Letter: Education board accounting is misleading

To the Editor:

In response to what I heard while attending last Monday's BOE meeting and the article I read in this weeks Ridgefield Press. I was shocked by the BOE Chair’s statement that the BOF's cut was over a $1 million due to removal of the $120K preschool revenues that BOE had inappropriately included in their budget. For those not familiar with this matter, the preschool revenues have always gone into the Town ledger, not the BOE budget. That is the accepted accounting procedure. Earlier this year, the BOE Chair asked the BOS to change this long-standing accounting practice, but BOS did not grant the request. When budget season rolled around, the BOE unilaterally added the $120K revenue to their budget, even though BOS had not approved the BOE Chair's proposed accounting change.

I was shocked to see these revenues in BOE’s proposed budget and called them on it during our early BOF budget deliberations. We advised BOE that these monies are counted on the revenue side of the Town budget, so by keeping it in their budget, they were inappropriately double counting the revenue. Additionally, BOE’s attempt to include this revenue in its budget had the direct effect of misleading the public about the size of BOE’s proposed year-over-year budget increase. Despite that advice, the BOE irresponsibly kept the revenue in their budget. When BOE submitted their first round of budget reductions based on the BOF's recommended amount, they still did not remove the $120K of revenue. Talk about lack of transparency. Then on Monday, the BOE Chair framed it as a surprise additional cut by the BOF.  I don't throw stones at the BOE, but the true facts are important. The truth is that the Superintendent Baldwin and BOE Chair Walton made a conscious decision to double count revenue, waited for the BOF to bring it up at our hearings, refused to remove it when repeatedly directed to do so, and now try to state it was a further imposed reduction. If they want to play that game, they need to also concede that their original budget request was $120K higher than they publicly stated, since it proposed to transfer from the Town ledger an existing $120K revenue stream that was NOT previously included in the BOE budget. Whether or not you believe that these monies should have been included in the BOE budget in this or prior years, that is not how our accounting works and the BOE cannot make that decision unilaterally nor pretend that their budget request is $120K lower than it actually is. Ultimately, accounting gimmicks to mislead the public about the size of BOE’s requested budget increase can NOT disguise the tax impacts of BOE’s budget proposal.

Jessica Mancini, 

Board of Finance, April 28