EAST HAVEN — Board of Education members agreed in a special meeting Thursday to hire a forensic auditor because of a $918,675 deficit for fiscal year 2015-16, but avoided the elephant in the room: the question of whether business manager James Farrell had been put on leave or fired.
The board called the special meeting after a Town Council member told a Register reporter this week that Farrell was disciplined by the state banking commissioner related to a previous job.
The council member said publicly during a council meeting this week that he wanted answers as to the $918,675 deficit on the education side for fiscal year 2015-16.
The Board of Education Thursday also talked about hiring temporary help in the finance department and what qualifications they would look for in a future business manager, but stopped short of mentioning Farrell or his employment status.
Several sources said Thursday that Farrell has been put on administrative leave.
Board President John Finkle, when asked after the meeting whether Farrell was still in the job or on leave said, “I don’t know,” and referred questions to acting Superintendent of Schools Erica Forti.
Forti said she couldn’t comment on Farrell’s status with an investigation pending.
But, she said, “obviously” her office puts heavy weight on “ethical and moral” conduct.
She said her request to the board for additional help in the business office — as many as two people — shouldn’t be taken to mean Farrell is gone. She said they needed the help before any controversy erupted around him.
She also said there may be more answers at the Board of Education’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m.
About 25 residents attended Thursday’s meeting, but there was no public comment. Christine Maisano, an accountant, lent a lot of expertise to the conversation.
The board called the emergency meeting after it was disclosed after a council meeting that Farrell had been found in another position to have violated several Connecticut banking laws.
The issue, as well as the deficit, originally was raised by Councilman Nicholas Palladino, who noted at the meeting he has been asking this question “for the past six months” without getting an answer from the other council members.
Before that council meeting began, Palladino said in an interview that he learned just last week from a constituent that Connecticut Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez in July issued a consent order containing serious allegations about Farrell’s violations of Connecticut General Statutes.
Board Chairman Fred Parlato told Palladino, “You should ask the Board of Education about this. We have no control over it.”
In the preliminary statement of the consent order, Perez said his office investigated Farrell’s actions while he was working for the New Haven County Credit Union. Perez said the investigation revealed Farrell violated provisions of state banking law.
Perez said Farrell violated three state laws, “each of which would form the basis for removing Farrell from office.”
Perez also said Farrell agreed to sanctions against him, including paying $10,000 to the state as a civil penalty.
Another provision of the sanctions specified Farrell may not, without Perez’s consent, “hold any position as a director, officer, employee or independent contractor with any bank, Connecticut credit union or federal credit union.”
The Board of Education didn’t vote on any measure Thursday, but had discussion about the qualifications it may require of a future business manager — including how he or she should be a certified public accountant, and spoke of how a forensic auditor hired should be independent of a firm doing the board’s regular audits.
Members discussed how they will need someone who knows how to work in the department’s antiquated computer programs.