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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 17, 2005


School hopes to entice more diners to combat deficit

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — While students and staff are excited about healthy, tastier, and more diverse school foods, the school lunch program is running at a deficit.

After a recent external audit for 2004-05 performed by Washburn, Ellington, Sheeler, Taisz & Pinsley, Neil Lamere wrote in his, management letter, " [The] school lunch program ran at a significant loss of $23,948.’

Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell said one of the most costly items in the lunch budget is health-insurance benefits for cafeteria workers. It costs $9,000 for health insurance for the kitchen staff, which can’t be moved and combined with other health-insurance costs, and must remain in this separate fund, Winchell said.

Also, since the cafeteria staff had a number of unfortunate illnesses last spring and increased absences, this contributed to higher personnel costs, Winchell said.

The district hired a new head chef, Tim Mulligan, in February after a long-time food manager retired. Since February, there has been a complete overhaul of Voorheesville’s lunch program.

Kelly McKenna, the high school student-government president, said that many more students are buying lunch now than before because of the higher quality of food, which taste sgood.

It is a priority to offer the most nutritious food possible, Winchell said. Currently the price charged to students of the type A lunch is one of the highest in the area, Winchell said.

The type A lunch, which comes with milk and fruit, cost $2.

Mulligan said that he does not offer canned fruits because of the sugary syrup; instead he provides only fresh fruits, which vary in price depending on the season.

Lamere said the debate on lunches is not a unique problem for Voorheesville. Districts are trying to decide what quality of lunch they want to provide and at what cost, he said. The district has to decide if the benefit is worth the additional expense.

Winchell said that the cafeteria now offers many broader lunch options then it did before Mulligan took over. There are now a lot more choices for type A lunch. Besides the main hot meal, there are also two types of homemade soups offered every day and "grab and go" containers of salads and sandwiches.

"Satisfaction has grown considerably," Winchell said.

Lunch-line tour

On Monday night, Winchell offered the school board her report on how to reduce the lunch budget deficit, but maintain the quality which it was hoping to achieve with the hiring of Mulligan.

Before going over her proposal, she and Mulligan led the board members through a tour of the high-school cafeteria lunch line. Together they showed off the new variety of foods.

There were Chicken Caesar salads, salads with cheese, cubed melon cups, and small sub roles with lunch meats.

Winchell’s deficit reduction plan has two main objects: gain even more participants, and lower the overall food cost by using more surplus government foods.

Right now, the district is offering pizza through Pizza Hut, but Mulligan is experimenting with making his own pizza with government mozzarella, Winchell said.

Also Winchell suggested the district run a marketing campaign to have the staff buy lunch. Also, she wants to send more information home to parents about the variety and options, so that parents are more comfortable with sending their students to school with lunch money.

Voorheesville Teacher Association President Kathy Fiero has praised Mulligan’s homemade soups at board meetings in the past, saying that they are very popular among the elementary-school teachers.

Food by the numbers

The food department now has a new computer program. When Mulligan enters the week’s menu into the computer, it does an analysis of the collective meals’ nutritional value to determine if the overall diet has too many calories or fats.

Mulligan said that students are upset because they can no longer get hash-brown potatoes with sausage patties anymore on French Toast Day — it’s to much fat in one meal, he said.

Winchell added that while Mulligan has gained students’ input in an informal way, the students opinions should be solicited in a more formal manner to increase the number of participants in meal purchasing.

In order to make the dollars work, the school food has to be tasty, Winchell said.

Fiero said that she has seen elementary students have an increased interest in the new hot meals created by Mulligan, but she has a fourth-grade daughter who doesn’t really understand the variety of food options, and that she can buy sandwiches instead of the hot meal with her meal ticket and get milk and fruit.

While he is at the high school explaining the menu to students there, Mulligan said, he doesn’t get down to the elementary school very often to give the younger students more one-on-one time to explain the options as they go through the line.

Board member David Gibson said that he can see that the new program is successful under Mulligan’s direction because last September 6,000 meals were purchased and this September 8,000 meals were purchased at the elementary school.

Winchell said that, on average, for the month of October, 500 type A meals where purchased per day at the high school.

Board member Tom McKenna expressed concern when he saw that part of the cost-reduction proposal includes reducing the number of times pizza is served, which he knows to be a student favorite.

Mulligan said that he is reducing the number of times pizza is offered, but replacing it with the just as popular favorite, but much cheaper — grilled cheese sandwiches.

Kelly McKenna, the student president, said that Grilled Cheese Days are by far the most popular.

Mulligan said he served 800 grilled-cheese sandwiches last time they were on the menu. These sandwiches, are served every other Thursday, Mulligan said.

High school Principal Mark Diefendorf said he knows that lunches are more popular than ever because more students are coming in to borrow money from the main office to purchase lunches; students are allowed to borrow money twice before they have to pay up on their tab, he said.

Even kids who have brought lunch to school change their minds once they see the option, Diefendorf said.

"We don’t want the program to run at a deficit" board president Joseph Pofit told The Enterprise on Wednesday. "The school lunch program should carry itself."

He said that the changes have been very successful, but the district needs to do a better job at balancing the price of meals, nutrients, and federal money to pay for food, and a plan to do that is what the administrative team has brought back to the board.

Board member Paige Macdonald said that, two or three years ago, a site-based management team had said that the district needed to give more options.

The idea is that by offering more meal options, kids eat healthier foods rather than buying snack foods for lunch.

Mulligan has transformed the program, board members agreed. Those in the board room applauded his work.


School hopes to entice more diners to combat deficit

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — While students and staff are excited about healthy, tastier, and more diverse school foods, the school lunch program is running at a deficit.

After a recent external audit for 2004-05 performed by Washburn, Ellington, Sheeler, Taisz & Pinsley, Neil Lamere wrote in his, management letter, " [The] school lunch program ran at a significant loss of $23,948.’

Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell said one of the most costly items in the lunch budget is health-insurance benefits for cafeteria workers. It costs $9,000 for health insurance for the kitchen staff, which can’t be moved and combined with other health-insurance costs, and must remain in this separate fund, Winchell said.

Also, since the cafeteria staff had a number of unfortunate illnesses last spring and increased absences, this contributed to higher personnel costs, Winchell said.

The district hired a new head chef, Tim Mulligan, in February after a long-time food manager retired. Since February, there has been a complete overhaul of Voorheesville’s lunch program.

Kelly McKenna, the high school student-government president, said that many more students are buying lunch now than before because of the higher quality of food, which taste sgood.

It is a priority to offer the most nutritious food possible, Winchell said. Currently the price charged to students of the type A lunch is one of the highest in the area, Winchell said.

The type A lunch, which comes with milk and fruit, cost $2.

Mulligan said that he does not offer canned fruits because of the sugary syrup; instead he provides only fresh fruits, which vary in price depending on the season.

Lamere said the debate on lunches is not a unique problem for Voorheesville. Districts are trying to decide what quality of lunch they want to provide and at what cost, he said. The district has to decide if the benefit is worth the additional expense.

Winchell said that the cafeteria now offers many broader lunch options then it did before Mulligan took over. There are now a lot more choices for type A lunch. Besides the main hot meal, there are also two types of homemade soups offered every day and "grab and go" containers of salads and sandwiches.

"Satisfaction has grown considerably," Winchell said.

Lunch-line tour

On Monday night, Winchell offered the school board her report on how to reduce the lunch budget deficit, but maintain the quality which it was hoping to achieve with the hiring of Mulligan.

Before going over her proposal, she and Mulligan led the board members through a tour of the high-school cafeteria lunch line. Together they showed off the new variety of foods.

There were Chicken Caesar salads, salads with cheese, cubed melon cups, and small sub roles with lunch meats.

Winchell’s deficit reduction plan has two main objects: gain even more participants, and lower the overall food cost by using more surplus government foods.

Right now, the district is offering pizza through Pizza Hut, but Mulligan is experimenting with making his own pizza with government mozzarella, Winchell said.

Also Winchell suggested the district run a marketing campaign to have the staff buy lunch. Also, she wants to send more information home to parents about the variety and options, so that parents are more comfortable with sending their students to school with lunch money.

Voorheesville Teacher Association President Kathy Fiero has praised Mulligan’s homemade soups at board meetings in the past, saying that they are very popular among the elementary-school teachers.

Food by the numbers

The food department now has a new computer program. When Mulligan enters the week’s menu into the computer, it does an analysis of the collective meals’ nutritional value to determine if the overall diet has too many calories or fats.

Mulligan said that students are upset because they can no longer get hash-brown potatoes with sausage patties anymore on French Toast Day — it’s to much fat in one meal, he said.

Winchell added that while Mulligan has gained students’ input in an informal way, the students opinions should be solicited in a more formal manner to increase the number of participants in meal purchasing.

In order to make the dollars work, the school food has to be tasty, Winchell said.

Fiero said that she has seen elementary students have an increased interest in the new hot meals created by Mulligan, but she has a fourth-grade daughter who doesn’t really understand the variety of food options, and that she can buy sandwiches instead of the hot meal with her meal ticket and get milk and fruit.

While he is at the high school explaining the menu to students there, Mulligan said, he doesn’t get down to the elementary school very often to give the younger students more one-on-one time to explain the options as they go through the line.

Board member David Gibson said that he can see that the new program is successful under Mulligan’s direction because last September 6,000 meals were purchased and this September 8,000 meals were purchased at the elementary school.

Winchell said that, on average, for the month of October, 500 type A meals where purchased per day at the high school.

Board member Tom McKenna expressed concern when he saw that part of the cost-reduction proposal includes reducing the number of times pizza is served, which he knows to be a student favorite.

Mulligan said that he is reducing the number of times pizza is offered, but replacing it with the just as popular favorite, but much cheaper — grilled cheese sandwiches.

Kelly McKenna, the student president, said that Grilled Cheese Days are by far the most popular.

Mulligan said he served 800 grilled-cheese sandwiches last time they were on the menu. These sandwiches, are served every other Thursday, Mulligan said.

High school Principal Mark Diefendorf said he knows that lunches are more popular than ever because more students are coming in to borrow money from the main office to purchase lunches; students are allowed to borrow money twice before they have to pay up on their tab, he said.

Even kids who have brought lunch to school change their minds once they see the option, Diefendorf said.

"We don’t want the program to run at a deficit" board president Joseph Pofit told The Enterprise on Wednesday. "The school lunch program should carry itself."

He said that the changes have been very successful, but the district needs to do a better job at balancing the price of meals, nutrients, and federal money to pay for food, and a plan to do that is what the administrative team has brought back to the board.

Board member Paige Macdonald said that, two or three years ago, a site-based management team had said that the district needed to give more options.

The idea is that by offering more meal options, kids eat healthier foods rather than buying snack foods for lunch.

Mulligan has transformed the program, board members agreed. Those in the board room applauded his work.


Going Out for Arsenic and Old Lace
New director, Eric Shovah, leads Dionysians in classic romp

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — With a favorite director gone, the school’s drama club is turning to a classic.

The popular and successful director, John Lopez, moved at the end of last school year to be closer to New York City to pursue his own professional aspirations as a performer. Portia Hubert, who has been a producer of Voorheesville high school’s theater program, is this year’s advisor; she chose the classic Arsenic and Old Lace as the fall play.

"It’s always been a favorite of mine," she said. It’s a well-known play that is appropriate for any age, and people are familiar and comfortable with it, Hubert said.

Arsenic and Old Lace, written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939, is about a drama critic, Mortimer Brewster, who is engaged to be married, but has a crazy family that includes two elderly aunts whose way of showing compassion is by poisoning lonely old men with arsenic-laced elderberry wine and then burying them in the basement.

While the high-school drama club produces a musical in the spring, it traditionally tries to do a play in the fall to give students who might not sing a chance to highlight their acting ability, Hubert said.

With a cast of 15, which includes dead-body extras, Arsenic and Old Lace has comedic flare that depends on good timing, Hubert said.

This year’s director, Eric Shovah, came highly recommended from Lopez. The two had performed together locally and Shovah’s girlfriend, Heather D’Arcy, had been the choreographer for last spring’s musical production of Beauty and the Beast.

Laid back

Shovah who has a full beard and curly dark hair like Lopez, grew up in Green Island, where he spent his high school years on the school stage; he has just recently moved to Guilderland.

A graduate of the University at Albany, Shovah majored in English and had two minors, in theater and education. He is currently a middle-school English and social-studies teacher at the Bethlehem Children’s School in Slingerlands.

"There is so much theater in teaching," Shovah said. He performs every day, trying to keep students’ interest, he said.

Hubert said she saw a play Shovah was in last year, and, over the summer, watched a show he helped direct. This is when she decided he should be Voorheesville’s new director, she said.

"It’s been going well — he’s well liked; the students take direction from him and listen to him very well," Hubert said.

"Things have been more laid back," said Danielle McCune, who plays the role of Klein in the play. She said she enjoys the more relaxed atmosphere. Lopez was strict about talking or having food, she said.

Shovah "takes a lot of what we think into consideration," McCune said. "I feel more comfortable talking to him...less frightened to approach him if I have problem or a suggestion."

One actor sprinted down the school corridor dressed in a purple basketball jersey with a duffel bag swung over his shoulder; he ran into a costume closet with a bright red face, dripping with sweat, and completely out of breath. He said with a worried tone, "I’m so sorry Mr. Shovah!"

It was 6:40 p.m. and students were supposed to be ready at 6:30.

"It’s okay," Shovah said calmly, looking just as worried about the boy. "Take a breather."

It is difficult to work around everyone’s schedule, Shovah said as he turned back around to talk to The Enterprise. But with a small school everyone is involved in so much, and theater is something he wants to encourage.

McCune said Shovah has helped her gain more confidence as an actress, as she prepares for taking on one of the largest roles she has ever had.

With a cast of 15, everyone is very close, McCune said, "So you can take more chances without feeling more alienated."

Understanding roles

Arsenic and Old Lace "is so funny even with the older references," McCune said. At first, it was hard to relate to the jokes of a generation before her time, but, after watching a Boris Karloff movie, it all came together for her, she said.

One of the characters in the play is supposed to look like Karloff, who was a popular horror-film actor of the time.

McCune plays a policeman. She said that it hadn’t really sunk in until she got into the costume that she was playing the part of a man.

She used her own stereotypes and generalizations she has made about policemen in her life to structure her character’s personality, including a "dopey ambiance," she said.

High school senior Casey Sheridan plays the role of Aunt Martha, a homicidal woman in her eighties. In order for a teenager to take on the persona of an elderly woman, Casey said, "I think about it a lot."

Sheridan purposely makes her voice slightly more high-pitched to reflect the "sweet little old lady" that she is playing. "And she really is sweet...If the insanity plea was made for anyone it was made for these two," Sheridan said.

Her character is the kind of lady that children love to visit for trick-or-treating because she gives out the best candy and money, Sheridan said. "They really don’t realize what they are doing is wrong...They are the sweetest little old ladies which kind of happened to kill people," Sheridan said.

Transition

While Shovah has a firm grasp on the directing reins, Mr. Lopez’s influence doesn’t linger far. Strewn across the tables in the costume and make-up room are piles of make up plots, sketches, and diagrams of each character and their make up design drawn by Sheridan. She said she took a theater-arts class with Lopez two years ago where she learned how to draw make up plots; the class also designed model sets, she said.

Sheridan demonstrated how dark pencil or paint lines, with the correct shadowing, can create the illusion of wrinkles.

Hubert said that, this year, she got a lot of help from parents constructing the set. About 10 students on the technical crew helped with set construction and also do lighting and sound, Hubert said.

"This year has been one of transition and everyone misses our former director, Mr. Lopez, greatly, but we are continuing the tradition he started of having a strong, teaching theater program," Hubert wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise.

"It’s learning by doing," Shovah told The Enterprise before a dress rehearsal this week. He said it’s about trying things out, and being ready to adapt as needed.

"Timing and delivery are big things in this show," he said, which require the actors to know the other characters and the way to interact with different character’s personalities.

"The kids are excellent at characterization," Shovah said. He has also been impressed with the students’ professionalism; they listen not only to their notes, but the notes for all the other actors, and support each other, he said.

In a short amount of time, a spectator can see the mutual respect that is shared between Shovah and the students — he repeatedly addressed the teens with "please" and "thank you" as he gave them direction.

"Great energy"

For the fall play, seniors and juniors are given preference for parts, although all grade levels are allowed to try out.

About 30 people tried out for the play, Shovah said, and he whittled that down to 15 by looking at the young actors’ and actresses’ abilty to interact with other charactors. For callbacks, he said, he paired different students up and scored them on their interaction to tell which actors had a good dynamic together.

This is not Shovah’s first time working with teenagers. He directed Peter Pan at Green Island’s high school, and he was assistant director for the Second Star Players’ Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, a family production that had actors of all ages.

He likes working with high school students because they have "such great energy," Shovah said. "They have so much interest and there is much room to teach and learn."

Professionally, Shovah has performed in C.R. Productions in Cohoes and with the Schenectady Light Opera.

Shovah has also acted for the Family Players that used to perform at Tawasentha Park in Guilderland.

Shovah is rehearsing now for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, a three-person show, to run at the Little Theater at Russell Sage College in January.

Arsenic and Old Lace is a play that he always has enjoyed, he said. "I like the appeal of making people laugh," he said. Comedies are always close to his heart because the first real show he was in was a high school comedy.

***

Arsenic and Old Lace plays this weekend, Nov. 18 to 20. Showtimes are at 7:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2:15 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 at the door and $8 for senior citizens and students.


CSX repairs

By Holly Grosch

CSX Transportation finished its railway maintenance for the season last week. This line runs from the south to the north through New Scotland and Guilderland. Starting in Selkirk, the track enters New Scotland in Feura Bush, crosses over Delaware Avenue in Unionville and into the hamlet of New Scotland, then travels through Voorheesville and into Guilderland.

The railway company, which after a series of mergers was named in 1980 to CSX (Chessie, Seaboard and many times more), came through town this fall, taking off old railroad ties and putting in new ones, having to temporarily close some crossings to car traffic, including at Game Farm Road and New Scotland South Road.

Putting down new ties on the tracks is part of routine maintenance; the wooden ties have to be replaced every seven to eight years, said Maurice O’Connell, spokesman for CSX. He said replacing the ties does not make it possible for trains to travel faster as rumored, they are replaced for safety reasons. The wooden ties would eventually rot.

O’Connell said that CSX started working on this Chicago line in the summer, and finished this season’s tying on Grey Road in Altamont, last week.


Doorbell at V’ville

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — The Voorheesville School District, which has one elementary school, installed a locked-door system last year with little fanfare.

"Twenty-to-one, when parents talk to me about it, they tell me how happy they are," said Ken Lein, the principal of Voorheesville Elementary School.

The decision was made by the district’s administrative team, he said, without involving the school board or site-based shared-decision-making teams.

"We thought it was within our job to keep our building safe," said Lein.

Guilderland, a neighboring school district, has had months of public board discussions about security at its five elementary schools. The board, which is deeply divided about locking the schools, plans to make a decision at its next meeting, Nov. 29.
Lein yesterday described for The Enterprise the security system used at his school. School employees have badges with their names and pictures. Four of the elementary-school entrances are equipped with readers.

"You swipe your badge at any one of those doors — just like at a gas station — and you’re in," he said.

For parents and the general public, there is one procedure for entering during school hours and another for hours when school is not in session.

Before 8:15 a.m. and after 4 p.m., the public uses a lower door, which is open. After- and before-school programs are on that level and parents come in and out, dropping off and picking up their children. Custodians are at work there, but there is no formal monitoring.

"That door is unlocked and you are in," said Lein. "Because we don’t have a school full of children, we don’t want to inconvenience people."

During school hours, however, people must come in through the main entrance, which is locked.

"A camera is built into the bell," said Lein, and there is a two-way communication system. "The security camera can see who’s there," he said.

The way the school is constructed, the office is not right near the front door. But a secretary in the main office looks at the person, via the camera, and talks to the person.

"We recognize 85 percent or more of the people and ask them to come to the office and sign in," said Lein.

"It used to happen, that people would come in and go where they wanted to go, without stopping in the office," said Lien. "This is more about stopping interruptions," he said, like a parent delivering a forgotten item to a classroom.

"And," Lein went on, "it gives us a better idea of who’s in the building. God forbid, there’s a tragedy. This isn’t going to stop that. Neither would a monitor at the front door."

He went on, "We keep it friendly and inviting. Visitors walk up through a lovely art gallery. It’s not hard for people to come see us."

Asked if checking on visitors was a burden for the school’s secretaries, Lein said, "Yes, it is. If money didn’t matter," he said, the district would hire someone to do that job, rather than adding it to secretarial duties.

Asked if the public accepted the system right away, in the fall of 2004 when it was implemented, Lein said, "It was tough in the beginning." He said the school newsletter, The Bugle, kept parents informed about the system.

"From reading your paper," Lein told The Enterprise, "I understand in Guilderland, they’re worried about changing the character of their schools...Our culture hasn’t changed. It’s still an inviting place. Plenty of parents are coming in this week for American Education Week."

Lein said his own children had started out in School 19 in Albany, which was always locked. "We always rang a bell," he said.

The family moved to Guilderland and the Lein children attended Westmere Elementary. "If I were asked to ring a bell," he said, "I would personally have felt they were trying to keep my children safe."

Lein did say, the Voorheesville system is deactivated when there’s an event, like a concert, that will attract a large number of visitors to the school.

"When 200 parents are coming to an event, we unlock the door," Lein said.

He concluded, "This is still a small community school and people are still welcome."


Two audits for VCSD

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — The school district is doing a number of things to make sure its finances are in check and that it is prepared for the Comptroller’s five-point plan, which is now state law.

At this Monday’s school board meeting, the board contracted with the New York State School Boards Association’s Advisory Solution for $7,500 to do a complete analysis of the district’s financial procedures and practices in all areas and to provide the board of education with a report to include recommendations for future practices.

This comes at the same time that the state is auditing Voorheesville, as part of its pilot program to complete audits of all public schools in the state over the next five years.

Also last month, independent auditors Washburn, Ellingwood, Sheeler, Thaisz & Pinsley submitted to the board its review of the district’s financial statements, which it found to be free of material misstatements. While there were no instances of noncompliance, the management letter did point out a few "opportunities for strengthening internal controls."

And, this week, the board decided to start advertising for an internal claims auditor, which according to state mandates has to be done by an individual who does not work in the district’s business office.

Comptroller Alan Hevesi developed his plan in the wake of fraud at a Long Island School district

State review

Board president Joseph Pofit said that Advisory Solutions is focusing on all types of personnel and their roles and responsibilities and how money is handled — all the processes and procedures of the business office. The analysis started a month ago and is scheduled to be completed in December, Pofit told the Enterprise yesterday.

While the state it doing its own review, the board wants an independent evaluation and validation, he said.

Jennifer Freeman of the State Comptroller’s Office told The Enterprise that the state’s staff is reviewing the financial records and meeting with individual business office employees at Voorheesville.

While the annual external audit, required by the state is simply a review of the financial statements to insure that the statements are represented fairly, the comptroller’s review is more comprehensive, Freeman said. It looks at operations in addition to financial conditions.

Sixteen of the state’s audits have been completed on Long Island, and now the comptroller is doing about 20 audits in upstate New York. Freeman said that one of the things the state is checking, is if there are proper separations of duties. For example, one person should open the mail and receive the check, another record that check, and a third deposit it, Freeman said.

Also the state is reviewing computer controls, the accounting information in computers. For example, if someone makes a change to an accounting record, does the computer program show who made the adjustments and when, Freeman said.

Freeman said she wanted to emphasize that Voorheesville was not picked to be a part of the pilot because it had done something wrong.

The state stopped doing rotational audits on all of New York’s school district 20 years ago at the time when the state began requiring external audits. Starting up again, the Comptroller wanted a variety of different schools to start with, including ones of different sizes, different budgets, and different geographic areas.

The state will first provide its report to Voorheesville, highlighting areas that need improvement, and then give the district the opportunity to respond, Freeman said. The final report that then becomes available to the public includes the state’s findings, but also Voorheesville’s responses to those, Freeman said.

Sometimes discrepancies are actually remedied before the final reports are released, she said, because of the dialogue that is happening now between the district’s employees and state auditors.

There is currently no time line for the state process, which started this summer. There are small teams of state auditors doing field work within the school’s business office, and another handful of auditors back at the comptroller’s office in Albany doing analysis, Freeman said.

Voorheesville’s assistant superintendent for business, Sarita Winchell, said that so far the process with the state has been very professional. It has opened the dialogue, Winchell said. She said it is always useful to have another set of eyes offer criticisms of the procedures. She welcomes things, like state-wide audits that increase public confidence and makes business offices state-wide more uniform, she said

External audit

This year, after using the same external auditor for 10 years, the district chose to change companies, after Hevesi suggested regularly rotating the external auditor that a district uses.

Voorheesville’s external auditor this year, Neil Lamere, said that he would rate Voorheesville’s financial condition "slightly above average" compared to other schools he audited. From a long-term standpoint, the district is going to be fine, he said, but there are short-term concerns like retirement and health-care benefits.

"These are tough times...tensions are high" in school auditing and financing across the state, Lamere said.

Voorheesville’s financial statements are fairly represented, he said.

In his management letter, Lamere noted a deficit in the school lunch program. (See related story.)

He also said that nonbusiness office cash receipts are not being deposited in a timely fashion. The receipts from parking, books, etc. are not handed in immediately.

Winchell said that she has sent out a memo to remind teachers and secretaries that they need to hand in their money and receipts as soon as they get it. Winchell gave the example, that sometimes teachers who are collecting money for a field trip, will hang on to all the money until they have a total, while they really should be handing in the money as they receive it.

The external audit also said that the extracurricular clubs’ financial management needs to be tidied up, such as disbursing orders not having all the required signatures, and not filling out all the paperwork for fund-raisers. Also, all clubs have to have officers, or they are ineligible to be an extracurricular activity.

Internal controls

Board member Richard Brackett suggested that the district should team up with the neighboring districts of Bethlehem and Guilderland and share an internal claims auditor.

Winchell responded that she believes the board is confused about the internal claims auditor’s roll, which is different than an internal auditor. They serve two different functions and require a different level of skill, she said.

An internal auditor looks at specific functions of operation and has to be a certified public accountant. The internal claims auditor merely certifies warrants, meaning they insure that the correct check amounts are being sent out. This position, under new state law, can no longer be a member of business-office staff.

School board member David Gibson was concerned about having to hire someone for a job that only takes a few hours, and not every day.

Winchell said she would never suggest sharing claims auditors with other districts, because she wants them to be readily available. She envisions and would like to have someone who is already working in the building, just in another department, to stop by the business office each day to see if any warrants need to be checked.


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