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Educational collaboratives, under fire statewide because of allegations of misappropriated funds at a Billerica agency, are moving toward change, and the School Committee on Thursday, March 8, became the first among 21 communities to support that shift.

Altering the face of nonprofit EDCO is part of a push by the Legislature in reaction to charges at the Billerica-based Merrimack Special Education Collaborative. EDCO had no connection to charges against John B. Barranco, the former executive director there.

With praise of EDCO's work in providing professional development for teachers, staff and school officials in Arlington and 20 other greater Boston communities, the committee voted, 7-0.

Member Joseph Curro Jr. called Arlington's "relationship with EDCO incredibly important."

Curro said EDCO programs in which he has been involved are "one of the most valuable things I've done as member of the School Committee."

He referred specifically to advice that he and member Jud Pierce, an attorney, received while researching whether the committee should change legal representation. In October 2010, the committee voted to replace Stoneman Chandler attorney Alan Miller

School Committee logo

The committee asked that Dorsey Yearley, EDCO's executive director, based in Waltham, come to a future School Committee to explain further what changes are occurring in the organization and what it does.

The collaborative is composed of two organizations -- EDCO and ECGB Inc -- which must merge. All 21-member school districts have to approve changes.

The 7-0 School Committee vote was on this motion:

"I move that the School Committee vote to dissolve ECGB, Inc. by June 30, 2012, or as soon as legally possible thereafter, and further that our representatives for EDCO and ECGB, Inc. be authorized to take all necessary steps to transfer all programs, contracts and available assets, including the Seefurth Fund, from ECGB, Inc. to EDCO by the close of the fiscal year on June 30, 2012, or as soon as legally possible thereafter."

In January, a House bill, which follows approval of a similar measure in the state Senate, was proposed after a 2011 scandal surrounding Merrimack, in which Barranco, faces accusations of transferring $11.5 million to a related nonprofit and using the funds to cover lavish salaries for himself, a former girlfriend and a close circle of associates. 

School Committee view of town/school financial consolidation

Feb. 7: Treasurer, school budget analyst rap consolidation report

In other news, the School Committee's packet included a March 2 letter to Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, addressing proposed consolidation. It says the committee does not have enough information to proceed. The following is a copy of what the letter says:

We write this as official comments from the School Committee regarding the DOR Town and School Financial Analysis Report dated January 2012. We are responding to the request for comments from the Town Manager regarding the Report's recommendations.

The Report has many sections. In particular, we note that the bulk of the recommendations suggest significant changes in the organization of the Town financial management structure, and further, that this reorganization is suggested to occur in advance of discussions of consolidation of Town/School financial offices.

In regard to the recommendations to the school department we are in agreement with most: for example, inclusion of payroll in a consolidated financial department and implementation of an automated absence & substitute tracking system. The recommendations of MUNIS terminals to the schools and payroll warrants need more study on how to resolve certain technicalities. (See addendum for all responses.)

While we do not take issue with any of the details regarding the organizational changes of the Town financial structure, we do not feel is it our purview to make detailed comments on them either.

At this time, we do not feel we have sufficient information to agree to a final consolidated Town/ School finance office. We understand that this is seen as a potential final step by the DOR; however some of our members are concerned that unless we are explicit in our views, we will be assumed to be in agreement.

We do not feel we have sufficient information about a consolidated Town/School department for the following reasons:

1. There is no mention of the oversight role of the School Committee of the whole in the recommendations.

2. There is no mention of the School Committee on the proposed organizational chart (Report page28).

3. There is no clarity of the Superintendent/Finance officer relationship on the organizational chart.

4. It is unclear what the final structure of the Town finance department will be at this early time, and thus it is difficult to understand how the School Administrative personnel and/or the School Committee should best interact with it.

We are also note the absence of a definition of the role of the Finance Committee with a consolidated Town/School Finance Department.
We are not ruling a possible merger in or out, just trying to be clear that there are still lot of things to clarify, and that many of them are not dependent on the Schools.

In conclusion, we reiterate the School Committee's authority over our budget [MGL 71 s34] and to agree to any eventual School-Town consolidation 71 s37M]. In addition, we require that any future blueprint for a consolidation include clear lines of authority that incorporate the Committee and the Superintendent before we enter discussions of consolidation.

Addendum regarding the recommendations

We are in agreement about the following:

* Recommendation #5, 23: Migration the IT department.

* Recommendation #7, page 24: Inclusion of the payroll department in the consolidated financial department.

* Recommendation #8, page 24: Regular meetings between Superintendent Town Manager, Comptroller, CFO; and addressing outstanding issues of previous town-school consolidations

* Recommendation #9, page 24: Purchase of automated absence tracking/substitute calling.

* Recommendation #10, page 24: Improving administrative capacity at or building cost center level.

* Recommendation #14, page 25: Creating written agreement concerning allocation of municipal costs to be included in net school spending.

We are in the process of working out the technicalities involved in the following:

* Recommendation #10, page 24: Rolling out MUNIS terminals to schools and piloting decentralized purchasing, payroll, and budget monitoring. Our concerns include staffing ability, software ability (example: hold function on purchase order) and hardware purchasing.

* Recommendation #15, page 26: Recommendation around School Committee payroll warrants. Our concerns include implementing policy so there is no possibility of payroll warrant delays if the chair is unavailable.

This story was first published Tuesday, March 13, 2012.

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