Shape up or ship out

Board of Education, Watson

To say that this has not been a good week for the Winsted Board of Education, the school district, taxpayers of Winsted or the parents and students of the town’s school system is an understatement.

On May 27, a written evaluation for Superintendent of Schools Anne Watson was completed by Board of Education Chairman Susan Hoffnagle and member Douglas Pfenninger.

On June 1, the state’s Department of Education issued a report on an internal audit on how the Winchester School District handled the state’s Special Education Excess Cost grant for fiscal years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.

Both the evaluation and the state’s report are quite damning, and they both cover a lot of points.

The state’s report, issued by Office of Internal Audit Director Gloria McCree, details the way the school district mishandled funds by failing to use accurate data and failing to provide accurate documentation.

According to McCree’s lengthy report, in some cases the district did not even provide records of how much time a teacher or paraprofessional spent with children enrolled in the district’s special education program.

At the conclusion of the report, McGree wrote that the district owes the state $720,865, which will reduce the state’s Education Cost Sharing grant to the school district next year.

The fact that these problems were allowed to continue over the course of four years without any attempted correction by the district is quite disturbing. 

The school district is now on the hook for $720,865, and this has serious potential for hurting education funding for the district. A supplemental tax would not help in this case because, unless a foolproof action plan is instituted, there is a chance that this all could happen again.

To top it off, Hoffnagle and Pfenninger’s job performance review of Watson does not paint a pretty picture of the district as a whole.

However, many of the problems identified in the review have all been well known for some time, including the lack of a formal budget for fiscal 2015-2016 being presented to the Board of Selectmen before the proposed budget was voted on by residents, a lack of accounting for the budget of the current fiscal year and strained community relations with both The Gilbert School and the media, along with missteps in personnel issues, including hiring.

The Winsted Journal would love to hear Watson’s side of the story. However, as it has been customary since Watson was hired last year, she did not return calls for comment for the story in this week’s newspaper.

After all of the reports that have been issued this week identifying errors and missteps in the way state grants and the district’s special education program have been handled and how the superintendent has handled her job, the community at large deserves more than a corrective action plan or promises that things will get better. The community deserves guarantees. Real changes must happen throughout the school district’s operations. Not promises of “we’ll do better next time.”

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. We encourage all residents to attend and make their feelings known about the school district’s performance in relation to the state’s report and the superintendent’s job performance review.

In short, we believe that parents, taxpayers and the children all deserve better than this.

Something to remember: On Friday, June 5, it will be 182 days until the town’s municipal election, which is scheduled to be held on Nov. 3. Five seats on the board are set to be up for election.