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School audit session is a mystery in Falls Board meets in secret with two staffers from state office to discuss problems

Thursday's School Board meeting was shrouded in mystery as members met for about two hours in an unannounced, closed-door session with two representatives from the state comptroller's Buffalo office.

The session apparently involved discussion of the state audit made public Oct. 7 that was highly critical of the way the district conducted its business. The session ran from 4 to about 6 p.m. in the second-floor conference room in the district's Central Office Building, 630 66th St.

Two board members told a Buffalo News reporter that he was not allowed to attend the meeting when he entered the room because it was an executive session. However, no one cited any reasons under the state Open Meetings Law that would legally support a closed meeting of the board's Audit Committee. The committee comprises all nine board members, and everyone was in attendance.

Committee Chairman Christopher H. Brown said the board had no choice.

"The comptroller's office called the meeting and was adamant about not making it public. [Auditor's representatives] said they'd leave if the press was there. We can't even say what we discussed," Brown said.

Asked if it was about the audit, Brown said he was not free to say. Neither were other board members, including board President Robert Kazeangin Jr.

The two representatives of the comptroller were approached after the session, but ignored reporters and would not stop to identify themselves or to comment.

A sign-in sheet at the front desk was signed at 3:50 p.m. by Jeff Mazula and Amy Doones of the state comptroller's office, apparently the staff members who met with the Audit Committee.

The secret session caused the board's 5:30 p.m. business meeting to be delayed until 6:30 p.m.

A good portion of the subsequent meeting involved the board's discussing what areas of criticism it should address itself and what items its internal auditor -- Lumsden & McCormick -- and district staff members should address for a Corrective Action Plan the district must file with the comptroller by Jan. 5 in response to the audit's findings. In the audit, the comptroller listed 33 issues the board must address.

The board is required to address each issue and let the comptroller know what it plans to do to correct its fiscal condition.

Among the identified criticisms and called for actions, the audit recommended that district officials "take disciplinary action against the Business Administrator -- James J. Ingrasci who retired this past summer -- for knowingly over-paying [272] employees in excess of $500,000 [in June 2007]."

School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said the district has already recovered the money from all but nine of the employees and is taking legal action against them.

The audit also recommended that "the Board should take appropriate action against the Operations and Maintenance Supervisor [Lawrence W. Beyer] and other applicable department heads, for circumventing the Board's requirement to process requisitions through the purchasing agent." The audit cited the purchase of materials for district operations without going through the district's purchasing agent to make sure the district got the lowest price on products.

The audit also recommended that the board "take appropriate action regarding the superintendent's payment for vacation time that was used for [private consulting] trips to Florida, including recovering any inappropriate payments made." Granto also was criticized for using his district credit card on personal expenses and not accurately reporting his paid leave time.

Granto said that he was unaware he was paid for too much leave time and that he repaid the $10,000 he received for time to which he was not entitled. He also said he repaid $2,000 he spent on a credit card that he used to cover expenses on a private consulting trip to Florida. He said the people who hired him were supposed to reimburse the district for those costs but never did.

The superintendent said he was unaware of either problem and reimbursed the district immediately when he found out.

The audit contains a broad range of problems the board must correct.

Thursday, the board opted to address 12 of the issues itself, including the three personnel matters involving Ingrasci, Beyer and Granto. That leaves 21 audit recommendations remaining for district staff and internal auditors to address before suggesting remedies to the board. All matters must be approved by the board before they are submitted to the state comptroller.

Kazeangin said the board will meet several times in the next month to work on the Corrective Action Plan. He said the next session will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the central office and will focus on the 12 items the board is addressing on its own.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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