February 25, 2011

Chelsea in arrears to RSU 12 for $386K

District officials say matter should not be surprise

Missing federal education funds and failing to pay for its share of district expenses and student transportation has put the town Chelsea more than $386,000 in arrears to RSU 12, according district officials.

Jerry Nault, chairman of the RSU 12 finance committee, raised the issue at a public meeting Wednesday. The school district's attorney sent a letter to Town Manager Angela Gordon recently requesting payment, Nault said.

"This isn't a surprise to anyone," he said. "They knew about it. The remedy for us is to get a court order to demand payment by that means. That would happen only after we've exhausted our attempts to collect it without having to go to court."

Stephen Langsdorf, an attorney representing the town of Chelsea, said during Wendesday's meeting he did not know about the letter. Langsdorf is working for Chelsea following the arrest of selectman Carole Swan, 52, for allegedly taking kickbacks for town road contracts.

Nault said Chelsea has owed the RSU since July 1, 2009, when the town's school department was absorbed into the district.

RSU records, he said, show the town of Chelsea had $606,000 allocated in its general fund to pay for education. Over the last two years, he said, the town spent $300,000 of that as "a credit against the tax commitment," leaving $306,000 which should have been available to pay bills.

Nault said part of the money owed the RSU are federal funds the town received for specific school programs, such as Title 1, which supports low-income students.

"When RSU 12 took over operations of the school on July 1, those programs continued. So they were supposed to transfer those federal funds over to the RSU," Nault said. "A final audit was done on June 30 and we determined over $40,000 had to come over to the RSU and they have yet to pay that bill."

The town also owes the RSU $7,674 for operating expenses through June 2009, and hasn't yet been paid $31,200 raised and appropriated last year by town meeting voters for student transportation, according to Nault.

Chelsea families wanted to send their high school students to different schools in the area including Cony and Hall-Dale high schools.

When Regional School Unit 12 -- which comprises Alna, Wiscasset, Westport, Island, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield, Windsor and Chelsea -- refused to pay for transporting these students, the Chelsea selectmen put it on the town warrant for residents to vote on.

"We've sent them periodic requests for that amount of money and haven't been paid since we started in September (2010)," Nault said.

Finally, the town still owes RSU 12 two back payments for its monthly assessment from the district.

"They still owe us regular monthly payments of over $150,000 for January and February," he said. "That has to be paid by the 20th of the month. I spoke to Belinda Waterhouse, the school's finance manager, and that has not been paid."

Ron Smith, the town of Chelsea's auditor, said he told Gordon to delay paying RSU 12 until he felt comfortable with what the district claimed the town owed.

"Once we got the final audit draft back around the last week of November, the first week of December we felt comfortable with the numbers and said go ahead and pay the $40,000 and $7,674," Smith said. "I don't understand why they haven't made the January and February payments. I'm being dragged into that matter now."

Allen Hallett of Chelsea, a member of RSU 12 school board, questioned Thursday why the town hasn't paid the district's bills -- especially the $31,200 that raised and appropriated at last year's town meeting -- while road contracts have been paid in full.

In addition to the charges pending against her, Swan has been under scrutiny in Chelsea for the amount of town contracts her husband, Marshall Swan, has received over the past several years.

"They couldn't pay that, but found it fit to pay Marshall Swan Construction all those jobs he did right up until last fall," Hallett said. According to town officials Wednesday, Marshall Swan had been paid for fall road projects.

Nault believes a forensic audit of the town is in order in light of the money owed the RSU to determine any wrongdoing on the part of town officials.

Langsdorf said selectman Michael Pushard, Gordon and Town Clerk Flavia "Cookie" Kelley knew about the money owed RSU 12.

On Thursday, Kelley directed questions to Langsdorf.

"I didn't know about the school department, I found out about it last night," Langsdorf said Thurdsay. "Whatever the issues are we're going to straighten them out as quickly as possible. I have to see why these bills haven't been paid."


Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408


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