Thursday, February 24, 2011

RSU 12 to Chelsea: Pay Your Bill

If last night's Chelsea town meeting was a baseball game, most of the public's questions and comments could be compared to pitches thrown to a batter.

Photo by Tracy Olson, courtesy of Flickr

Some were fastballs on the inside corner, others slower with a little spin to them - but all of them within the "strike zone" of expected discussion related to the Feb. 10 arrest of Chelsea Board of Selectmen Chair Carole Swan on charges of aggravated forgery, theft and improper compensation.

All but one - a slow hanging curveball thrown by RSU 12 Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Nault.

A curveball with a collective price tag of $386,569.

This is the amount of money owed by the town to RSU 12 since July 2009 for items including:
  • Student tuition
  • Chelsea's share of RSU 12 operating costs
  • $7,000 or so in accounts receivable RSU 12 assumed when Chelsea joined its flock and
  • Six months of payments toward the $31,000 the town approved for in-town bus transportation for its high school students.
Noting the nature of last night's forum, Nault simply asked Chelsea town attorney Stephen Langsdorf if he had received a letter from Portland-based Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon attorney Bill Stockmeyer instructing the town to pay its outstanding debt or face a court order requesting the payment.

Langsdorf, who has only represented the town since Swan's arrest, acknowledged that he had received the letter but was not yet familiar with the details surrounding the outstanding balance as to comment on the situation.

What Nault's question and Langsdorf's response did, however, was create a ripple of concern amoung the large audience that the town's financial issues could be much worse than feared.

I served on the Chelsea School Committee for two of the years prior to the formation of RSU 12 in which school budgets - approved by the townspeople - had spending lines frozen in anticipation of possible Chelsea school funding needs before and after the consolidation.

There was much uncertainty at the time and then-Superintendent Frank Boynton took a very conservative approach to school spending.

This approach meant that Chelsea's students and staff went without many supplies, educational materials and other resources - and created a budget surplus of approximately $606,000, according to Nault, that was turned over to RSU 12 when Chelsea joined it.

The surplus was released to the town both to help reduce its tax rate related to educational costs and pay its share of RSU costs.

Nault has been told that a total of $300,000 - two separate payments of $150,000 - was applied to the overall town budget to reduce the part of Chelsea's tax rate related to education.

Conceivably, that would leave about $306,000 from the original surplus to apply to the RSU 12 bill. If that money still exists and is available, why hasn't Chelsea's bill been paid?

Why did RSU 12 have to employ Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon as a de facto collection agency for a bill that should have been paid long ago - without the involvement of lawyers?

Why is Chelsea now thought of as the "deadbeat cousin" in the RSU 12 family?

Jerry Nault wants to know the answers.

So do I. And so should you.

9 comments:

  1. Please check if DWM is actually retained on a case by case basis or if RSU 12 has decided to allow DWM to be on the payroll so to speak. Some of our students here have had unpleasant experiences when DWM were involved. Please treat all our students as one. How much of our precious funds are being spent on a law firm for more reasons than this one ? I think we would all be surprised.

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  2. I will look into this further. Please provide me with additional background information by e-mail (chelseastories@gmail.com) about your town's/school's experiences so I have a better understanding of the issues with DWM. Thanks.

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  3. The first question I'd have is why the bills are so long overdue. Where's the oversight been, from the Chelsea board of selectmen?

    Another reason to replace Swan, sooner rather than later.

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  4. Maybe Chelsea was weary of any errors that were in the RSU budget as reported by Board Member Richard Devries below....

    Time to sharpen pencils
    Dear Editor:
    On the Tuesday of the SVRSU Budget Review I found what I believed was a large error in the budget. At that point I formally retracted my support of the budget. Based on my findings, the increase in the budget was close to 10 percent versus the 1.9 percent reported........

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  5. seriously are we over looking every part of our budgets this much that the right has no kind of clue what the left is doing? aparently we need more than three people sitting on a board to get the checks and balances that every business or household needs to have!! why are we looking like we never looked at our checkbook, your telling me that no one ever asked why these/this many checks?!

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  6. Today's (Feb. 25) Kennebec Journal article (http://bit.ly/eZTHlz)provides more details about Chelsea's deliquent RSU 12 bill and its possible connection to the Swan investigation. Reporting rule #1 when covering alleged corruption: "Follow the money." Nice work, Mechele!

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  7. There is always more than meets the eye. U133 and 132 fed funding was being funneled through 52. Does it seem strange that Windsor had a 0.00 carry over. If you look at Windsor, Somerville & Palermo budgets prior to joining rsu12 and what was reported you may find more questions. Something does not add up. Their numbers changed so many times did other RSU members #s change like those three. We shouldn't be so quick to point the finger at ourselves as Nault has until there is a real audit in those towns as well. Somebody here in chelsea may have a greater understanding and does not want to come forward in fear of what RSU 12 does to anybody that speaks out against their policies and ethics and budgets. The recent RSU letter sent to all of us putting an ex- Wiscaseet board member in the hot seat about his opinions and cutting down Alna's Treasurer publicly. Is there a motive behind all these defensive actions? We should be kind and respect one another not attack members of our community for their thoughts.

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  8. Thank you for your comment. I agree that there is "always more than meets the eye," particularly when money and power/control are involved. My concern lies with Chelsea's outstanding RSU 12 bill and getting an acceptable explanation as to why it has not been paid - even in part.

    For the record, I am not a fan of Chelsea being part of an RSU that is spread over such a large geographic area. Nor do I believe the consolidation approach taken by the Baldacci administration was the right one. Yes, consolidation is needed; just not the haphazard way in which this movement was implemented.

    That said, we are part of the RSU and have a financial obligation to supporting it for the educational benefit of Chelsea's students. We have not met this obligation and that is not acceptable.

    My goal through blog posts related to Chelsea's leadership and financial mess is to engage residents in questioning the status quo and taking a more active role in the direction of our town. I am not looking to attack anyone for their thoughts, as we need a unified, town-wide collaboration to address and fix our problems and move forward.

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  9. I commend you for trying to engage residents in questioning the status quo! BUT does everybody realize that some of our citizens have been forced into non-disclosure clauses/ " gag orders" by our school department and it's attorneys as a way of ensuring that none of the public will ever hear those families experiences/challenges within our RSU. Some had to do this or face getting no education for our children. You are right about the explanations though I am hoping that there is not some non-disclosure clause as well. Nothing would surprise me. I think it is time the OIG is involved as well for other towns in our RSU.

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