To the Editor:
It is very disturbing to me to read about the deficits in the Board of Education budget. What is most disturbing is the inclusion by current board member Karen Vibert of Gary Franzi as one of the people responsible for the problem. I served on the board when Gary began his tenure as business manager. He inherited accounts that were in a shambles. The software used by the Board of Education and that of the city were not compatible. The board system could not produce a competent budget. The budget had to be augmented with Excel. The city’s system was also outdated and could not communicate with the board in budgetary matters.
Gary Franzi began to redo all board accounts and logically organized the entire financial picture. He published the current balances of these accounts monthly. That still left the city and the board unable to communicate. Because of this, he was instrumental in getting the city to update its MUNIS software so finally everybody was on the same page. That took a full year to accomplish.
At every finance committee meeting, Gary went over every account including the special education account which was always a troublesome one because the number of students involved was always changing and usually growing. Not to be deterred, Gary tackled the problem by first utilizing years of past data to achieve more accuracy and improve the ability to predict final outcomes in the special ed budget. Second, he brought to bear Connecticut laws and practices regarding special ed reimbursements by the state due back to towns and cities
Gary brought good accounting practices to the Bristol Board of Education. He was praised by city Conptrroller Glen Klocko and other city officials for all that he did to improve the board’s accounting system. To lump Gary’s name to who may be responsible for the deficit problem is not only despicable but a flat-out lie. The truth is that Gary repeatedly warned the board that if measures were not taken to conserve spending, we would experience deficits in the range of a couple of million dollars. I know this because I was still a member and heard his monthly analyses and warnings.
After the last election, the Democrats regained control of the board, and at this time the new chairman (Chris Wilson) confronted Dr. Solek, superintendent of schools, telling her to start looking for a new job. Wilson proceeded to completely emasculate her position and transferred most of her duties to the deputy superintendent who did not appear to resist the action. If one were to check into the record, it will show that the deputy received a substantial raise in salary. Under the direction of Chairman Wilson and the environment that emerged, Gary Franzi, business manager, lost confidence in Wilson’s leadership and integrity and the changed environment that Dr. Solek was being forced to work in.
Back to the issue of the deficit. I am told that Gary Franzi warned the newly elected board members of the impending $2 million deficit just as he had warned the former board members. However, they did not want to hear it. Instead they rescinded the newly negotiated teacher contract, signed off by the former board and the union. That action cost the board at least $1.6 million. So do you want to talk about a deficit? Missing dollars? Bringing in an auditor, at what cost?
It was at a great cost to Bristol’s Board of Education when Gary Franzi resigned. I do not believe that Karen Vibert as board finance chairman is qualified to sit in judgment of any business manager. She does have the sufficient accounting background to understand or oversee the complicated finances of a $110 million budget.
So it is a big fat lie that the board did not know or understand the deficits. They were warned repeatedly by Gary Franzi at the monthly finance meetings that there could be a deficit if conservative decisions did not prevail. Further, let us not forget that last year’s budget was in arrears of another $2 million plus. So if my math is correct, that would mean a grand total for two years of $4.4 million in deficit. No audit on earth can reveal poor decision-making. And that is the truth!
My hope is that the board budget will again be in balance, as it was when I served on the board. Integrity is vital to such a very important part of our city structure.
Genard E. Dolan
Former Commissioner and Vice Chairman, Bristol Board of Education