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PAYMENTS TO FORMER Roscoe Central School Superintendent George Will, above, are at the center of the state comptroller's school audit report.

State Audit Faults Roscoe CS

By Dan Hust
ROSCOE — July 6, 2007 — The just-released NYS Comptroller’s Office’s audit of the Roscoe Central School District lists several accusations and recommendations, but it doesn’t answer the most pertinent question:
Did the district act with ill intent?
Ask Superintendent Carmine Giangreco, and the answer is a clear “no.”
Ask his predecessor, George Will, and the answer is just as firm:
“If any mistakes were made, they were honest ones,” the retired educator said Monday. “I would never at any point overcharge the district.”
That’s one of several accusations the “Internal Controls Over Financial Operations” report makes in an audit that was conducted on the randomly-chosen Roscoe school district last year.
State auditors examined financial records from July 2004 to April 2006 and found fault with payments made to Will, the former superintendent, and procedures within the business department.
“We found that the district’s business manager prepares journal entries, completes bank reconciliations, creates purchase orders, sets up encumbrances, and acts as the district’s system administrator for the financial management system,” wrote auditors from the Comptroller’s Division of Local Government and School Accountability. “This position allows her full access to the financial management system and provides her with the responsibility of creating user accounts and monitoring activity.”
Though they did not note any actual improprieties, the auditors recommended the school board redistribute the system administration duties to someone outside the business office so as “to ensure proper segregation of duties and internal controls.”
The auditors also urged the board to better inventory and track its capital assets, like computers and furniture. Though they noted the district has made attempts to do so, auditors sought more oversight and better tracking, noting that two software licenses could not be accounted for and one-quarter of all the items requiring “asset tags” (about $35,600 worth of equipment) did not have such tags, making them vulnerable to misuse or theft.
However, auditors devoted most of the report to issues surrounding George Will, Roscoe’s longtime superintendent, who retired in 2005.
“We found $16,254 in inappropriate payments made to Will related to fringe benefit cash-outs, traveling for grant activities without legally excusing himself from his superintendent duties, and payroll-related expenses,” they wrote.
Some of those monies were derived from a Teaching American History grant that Will still oversees as program director.
The three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education provides for the training of history and social studies teachers in order to increase their students’ grasp of the material and success in related exams.
Roscoe was named the lead school in 2004 for a consortium of local public schools participating in the program, and while a retired social studies teacher was expected to be the director, Will eventually got the $27,000-a-year role.
In his administration of the grant program, the auditors said Will cashed out $13,500 in fringe benefits from 2004-2006, even though he had full health insurance coverage from the district as superintendent. (The grant was written so as to provide this cash-out option should someone without such benefits be administering the program.)
“We found no indication that Will submitted receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses or unpaid portion of his benefits package,” wrote the auditors, “thus these payments… were deemed inappropriate.”
Will also spent 4.5 days on business trips specifically for the grant, yet did not take vacation days as superintendent. Auditors considered it a lack of proper segregation of duties and said the district, as a result, overpaid Will by $2,754.
The auditors also faulted Will’s involvement of his secretary and the business manager in grant-related paperwork, finding no evidence that they fit the grant requirements for employing teachers nor that the board authorized them to each be paid $300 a year.
As a result, the auditors said the district claimed $2,280 more in grant payments than it was entitled to, additionally faulting the school for $2,283 in unrelated grant expenditures that were not sufficiently documented.
Auditors also attacked Will’s non-competitive hiring of Edushift, Inc. to write the grant, guaranteeing it 15 percent of the grant monies if it was successful in obtaining the grant.
The grantwriter happened to be Will’s son, Edushift employee David Will, and auditors could find no evidence that the school board officially approved Edushift’s hiring.
Auditors weren’t finished yet, however. They also found that Will was paid $10,457 “to which he was not entitled according to the terms of his employment contract.”
Comptroller’s personnel discovered that in the 2000 and 2001 contract years, Will’s used vacation time was miscalculated. As a result, his overall salary – which increased each year at a percentage partially based on how many vacation days he did not utilize – was also miscalculated, all on the order of $8,399.
Furthermore, the auditors said Will’s contract did not provide for a cash-out of unused disability insurance, yet Will received a $2,058 reimbursement for not using such insurance.
The auditors recommended the district attempt to recoup the excess payments, though Roscoe’s board is free to do so or not.
Current Supt. Giangreco promised in a letter written to the Comptroller’s Office (and included in the report) that the board would be pursuing that path for most of the payments.
However, Giangreco indicated the board would not seek to recoup the $13,500 in fringe benefits cash-outs nor the $2,280 paid to the business manager and superintendent’s secretary for grant-related paperwork – saying the board would have formally approved the payouts to those two had it realized that was necessary.
The board did agree to withhold the $6,750 in grant monies it would have paid this year to Will in lieu of fringe benefits but felt that it had acted properly in the prior years.
Giangreco said that, in addition to getting the all-clear from the district’s independent auditor, a federal grant representative in Washington, D.C. had found no fault with the fringe benefits cash-outs, although the Comptroller’s Office said it received a contradictory reply when it asked the same representative.
Giangreco wrote that the board also will not seek to recover the $2,058 paid to Will in lieu of unused disability insurance for the simple fact that the board informally agreed to pay him that amount and forgot to amend Will’s contract accordingly.
The superintendent’s letter additionally stated the district would seek to better document grant expenditures and employees’ work in the program.
Giangreco added that the board will follow all of the other recommendations pertaining to the segregation of business manager duties and the inventorying of capital assets – though he indicated Roscoe can only do so much with the small staff it can afford to employ.
When these changes will take place – and if any money will actually be recouped – remains uncertain, as the June 19 flooding near Roscoe delayed a full discussion and an official plan of action until at least the July board meeting.
As for the hiring of Edushift, the board agreed with the auditors that it had not followed its own policy and allowed Will to unilaterally hire the company without a proper bidding process or even documented authorization from the board.
However, Giangreco pointed out that Edushift had helped secure a $148,000 grant for the financially-strapped district that led to a revitalization of the physical education department, and he indicated the district does not regret its association with Edushift.
Will himself hopes this won’t tarnish anyone’s reputation, including the district’s and Edushift’s.
“This grant has been a very positive thing for history teachers,” he said. “They loved it so much, we applied to the Department of Education for a second round of the grant.”
Will said that request was heeded, and a program which would have disappeared at the end of this month has now been renewed for another three years.
And he didn’t hesitate to thank his son for it.
“David is a talented writer, and this company is good at what they do,” he remarked, calling the grants “a result of a young man wanting to give back to his community.”
Will said everyone he spoke to about the grant – including the superintendents of Sullivan County’s eight school districts and BOCES, which all participate in the program – was aware of the connection between himself and his son through Edushift.
“All of this was done to benefit the kids and teachers, and it has had a tremendous benefit,” he said.
Though data is still being collected, Will stated that by the program’s second year, area middle school’s test results in history and social studies improved.
He said that an average of 50-60 local teachers attend four three-day symposiums every year, with some heading to Cornell University and Colonial Williamsburg for further training. (The Smithsonian Institution is also a partner in the national grant program.)
“All this is meant to excite social studies teachers,” he explained.
And he hopes this audit doesn’t dim that excitement.
“Working at Roscoe was the highlight of my career,” said Will, who still administers the grant program and mentors local principals, while enjoying his grandchildren and “official” retirement.
He agreed that school districts should be subject to careful scrutiny, but in this case he felt much of the audit’s accusations stemmed from “inaccurate bookkeeping.”
Will added he is willing to sit down with the board and discuss the matter.
“I’m not interested in receiving anything not due to me,” he said.

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