Local News

Windsor Central School District faces challenges

Auditor’s report shows budget deficit lower than projected, a welcomed surprise

By Curt Peterson

The Windsor Central Unified School District Board meeting Monday evening, March 23, was a “perfect storm” – literally, as it turned out. A surprise March snowstorm covered the region in up to 10 inches of fresh snow making travel difficult. Most board members attended remotely by using “Zoom,” an internet meeting platform eerily resembling Hollywood Squares.

Five people attended in person including Superintendent Mary Beth Banios, Special Education Coordinator Sherry Sousa, Finance and Operations Director Mike Concessi, Board Secretary Rayna Bishop,  and Killington Board Representative Jim Haff. Most board members, and several members of the public, appeared in thumbnail pictures around the border of the SU’s large screen, their faces projected largely onto the screen when speaking.

The Board’s first challenge was replacing Patti Kuzmickas (Pomfret), who was elected chair of the board on March 9 but almost immediately resigned both the office and her board position amidst rumors of ill treatment by other members. Another Board member, Malena Agin (Woodstock) resigned over frustration that due process was followed in Kuzmickas’s election, yet she was pushed out.

Bryce Sammel (Barnard), who had been elected vice-chair, took charge as acting chair until Monday’s meeting. At the meeting, Sammel’s unanimous election as chair returned leadership stability.

Pamela Fraser (Barnard) accepted nomination for vice-chair, easily overcoming a late challenge by Ben Ford (Woodstock). Discussions of doing without a vice-chair, or having two vice-chairs were dismissed as either complicated or illegal.

The second challenge involved an evolving budget deficit problem. Ron Smith of HRH Smith, the auditors for the district, gave a presentation regarding the origin and current status of the deficits. On March 9, Smith predicted FY2019 would produce a deficit between $200,000 and $700,000. The “good news,” he said, is the final number is only about $175,000.

Prior knowledge of the deficit was obscured by the poor state of the books inherited by Concessi when he assumed responsibility, Smith said.

Smith’s promise on March 9 to give the Board two important pieces of information at Monday’s presentation – an estimate of where the deficit might be going as FY2020 is finished, and a short list of ways in which the district might solve the deficit problem – was not fulfilled.

The Mountain Times contacted Smith for clarification, but he did not respond in time for publication.

During the meeting Woodstock representative Sam DiNatale asked the Board to consider releasing a $50,000 grant supporting the new build awarded by Woodstock Economic Development Commission, as the EDC has other current needs.

“They promised [the district] would be at the top of their grant list next year,” DiNatale said.

The third issue that the WCUSD Board faces is the possible loss of Banios as superintendent as she is hoping to win a similar position with the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District in Massachusetts. This issue was hardly discussed at Monday’s meeting.

However, according the Hamilton-Wenham website, final interviews for candidates for their superintendent job is March 24. There is no indication when the decision might be made.

Chairman Sammel told the Mountain Times no steps have been taken to search for a replacement for Banios, who is under contract until June 30.

Sources close to Banios say she would like to return to Massachusetts for family reasons.

Banios didn’t respond directly to an email asking if she would stay in her present position if she isn’t chosen by Hamilton-Wenham, or if she might seek an alternative job out-of-state. She did state that issues surrounding the coronavirus crisis are taking up all of her time at present.

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