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Emergency money approved for school roof

August 4, 2018

GREENWICH — The Representative Town Meeting has voted to approve an emergency allocation to allow the Board of Education to finish replacement of the roof on Julian Curtiss School.

Town Finance officials discovered no money had been set aside for the project in late July after workers had already removed most of the roof’s shingles. The BOE and the Board of Estimate and Taxation scrambled late last week to to approve a request for $617,000. The RTM overwhelmingly approved the expenditure Thursday.

“We absolutely appreciate the full support of the RTM, we are excited to get the building closed up and ready for students and we are working already with the BET so we can ensure adequate controls are in place,” Board of Education Chair Peter Bernstein said.

The funding problem was the result of a series of errors committed over a couple of years, said RTM Finance Chair Rob Perelli-Minetti.

“Where the problems lay are down at a granular level within staff that did not come to the attention of the BOE until a week ago,” he said.

Julian Curtiss’ slate roof needed to be replaced when leaks continued after two patch jobs in 2012 and 2015. The replacement work initially was included in a bundle of roof projects approved at a cost of $2.715 million, including $550,000 for Julian Curtiss.

When the lowest bid for the Julian Curtiss roof came in at $1.7 million, three times the budgeted amount, school administrators did not notify the BOE, Perelli-Minetti said. Instead, they split the Julian Curtiss project into two phases, and completed the first phase with leftover money from a Greenwich High School roof project. The second phase began this summer without proper funding to cover the contract. School officials have attributed that situation to incorrect assumptions and miscommunication among new administrators.

“Were it not for the Finance Department discovering the lack of an appropriation, a few weeks from now, the BOE would have a contractor’s invoice due and no money to pay for it,” RTM District 6 member David Rudolph said Thursday.

The oversight violated the Town Charter and state statute, he said.

The BOE met with the RTM finance, budget overview and education committees Wednesday night to to review the events leading to the oversight. The three committees unanimously approved the appropriation.

“The board owned the problem and accepted the need for an audit,” Perelli-Minetti said. “They want to institute policies and procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Bernstein approved of Wednesday night’s discussion.

“It’s a challenging topic, but you have to face the facts that there were multiple points at which this issue should’ve been caught and it wasn’t, and at this point, what we can do is look forward to making sure it doesn’t happen again,” Bernstein said.

The BET has assigned the issue to its audit and law committees, and the BOE and the BET agreed to update the RTM periodically with their findings and proposed policy changes, Bernstein said.

Bernstein said a status update will reach the RTM in September.

BOE members and the committees also discussed potential changes to how school administrators estimate project costs and work with the town’s practice of bundling projects.

The board receives architecture and engineering funds each year to approximate bids. But replacing GHS’ roof came in at 59 percent of the projected cost while the bid for Julian Curtiss exceeded estimates by 225 percent.

Bernstein agreed that the current process needs greater accountability and oversight.

The town’s practice of bundling projects under one generic account code complicates the BOE’s ability to track projects and also needs updates, Bernstein said.

“It is clear the BOE will have difficulty tracking open capital projects with the current method of bundling many projects under one generic accounting code,” he said. “This will be reformed in the future with a new approach.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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