Hearings start Tuesday for suspended Rockland-area school business manager

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 20, 2014, at 11:39 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Regional School Unit 13 board has scheduled three meetings this week, beginning Tuesday night, to determine whether suspended business manager Scott Vaitones should be fired.

Outgoing Superintendent Lew Collins placed Vaitones on paid administrative leave on Nov. 14 without explaining why. Vaitones, however, has said the superintendent has recommended he be fired for what Collins claims is poor performance.

Vaitones said Sunday he will decide whether the hearings should be open based on the advice of his attorney, Bryan Dench.

Vaitones issued a written response Saturday to criticism of his work by former Rockland board member Brian Messing, who served as chairman for the board’s finance committee for several years.

Messing said at a school board meeting two weeks ago that errors found by an auditor in the 2012-13 budget year indicates lack of competence in the business office. He said the problems predated the hiring of Collins.

“Mr. Messing’s attacks on me are both inaccurate and unfair,” Vaitones said.

The business manager also was critical of board chair Esther Kilgour for allowing such comments to be made about him.

“The board chair allowed this defamatory verbal assault on me, even though sound practices would never allow any school employee to be personally attacked in a public forum without notice or any opportunity to defend himself,” Vaitones said.

Kilgour said Monday that she twice warned Messing to be careful about his statements as he spoke before the board.

The superintendent imposed a spending freeze early in October 2013 stopping field trips and nonmandatory purchases. Shortly afterward, administrators, including Vaitones, signed a letter to the board expressing concern with the superintendent’s management of personnel and finances. The board then held a closed-door meeting on Oct. 24 with the superintendent, Vaitones, the district’s auditor and the board’s attorney.

No action was taken at that Oct. 24 meeting, but the business manager then was publicly criticized during a Nov. 7 school board meeting for his handling of finances, particularly in reference to the school lunch program. The district’s auditor Ronald Smith said without changes, the deficit in the school lunch program could hit $500,000. Collins and Board Finance Committee Chairman Donald Robishaw Jr. both said at that meeting they were unaware of the extent of the problem with the lunch program.

Vaitones said, however, that the superintendent and finance committee chairman were aware, since there was a discussion about the financial shortfall in the lunch program during a November 2012 meeting.

In his letter this past weekend, Vaitones reiterated that point.

“Many school units struggle to balance their food service accounts. He [Messing] failed to note, for example, the MSAD 5 program was itself running in the red and that debt was paid off as part of the consolidation,” Vaitones stated in his letter, referring to the merger of School Administrative Districts 5 and 50 that created RSU 13.

The business administrator came to RSU 13 in July 2010 after 6½ years as business manager for neighboring SAD 40 in the Waldoboro area, where he was credited by the board with helping that district dig out from financial difficulties including an $800,000 deficit. Before coming to SAD 40, he was the business manager for SAD 52 in Turner for 13 years.

In his weekend letter, Vaitones said that there were errors in the posting of health and dental insurance payments for teachers in RSU 13 but that was the result of a software error in the computer system used by the district. He said he worked with the auditor to determine why it had occurred and to find a solution.

Vaitones’ contract runs through June 2015. The school board unanimously extended his contract through that period in March 2012.

Collins announced his resignation last month and is leaving Feb. 15. He is being paid a severance that totals about $100,000.

The school board’s hearings on Vaitones are all scheduled to be held at the McLain School in Rockland at 6 p.m. Tuesday, 5 p.m. Wednesday, and 6 p.m. Thursday.

Kilgour said she expects a vote will be taken at the end of Thursday’s hearing.

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/01/20/news/midcoast/hearings-start-tuesday-for-suspended-rockland-area-school-business-manager/ printed on July 22, 2014