Rockland-area school board proceeds with hearing to fire business manager

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins explains Tuesday night the reasons he is recommending the firing of business manager Scott Vaitones, sitting behind Collins in a white shirt.
Stephen Betts
Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins explains Tuesday night the reasons he is recommending the firing of business manager Scott Vaitones, sitting behind Collins in a white shirt. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 21, 2014, at 10:51 p.m.
Scott Vaitones (from left) speaks with his attorney Bryan Dench on Tuesday evening before the start of a meeting of the Regional School Unit 13 board. The board's attorney Campbell Badger also attends the meeting.
Stephen Betts
Scott Vaitones (from left) speaks with his attorney Bryan Dench on Tuesday evening before the start of a meeting of the Regional School Unit 13 board. The board's attorney Campbell Badger also attends the meeting. Buy Photo

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Regional School Board voted 10-2 Tuesday night to proceed with a hearing that could lead to the firing of business manager Scott Vaitones.

The vote came after four hours of public testimony and then closed-door deliberations by the board.

Hearings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday evenings and could extend beyond that.

Vaitones had no comment after the vote.

Carol Bachofner of Rockland and Vice Chairman Loren Andrews were the only two members of the board to vote against proceeding with the hearings.

During public testimony, the board received dramatically different versions of events from Superintendent Lew Collins, the board’s attorney Campbell Badger and district auditor Ron Smith versus Vaitones and his attorney Bryan Dench.

The superintendent said that Vaitones had made too many mistakes in posting expenses and that his accounting was sloppy. Errors by the business manager led to the district’s projected surplus being off by $500,000, he maintained.

The business manager’s attorney, however, said the concerns about Vaitones’ work began after his client sent an email to the board chairwoman and vice chairman on Oct. 15 about concerns he had about hiring additional employees in the special education department.

“This triggered a very sudden change on how he was being dealt with,” Dench said.

The board’s attorney, in turn, questioned the timing of Vaitones’ letter to the board.

“He’s yelling ‘fire, fire, fire’ about overspending at the same time that the administrators and teacher had written letters of no confidence [in the superintendent],” Badger said.

At the same time, the deficit in the school lunch program was growing, Badger said.

The superintendent said he had sent an email to Vaitones in July stating that federal funds would cover the added positions.

Badger and the auditor both said one of the main accounting problems was improper posting of health insurance and dental insurance payments. Vaitones acknowledged that the problem had been going on for two years and he had been unable to pinpoint it. He said, however, he sought assistance and the source of the problem was found.

Auditor Smith said his conclusion after a review of the district’s finances was that the business manager lacked the accounting knowledge for the position.

Vaitones’ attorney presented the board with an email sent by former board member Brian Messing to Collins on Jan. 8 in which he asked the superintendent where the special education overages were so that they could be removed from the 2014-2015 budget that was being developed.

Collins denied there was any overspending in the special education budget. He said he was contracting with Messing for $100 an hour to help put together the upcoming budget. Collins said the assistance was going to be needed since he was leaving on Feb. 15.

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.

Vaitones responded to that criticism in a letter issued Sunday.

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

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. Smith said the deficit in the school lunch program could hit $500,000 unless changes were made. 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, which 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.

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.

 

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