Auditor recommends changes to ORR district financial practices

May 27, 2020

A financial auditor called the Old Rochester Regional School District “a poor district” and said it has to work out deficit, credit and long-term financial management issues. 

Tony Roselli, of Roselli Clark and Associates found a $149,701 deficit that the athletics program had accumulated over three years, a $10,211 deficit for the district’s preschool, a $7,320 deficit for its summer school and a $4,391 deficit for building rentals. 

Roselli appeared before the Old Rochester Regional School Committee on May 27 to present his audit. 

The deficits on those four revolving accounts were alarming because they should be replenished by the fees for each program. But Roselli was also surprised when he found the school’s bond rating, which measures the district’s overall financial strength, had gone down. 

For the funds other than athletics, the district will adjust the fees accordingly in the future. Superintendent Doug White said the district would use funds left over from this year’s operating budget (since schools have been vacant for part of the year), to pay for the athletic deficit. 

Roselli will also work with the athletic department to create better monitoring practices so it doesn’t happen again. 

Another red flag in Roselli’s book was the fact that the district’s bond rating went down. 

“I thought it was a typo at first,” Roselli said, adding that it is a “telltale sign that something needs to happen financially,” since it could drive up the financing cost on debt-offerings if the school has to borrow money for a big project.  

Roselli was also concerned that the school had no stabilization or transportation reimbursement fund to carry funds over from one year to the next. 

He said he had been asking other schools: “It’s pouring, what do you want to have in your rainy day fund? You guys don’t have that.” 

School Committee member Heather Burke agreed, and said that the district has been “basically getting by with a whisper and a prayer.” 

She said that another audit that Mattapoisett had done through the The Collins Center at the University of Massachusetts, Boston showed “we are really producing great results on a very small budget,” but added “we are finding that that’s not good enough anymore.” 

Roselli recommended the district should look into firewalls and network security because it has been a huge issue at the state, national and international level, and set up an analysis next week to do so. 

In addressing the operating budget surplus, White said there are two expenses to be funded: Phones for the High School and Junior High School offices, a project that will cost $29,100 after applying other funding sources. The second is auditorium lighting and safety rigging, which will cost about $54,000 after donations and reimbursement from Eversource.  

White estimates the district will have anywhere from $400 to $420,000 left over funds from the operating budget after paying the revolving account deficits because it is not paying for many of the school expenses while buildings are closed. 

He said the funds could either be used to fund the capital projects or kept in hand, in case state funds are drastically cut next year. 

While Burke acknowledged that “It’s going to be painful. We know we have deferred maintenance on our building for years,” but advocated for the project because “it’s so rare to be in the position to have funds to fund capital from operating expenses.”

Committee member Tina Rood agreed, and said “to know there is a phone system that doesn't work and isn’t effective for our school is unconscionable.” 

Committee members decided to fund both projects.