Published November 08. 2012 4:00AM
Montville - The Town Council continues to explore the idea of consolidating the finance departments of the town and its school district.
The proposal was initially raised four months ago by councilors as a way to ensure more transparency in school spending.
Town Councilor Gary Murphy, chairman of the council's finance committee, said Monday a trip that councilors took earlier this year to Mansfield, which has one finance office for the town and school, showed the system can be beneficial.
"The public got a much better idea of where the money was being spent," Murphy said.
The school budget became a major point of contention during the summer as the town worked to approve its budget. Councilors argued they did not have detailed spending information and that line item descriptions in the school budget were too vague.
They later took exception when the Board of Education authorized the school district to spend about $169,000 on two new school vehicles and more than $215,000 on school roof repairs while it moved to lay off two full-time teachers and leave other positions vacant.
The situation was evidence of larger issues with the school district's spending, councilors said. That led the finance committee to research ways to keep the public better informed.
Council Chairwoman Candy Buebendorf, a member of the finance committee, said Monday she would like to see the public hearing process changed for the school board's budget. She said a three-minute time limit for residents to comment on the budget was insufficient considering the board is allowed about 20 minutes to give a presentation on its budget.
Buebendorf described the relationship between members of the council and the school board as "acrimonious." She said the relationship needed to improve moving forward.
Murphy, who in recent months was critical of the school district and the school board, said he met last week with Pamela Aubin, the superintendent of schools, and Dave Rowley, the school board chairman.
Aubin has pointed to state statutes that allow the school board the discretion to spend its budget allocation as it sees fit. She also said the board would have to approve the move to consolidate finance departments.
Murphy acknowledged these facts and said he hopes to gather input from the school board as the town considers changes in the way it handles school spending.
"This is not something that will happen overnight," Murphy said. "We just want to lay the cards out on the table and look at the facts."