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Covering Hamilton and Robbinsville townships in-depth for The Trentonian. I can be reached at (609) 989-7800 ext. 207 or (609) 468-6962. Email me at or follow me @awisefool.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hamilton board of education questions audit of its finances

Hamilton’s Board of Education took a look at how it looks at its finances, especially in the wake of the scandal involving Mayor John Bencivengo.
Board members spent about half an hour of their meeting Wednesday night questioning the district’s auditor, its auditing practices and why the body didn’t get modifications to the audit the members requested.
Bob Morrison, the district’s outside auditor, said in his presentation that last year’s audit had come in clean, without any further recommendations for changes. The board had already addressed two points in the report with a new purchasing manual approved by the board earlier in the fall.
“This is as clean an opinion as we can issue,” he said.
Morrison’s report is the first such systemic look at the district’s finances to come out since the trial of former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo on federal corruption charges. Last month a jury convicted Bencivengo last month of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba in exchange for his influence with several members of the school board on her behalf as the district’s health insurance broker.
Board Member Ron Tola, the head of the audit committee, questioned the results of the report and why it did not include recommendations for best practices.
“The public has totally lost faith in the ability of the board to control finances,” he said. “We wanted to look at best practices and want to look at what we should be doing."

Morrison said the audit tested the legal minimum based on his contract, about eight percent of the district’s 8,000 annual transactions. He said he had sent in a revised proposal to the Business Administrator and Board Secretary Joe Tramontana, who was placed on administrative leave following testimony about him at the Bencivengo trial, that would have expanded his work, but it did not go before the board.
“Is there a better way to contract out health insurance? It is not part of a financial audit,” Morrison said. “In hindsight, was there a better way to procure health insurance? Probably.”
Tola and Board Member Will Harvey said they were worried about the administration’s interaction with the auditor.
“You’re assuming that sample has not been tainted, and that’s my concern, that’s our concern…that the sample had been tainted in some way,” he said.
The last meeting for this year’s Hamilton Township Board of Education included a summary of the district’s finances, security issues in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and recognition for the state Group III football champions, Nottingham High School.
The district might also get a visit from Gov. Chris Christie, said Board President Patty Del Giudice. She said she attended a breakfast with several dozen other board members from around the state where the governor talked school financing issues and Christie mentioned he might visit the board next month.
The district will likely receive flat funding form last year she said, unless the cost of Hurricane Sandy recovery proves too expensive.
“We need our funding and I think he understands that,” she said.
Most of the audience, waving their own version of the Terrible Towel, came for the recognition of the Nottingham team. The board played a short highlight video from the season and gave out certificates recognizing the team’s achievement, the first such championship for the township.
“If anyone made a mistake on the field, they were never chastised by their teammates. They just gave them a knuckle on the back and told them not to worry about it. That’s what makes champions,” Parla said. “The coaches did a wonderful job. The players did a wonderful job.”
Parla said the district also took time in the past week to review its security procedures in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Board Member Jeff Hewitson suggested the district install enough cameras in schools to cover all their entrances and panic buttons for principals. He and Parla said they wanted to make sure the sign-in procedures for visitors across schools
Board Member Joe Malagrino said the district needs to address malfunctioning public address systems at various schools in the district.
“You can be calling an emergency in these schools and people won’t hear it,” he said.
Parla also said the district finished its bond refinancing, which will save the district more than $4 million over the next decade, and an average of $300,000 a year.
“The refinancing went way better than we thought it would go,” he said.
Next meeting, they will swear in three new board members ­— Jennifer Barnock-Riddell, Al Gayzik and Dina Thornton — to replace Tola, Troy Stevenson and Eric Hamilton.


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