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School board expands panel probing $2M deficit

Published 6:59 am, Tuesday, January 14, 2014
  • Board of Education chairwoman, Elaiine Whitney, center, gave a brief update on the status of the school district's health insurance fund, which has a $2 million shortfall, during a BOE meeting Monday at Staples High School. Whitney also appointed two citizen members to the board's ad hoc committee looking into the matter. At left, is board member Jeannie Smith, to the far right is Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    Board of Education chairwoman, Elaiine Whitney, center, gave a brief update on the status of the school district's health insurance fund, which has a $2 million shortfall, during a BOE meeting Monday at Staples High School. Whitney also appointed two citizen members to the board's ad hoc committee looking into the matter. At left, is board member Jeannie Smith, to the far right is Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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Two new members were added Monday night to the Board of Education's ad hoc committee investigating the $2 million shortfall in this year's budget.

School board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney appointed Charles Haberstroh and Kevin Connolly as "citizen members" to its Health Insurance Fund Review Committee.

"Both have very strong financial expertise," said Whitney. "And the Board of Ed appreciates their willingness to help."

She said both men volunteered to serve on the committee, which was to have only one citizen member besides three school board members and Elio Longo, the school district's business manager. Whitney said, however, other "able and capable volunteers" also offered to join the deficit panel, and she decided to add another citizen member to the committee.

Haberstroh is a former selectmen and former Board of Finance member, who served on its audit subcommittee. Connolly is also a former member of the Board of Finance, who served as vice chairman from 2005-07.

Meanwhile, the Board of Finance, in a special meeting earlier Monday, approved the $15,000 funding for an external audit of the health insurance account by McGladrey and Pullen, the town's accounting firm. The funding had been approved by the Board of Selectmen last week.

Whitney also reiterated the school board's support for the independent probe of the deficit that is projected in the board's health insurance account, noting that members on Dec. 11 unanimously approved retaining the services of an auditing firm to conduct such a review to confirm the amount of the shortfall, determine its cause and make recommendations.

The board, while supporting the hiring of an outside firm, didn't act to do so.

Board member Brett Aronow, chairwoman of the board's ad hoc committee, reported the group held its first meeting Thursday and that Longo brought information about the health insurance account for their review. She said the committee plans to analyze variances in the account and will "look at specific medical claims for 2013."

In particular, according to Longo's information, six large medical claims last year by school district employees -- all much larger than anticipated -- apparently were a major factor in the deficit.

Two of those health claims were close to "a half-million each," Longo said at Thursday's ad hoc meeting, and cost the school system a total of about $1.3 million in unanticipated costs.

As the school board grapples with a $2 million deficit in its current budget, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon last week unveiled a $110.9 million budget he is proposing for 2014-15.

That spending plan proposes a 6.5 percent boost in spending over the current $104 million budget, and more than 2 percent of the hike is allocated to cover the gap in this year's budget.

Landon has also included $742,600 in the proposed budget's health and medical insurance account -- as a claim fluctuation margin, or safety net -- to address future, unanticipated health expenditures that are being blamed for this year's shortfall.