Friday April 12, 2013

BRANDON CANEVARI

Manchester Journal

MANCHESTER -- Burr and Burton Academy came under fire again during a MEMS School Board meeting on Tuesday night.

In a presentation by resident Peter Greenburg proposed that the MEMS School Board insist that Burr and Burton provide the board and the public with audited financial statements complete with the auditors qualifying letter as part of the next sending contract and every subsequent sending contract. Greenburg also said that the board should require a line by line budget not only for them, but for the public.

"We really need it," he said. "What I’ve been saying proves that we need it because Burr and Burton in the end is a publicly financed school. You can call it an independent school, you can call it a prep school. It’s a publicly financed school."

Superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, Daniel French, said the sending contract is typically signed sometime between May and June. Discussions between the two entities have not yet begun, but Chair of the Manchester School Board Katie McNabb said unlike in past years the board might initiate discussions in light of what has transpired. However, whether or not audited financial statements and a line item budget will be part of the new sending contract remains to be seen.

"I think it’s somethng we need to discuss as a board, what we would like to see and if there are places in the contract that we would like to be changed. I can’t say right now how everyone is feeling," said McNabb. "I’m always an advocate for more transparency."

Furthermore, McNabb said it is unclear what Burr and Burton’s feelings would be to disclosing their finances.

"I don’t know how they would feel about opening up their line by line budget into a public process. I could see they might have concerns," she said. Burr and Burton Academy was invited to attend the meeting on Tuesday night, but "politely declined," according to McNabb.

While, BBA Headmaster Mark Tashjian said he could not comment on anything that was presented at last night’s meeting, he did issue a statement via email concerning future communications.

"I certainly welcome constructive dialogue with the BRSU and members of the Manchester School Board on topics relevant to providing quality education to students in this community," Tashjian’s statement said.

In his presentation to the board on Tuesday night, Greenburg said BBA was functionally the town’s public school and that it would not exist if it weren’t for the people, their tax payments and their children and that they should release their finances.

"We’re sending 230 students and paying Burr and Burton $3.3 million dollars just in tuition, putting aside special ed and any other funding and putting aside what the other sending towns are providing," he said. "There’s nothing revolutionary about what I’m proposing. You can go online and find an audited financial statement from Choate (Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn.), which is not a publicly financed school. Taxpayers have a right to know this and Burr and Burton either doesn’t get it or refuses to get it."

Bennington Assistant District Attorney Christina Rainville -- Greenburg’s spouse -- questioned at Town Meeting whether or not Burr and Burton had accurately been accounting money intended to defray special education costs and whether or not the school was accurately reporting how much money it withdrew from its endowment fund or other fund-raising efforts to offset the costs of educating its students.

Even though the school is a tax exempt organization, the federal government requires them to file a form known as a 990 with the Internal Revenue Service which details the amount of deductions or expenses drawn from an endowment. However, Rainville said in recent years the school has not indicated withdrawals from that fund on their relevent tax forms, according to previous reports.

Following Rainville’s allegations at Town Meeting, the BBA Board of Trustees sent a letter to The Journal that itemized the annual draw from the school’s endowment from 2009 to 2012, which indicated that more than $1.2 million had been moved from the endowment fund to offset expenses, according to audited financial statements, the letter stated. The letter also noted that since the 2009 the school’s fund-raising efforts had yielded more than $11.4 million, according to previous reports.