Seth Henry of Fayston filed a complaint with the state auditor against the Harwood Unified Union School Board and the school district’s central office in November. On March 9, the state auditor sided with the school board.
“Your communications with the superintendent and the board include some very serious accusations. However, based on my review of the available materials, your complaints are without merit,” Douglas Hoffer, Vermont’s state auditor, wrote to Henry.
Henry filed complaints regarding numerous issues on the school board. Among them, he asserted that the board has ignored public records requests; he reported growing districtwide spending and central office expenditures, both without proper justification or oversight; he claimed that the superintendent has been involved in many legal conflicts and that the central office has been deliberately dishonest when reporting staff-student ratios.
Hoffer explains that the school board did not ignore the public records request, which Henry made to the school board on November 17, 2017. The district asked for $6,000 in order to complete the request due to the scope of the work and how much Henry had asked for.
“At the heart of your complaint is your perception of ‘extraordinary or growing trends in district-wide spending.’ This does not appear to be supported by the evidence. From FY2014 to FY2018, the total voter-approved budgets of all the districts within the HUUSD increased 13.1 percent for an average annual increase of 3.28 percent. There is nothing extraordinary about this,” Hoffer wrote to Henry.
According to Hoffer, there is also no evidence of growing administrative expenditures. He noted that the number of licensed administrators grew from 16 to 17 between 2014 and 2018 and is expected to drop back to 16 again next year. Nonlicensed administrators grew from 7.55 to 8.80.
As for administrative expenditures he broke them into two groups, expenditures going to individual schools, which rose just over the rate of inflation over the last four years, and for central office expenditures, which were more complicated.
“Second is central office administration and district wide expenses, which are assessed to each school. There was a huge jump from FY2016 to FY2017 but that was because Act 153/156 required all special education expenses to be centralized and assessed to member districts. As a result, the total amount billed to the schools jumped from $1.27m in FY2016 to $6.38m in FY2017,” Hoffer wrote.
Without the additional special education expenditures, central office expenditures increased 23 percent.
Hoffer also validated the board process of approving expenditures throughout the year through the board warrant process at each board meeting.
“You clearly disagree with many decisions of the HUUSD. I understand that matters of education policy and school operations sometimes engender passionate debate. This is healthy if conducted in a civil manner through established channels. But in making these allegations, you offered virtually no supporting evidence and relied instead on conjecture. Exaggerated and unfounded claims alleging incompetence, deceit and criminal acts is neither civil nor constructive,” Hoffer wrote at the end of his letter.
The full letter can be read here.