Finance Director Ronald Bunovsky, Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, school principals and Central Office’s finance staff pored over 144 line items to find over $500,000 to be applied toward the 2019-20 budget shortfall.
The savings will make up for the $300,000 budget plug, as well as the $117,311 deficit for transportation, leaving a $98,818 balance to apply to the rest of this year’s shortfall, lowering it to an estimated at $1.2 million.
“I think we need to be good stewards to the town and show we are looking under every rock, before coming to the town for money,” Kobza said.
The Board of Finance has a contingency account of just over $1 million, set up in part for cost overruns in special education. Though it is not specifically designated for that, some of the funding can be used to offset the Board of Education’s shortfall, which still is a moving number.
Kobza said the $516,129 in savings was the result of a spending freeze, in which principals for Monroe’s public schools held off on using money for things such as supplies.
The Board of Education unanimously approved budget transfers at their meeting Monday night, so the money could be applied to the shortfall.
The current estimate includes cost overruns of $685,083 for health insurance, about $565,000 for special education and $91,300 that was underfunded in the paraprofessionals’ budget for holiday pay.
On Jan. 13, the Board of Education suspended Superintendent of Schools Jack Zamary and interim finance director Frank B. Connolly indefinitely, with pay, pending an investigation being conducted by David Ryan of Ryan & Ryan LLC. The investigation is focused on budgetary oversight and leadership issues.
Assistant Superintendent Kobza was made acting superintendent, but the suspensions left Central Office shorthanded as the Board of Education grapples with a budget deficit and the process for adopting next year’s budget.
First Selectman Ken Kellogg proposed having the town’s finance director, Bunovsky, oversee both municipal and education finances.
Town Attorney Frank Lieto worked with Kellogg and Kobza before drafting a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on how this will work.
Kellogg’s hope is that ongoing discussions will lead to an agreement for a joint finance department for the town and the school district.
The Town Council approved the MOA at a special meeting last week and the Board of Education expressed its support in a unanimous vote on Monday.
However, during the Board of Education’s discussion, board member Nick Kapoor said he is “not totally sold on it.”
Among his concerns are what qualifications would be sought in job candidates when the town has to hire the next finance director. Kapoor also noted how a change would likely have to be made to the town charter to establish the new department.
“I think there are a lot of gray areas,” he said.
If the town and school board decide to form a joint department long term, Kapoor wonders who would assume the responsibilities the district’s finance director handled outside of finances.
“Are we saving money or is this restructuring?” Kapoor asked.
Jerry Stevens, a board member, asked who will decide whether or not having joint financial services is working.
If the agreement is not viable, Kobza said either side can opt out after the MOA expires on July 3.
Bunovsky said he, Kobza and the first selectman will sit down and have a heart-to-heart on how things are working.
Vice Chairman George A. King, III, who was acting chairman in Donna Lane’s absence, said all board members have the same concerns as Kapoor.
Kobza said the finance director works late into the night at Central Office and Bunovsky’s red Honda Ridgeline can be seen in the Monroe Town Hall parking lot on weekends.
“He’s doing yeoman’s work,” Kobza said. “It’s been instant stability with Ron here.”
Kobza added that former Monroe superintendent of schools James Augustine has been helping out two-to-three days a week.
Board of Education Secretary Shannon Monaco also praised Bunovsky for the long hours he has put in. Fellow board member, Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, also gave kudos to Monroe public schools’ Assistant Director of Finance Linda Sementilli and Maria Verma, who also works in the finance department.
On the municipal side, Bunovsky credited Deputy Finance Director Heidi Meade for helping to keep up with the town’s workload.
“I’ve got great, great staff on both sides,” he said. “This is a team effort.”