Top stories of 2014: #4 — ANwSU fiscal woes revealed; recovery begun

VERGENNES — In July, new Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning discovered — and immediately made public — that the Vermont Agency of Education had sanctioned ANwSU by starting to withhold about $1 million in state and federal grant funds.
The Agency of Education called ANwSU’s financial recordkeeping and accounting “very weak” in a July 3 letter, and in a July 1 report summarizing a June fiscal monitoring visit state officials cited many accounting problems. Canning and ANwSU board chairman Jeffery Glassberg said in July they had just learned that the Agency of Education fund suspension began in April.
Canning also announced that ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon had been placed on paid administrative leave. She said no jobs or programs at the four ANwSU schools were in immediate danger, and that the state agency made no accusations of impropriety.
Work began immediately to clean up the mess and install, in Glassberg’s words, “proper policies and procedures and institutional culture.” 
Problems that the state identified included poor training and reporting and lack of basic accounting practices, such as “Purchase orders are not numbered or controlled.” Information auditors needed was also chronically late, and audits were two years behind.
By August, the Agency of Education agreed enough progress had been made to start restoring funding, and the ANwSU board called a public forum late that month to address residents’ questions and concerns.
During the at-times contentious forum, some praised the efforts of ANwSU officials to dig the district out of the mess, while others said not enough was being done and even asked the board to step down for its earlier failure to oversee ANwSU employees.
At that meeting, Glassberg announced that Cannon was no longer an employee, while also stating, “We are not aware at this time of misuse of funds.”
Officials also pledged to complete the delayed audits within 180 days and to produce the next audit in a timely manner.
In October, ANwSU brought aboard a new business manager, Tonia Mears, who had been serving in the same capacity in the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union.
Canning said she was the right choice not only due to her background, but also because she had helped that district in a similar crisis.
“Tonia was also in a school district what was challenged by some budget issues several years ago,” Canning said. “She was promoted to business manager and was instrumental in putting the district back on track.”
Later in October, the two delayed audits were completed, for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 fiscal years. Officials set aside time at all of the district’s board meetings to field residents’ questions about the results.
At year’s end, the board for the ANwSU school hit hardest by the district’s fiscal problems, Vergennes Union High School, was facing major cuts as its members eyed a second straight deficit of $500,000 or more. That shortfall, officials said, was due to several years in a row of failure to accurately budget for special education costs. 

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