new business manager will be hired with the advice of the Agency of Education.”
Conditions of the agreement between the AOE and ANwSU outlined in Holcombe’s letter, with her comments, include:
•  “You are working through business office reorganization and transitions.”
•  “The SU’s (fiscal year) ’12 and ’13 audits will be completed within 180 days. We are very pleased with the progress you have made on these audits.”
•  “You have already provided appropriate professional development and support for the Director of Curriculum.”
The AOE also is proposing to send “monitoring personnel” to Vergennes to help prepare grant reports for the past school year “based on proper documentation,” and that reports for the upcoming school year must be “submitted with supporting documentation as prescribed by monitoring staff.”
Glassberg said ANwSU officials and employees understand they must fulfill the requirements and upgrade their practices. 
“We’ve got to meet the markers, and we still have a fair amount of work ahead of us in terms of policies and procedures,” he said.
ANwSU board members will also, in Glassberg’s words, “do some board training, particularly on financial reporting and oversight responsibilities.”
Glassberg said he and Agency of Education officials are working on a “checklist” for that training that he hopes can be used for board members on a statewide basis.
“That’s something we offered to do as hopefully a positive outcome from this,” he said.
At the same time, Glassberg said the Agency of Education pledged to do a better job statewide of informing boards if there are problems at office levels, in hopes of avoiding having board members similarly blindsided in the future.
“If things are being flagged at the agency they will provide updates to the board,” he said.
In the meantime, Glassberg said ANwSU officials’ main focus will remain at home.
“We’re making a sincere effort to make this right,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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