Board has different restitution amount in mind
Aug 22, 2014 | 5471 views | 8 8 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Audit shows more money missing than agreed to in embezzlement plea

By Jack Deming

READSBORO- Last month, former Readsboro Central School principal Michael Heller was ordered by Bennington Criminal Court to pay back $4,500 he admitted to stealing from school grants.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, WSSU superintendent Christopher Pratt presented the board with a letter from the state’s restitution unit, detailing that the school would receive the monetary paybacks in bimonthly increments. Pratt also told the board that they should seek more money than Heller was court-ordered to return.

“I propose that when the board sends this in (the restitution agreement), you send it in with the actual amount of $4,797.72,” said Pratt. “When the audit was done, the monetary value was brought up to that amount.” Pratt hopes that asking for the increased amount might spur the state to amend the document.

Members of the community and school staff still voiced dissatisfaction with the result of the case, which gave the former principal no jail time in lieu of probation, 100 hours of community service, and required therapy, but did not take away his teaching or administrative licenses.

School custodian Teddy Hopkins called the restitution agreement a “kick in the teeth,” as it only covered what the former principal took from the grants.

“If there was a victims advocate, who signed off on behalf of the victim?” asked Hopkins. “We have a new superintendent, a new principal, and a new school board director, so who signed off saying ‘OK’ on the restitution agreement that he has to repay just what he took?”

Hopkins suggested the board pursue further legal action as well. “That’s (the restitution deal) criminal court, let’s pursue the civil course. There’s been other things found in costs that the school has had to absorb that are public record we can pursue in small claims court. I’d like to see some of that done, and I can provide some of it, without getting into a long thing here tonight.” Hopkins gave the example of the school having to change the locks following the arrest of Heller, which Hopkins said cost the school approximately $800. Hopkins said he could provide a list of issues that he was “positive” the school could make a case for.

As previously reported in The Deerfield Valley News, before Heller’s plea deal was accepted, his attorney Michael Silver, collected verbal depositions from members of the school board as well as former WSSU superintendent Dr. Richard McClements. In court, Silver said that based on these depositions, Heller was universally admired and was a transformative figure for the school community. Only one member of the board from that time period is still on the board, Karen Boisvert. When asked, it was former school board member Larry Hopkins who spoke to the nature of these statements, saying that he and Boisvert gave depositions, but he could not recall what either of them had said.

Resident Nick Zammuto added that these statements did not reflect the feelings of the community. “If they (the board) had talked to people in the community they would have gotten a very different picture of Mr. Heller,” said Zammuto. “We’re hoping now we can turn things around. I’m here to voice disappointment because we were completely misrepresented by these statements (made by Silver) to the court.”

Zammuto also asked if the monetary award could be labeled as a gift and used as a line item aside from the general fund. Chair Cherrie Giddings said that money would be put in the general fund, while Heller’s salary from the period following his firing was used to extend new principal Christopher Smith’s employment by five days, as well as pay interim principal Tom Boudreau’s stipend. The remainder of this money will go into a reserve fund until after this fiscal year.

In other business, Pratt said that he and Smith would be evaluating the guidance counselor position at the school, which was allotted $4,000 through a health and wellness grant. This is half the amount allotted last year, and Pratt said Smith would need to figure out the hours per week that he feels appropriate for the position. Pratt also said that school counselor Christine Levy would be given rights of first refusal to the job before it is posted.

David Malcolm from Vermont Telecommunications asked the board to consider the installation of a small antenna at the school as part of a network of Wi-Fi and cellular service hotspots along Route 100. The five-watt transmitter would have a three-quarters of a mile radius and would be solar powered. Malcolm said the school was a perfect location due to its slight elevation and proximity to Route 100, and because VTel is trying to set up a network of hotspots without entering into commercial lease agreements. Giddings moved that the board hold another meeting on the matter in order to gauge the concerns and opinions of building staff, parents, and residents.
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Raymond Eilers
August 31, 2014
Does the school member that took Larrys place got a clue She make decisions based on wims of a few parents does she relies she represents 900 tax payers not just a few from the inner circle.They are also bauking at the cell tower proposal there is a tower right next to Twin Valley in J ville again what about the rest of the tax payers in town 2.5 more yrs of this OMG
Bob Smith
August 27, 2014
Agenda posted yesterday with two items listed. One was "Sign Contract with Rowe" and the other was "Hire of P/T Secretary ".

Then today the postings had the first one crossed off...hopefully someone came to there senses and stopped that foolishness or was the crossing out not an action of the board?

Also wondered why they would have a meeting at 10:00 AM especially when they know it was an issue that would be debated?
Bob Smith
August 24, 2014
Didn't they appoint a new member to the board in July?

Someone said her name was O'Donnell or something like that?

Read the minutes and not listed as attending.

Looks like the new member missed her first official meeting and most likely why no decisions could be made as the two initial members don't seem to see eye to eye on many issues.
Steve Cox
August 24, 2014
Obviously there is no pleasing some of these new families in town?

One had concerns with the teacher who was ultimately replaced and then turned on administration after that event, and now wants her kids in Rowe? I say go and take care of all the financial issues yourself.

The other has continually had issues with cookies at Halloween, tint on windows and now the handling of the previous Superintendet's issue. Has quite a few concerns for someone who pulled kids out of the school long after the Principal resigned. Seems like nothing ever is acceptable and will find a reason to even complain, no matter what the "flavor of the day" is.
Bob Smith
August 23, 2014
The other item of "street talk" requiring verification, but was completely omitted from this article, but in the minutes, is actually very astonishing.

You have to read the minutes for yourself, as if it was just stated it would not be believed.

A parent in town, who obviously believes the local school does not meet her kids needs, has decided to enroll them at the new Rowe School. That is well within their rights, but they are also fully responsible for that tuition. The minutes indicate the parents say that Rowe is mandating a document be signed by the Readsboro School Board as cosigners for that tuition. What that does is if the parents stop paying the tuition to Rowe that the Readsboro tax payers will be paying it for them.

Not a good financial proposition for the residents, may not even be legal and even if it was, why would a Town body co-sign any financial situation for anyone who is delinquent in their Readsboro taxes as listed in the Town Report of March 2014?

Why was this not reported and why didn't the Superintendent present his recommendation on this as they do in all legal matters?
Bob Smith
August 23, 2014
Just had the opportunity to read the draft minutes of the school board meeting located at the Readsboro School website to verify what I read and interpreted in this article. As usual, "street talk" gave a much different picture of what was here and I figured the minutes might reveal more information, and it certainly did.

The cell antenna requested to be put at the school by V-Tel which is a benefit to all and much needed in Readsboro was put on hold pending more data as one person on the board has concerns over the health impact this antenna may cause to students?(street talk was right).
Steve Cox
August 23, 2014
Also, my children excelled under Mr Heller's leadership. They complained a bit that they could not do what they wanted when they wanted and quite often had to be put back in line. Being a kid once, I could see their displeasure, but as far as growing up and being more responsible children, it was a phenomenal, positive change in them.

Although what Mr Heller did was absolutely very wrong, illegal and inexcusable, I will miss his positive impact he had on my kids.I hope the new Principal does as well in that respect
Steve Cox
August 23, 2014
If the audit was done and the court knew the amount was $4797.72 then why did the final amount of restitution be set at $4500?

Not sure if this decision is now appealable now that the court did all its reviews, accounting and determinations?

But on another note, what is this concept of this being viewed as a monetary award and viewed as a gift? This was money, illegally taken and judged to be returned, most likely for the cause it was intended for, and Zammuto wants to use it as a gift? I am sure there are still plenty of items still required to be done as intended, that was overlooked when the money supposedly ran out.

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