The four-year lease deal, which was requested by school Superintendent
Now, questions are being raised by town officials over who authorized the lease and how it will be paid for.
"Somehow they went from needing 400 computers to needing 560,"
"Nobody knew they were doing this," he added. "The selectmen didn't even know. It makes you wonder about internal controls. The IT guy goes out, leases computers for
During a Tri-Board meeting in December, when the lease deal first came to light, several selectmen expressed astonishment at the deal.
"Who approved that?" Selectman
A last-minute lease
In 2012, Town Meeting voters approved a
The computers, MacBook Pros, were leased from Apple for four years.
Puzzanghera worked last summer with school officials to get the district ready for an
McGrath said in an email to the Townsman that "throughout the process ... I brought to the CIO's attention that the projected number of 'knowledge' workers he had listed for the schools (400) was inaccurate. I provided the correct number on multiple occasions, over the course of a year, but he did not factor in my requested changes.
"When it was time to order the laptops last spring, he discovered that additional laptops were needed that were not covered by the funding source."
McGrath continued, "I let the School Committee know that due to the CIO's error, the IT funding source for the computer lease would not cover the first lease payment that the CIO was preparing."
Realizing that the district was going to come up short -- and that special education teachers wouldn't have laptops while everyone else would -- McGrath said she felt the district could use some funds remaining at the of fiscal 2013 last June.
"I brought the situation forward to the School Committee chair, vice chair and budget subcommittee, who agreed that the schools could use these funds to cover the shortfall in the technology purchase," she said.
McGrath added that it was agreed that while the first payment should come out of surplus school funds, the remaining three years of the lease for the additional 160 computers should come out of IT funds.
The lease document was signed by Puzzanghera as well as business manager
Puzzanghera disputes some of McGrath's statement.
"I wouldn't characterize it as an 'error,'" he said. "We used different assumptions."
When asked if McGrath's version of events was correct, he refused to comment.
"I don't want to dispute the superintendent's recollection, so I'm not going to comment on that," said Puzzanghera, who reports directly to McGrath and Town Manager
Who will pay?
In 2013, 200 computers were to be leased, but in fiscal 2014, the number rose to 360. He said he recalled that the leases approved by Town Meeting in 2012 were in two batches of 200 each, so he didn't understand what the additional 160 computers were for.
"I thought it was 400," he said. He also noticed that the funding source for the additional computers in years two through four of the lease was the general fund, not the Cable TV account, which is funded by annual payments from
The town manager stumbled somewhat in his response, saying, "This is a change that hasn't come back to the boards." He said it had to do with "additional machines acquired in June."
"Why would we make that kind of change?" he asked. "Why make a unilateral decision ... without bringing it back to the boards to extend beyond the cable funds?"
Puzzanghera, who was in the audience, said that initially, it was determined 400 computers would be needed but that after an analysis of the school district's needs, it was determined that an additional 160 computers were required for 560 staff members.
"That's a 33 percent increase," Major said, adding that "the remaining costs of the systems should come out of the school budget."
Puzzanghera said it remained an "open question" how the latter years of the lease would be paid.
School Committee member
"That obligation should be through the entire life cycle of that asset," he said. "It's not fair or right that we cover year one, then go back to base camp and say, 'How do we cover years two, three and four? I don't think that's cool.'"
McGrath disagreed, saying they should come out of the Information Technology budget because of a mistake made by the IT director.
"That was not the agreement," McGrath said. "Those numbers were incorrect and I attempted to correct them along the way."
While McGrath said she did get approval for the deal from School Committee members, Birnbach said, "This is news to me."
A good cause
School Committee Chairman
"It was an error in planning," he said. "The decision for the children was for their teachers to have the equipment they needed for their kids. That's the most important issue here.
"Was it the neatest thing in the world? Probably not. What prevailed at the end of the day was right for the students."
He disputed Major's contention that the matter represented a "disservice" to the community.
"A disservice is not doing the right thing for the community," he said. "An error was made, the right thing was done for the kids, let's move on."
Forgue added, "We have to go back and make sure it doesn't happen again. Mistakes get corrected."
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