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Sunday, April 29, 2012

WLC board members were concerned about ‘micromanaging’ on spending for travel

WILTON – When a Wilton-Lyndeborough school board member asked for greater oversight of professional development spending in October, colleagues on the board pushed back, saying they didn’t want to micromanage Superintendent Trevor Ebel.

This was a few months after teachers and administrators spent thousands of dollars for rooms and meals at expensive hotels and restaurants during out-of-state conferences. Purchases of alcohol and limousine rides made with a district credit card during these trips raised red flags in an independent audit in March.

According to the minutes of the Oct. 11 meeting, member Jim Button said he was “concerned with the staff development policy” and asked for a written plan to show what kind of training was going on to ensure there was enough training and enough money to support it.

In response, board member Dion Lewis said he was concerned with “micromanaging Mr. Ebel,” according to the minutes.

Board member John Ballou said he had never heard a complaint from teachers about professional development and didn’t see a need to change directions. Member Fran Bujak concurred, saying he had “no interest in micromanaging.”

Ebel resigned last week in the midst of a scandal about spending at professional development conferences, although he will continue working from home as a consultant to the school district for a month.

The superintendent’s name is on the district’s credit card statements for the three major trips during the 2010-11 fiscal year that involved, among other questionable expenses, a $300-per-night suite in Pittsburgh, $3,600 for hotel rooms in San Francisco and a $724 restaurant bill in San Francisco.

The minutes of that Oct. 11 meeting also show Ebel told the board that professional development wasn’t an issue and that there is no district liability because the professional development is grant funded.

The school board sealed the findings of report by an attorney it hired with public funds to investigate the flagged spending, including payroll advances and charges for movies.

The payroll advances and inappropriate charges were part of about a dozen instances of failed compliance.

The report had determined there were three occasions when payroll advances were made to the employee, according a statement on the SAU 63 website.

“The advances violated the district’s policy prohibiting payroll advances, but did not result in payment of an annual salary beyond that to which the employee was entitled,” the statement says.

The district has implemented a new policy designed to reduce the risk of misuse of funds, according to the statement.

“The district has determined that the inappropriate personal expenditures appear not to have extended beyond those identified in the audit,” and the majority of the expenditures were reimbursed by the employee prior to the investigation, the statement says.

“The employee has also provided assurances that in the event the district identifies other expenditures that it deems to be personal, that they will be reimbursed,” it says.

Ebel had been superintendent since 2009 and before that had been the principal of Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle/Senior High School.

The board waived the 120-day notice requirement of Ebel’s contract, but required that he provide 30 days of consultation support on transitional issues. His per-diem rate is based on his $98,000 annual salary.

WLC Principal Brian Bagley will continue as acting superintendent while the board begins a search for an interim superintendent.

Board Chairman Geoffrey Brock was out of the country this week and unavailable for comment, according to his wife. Board Vice Chairman Harry Dailey didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or