District Officials, Police Affidavits Detail Lunch Ladies’ Theft of Nearly $500,000

When New Canaan Public Schools’ budget director returns from summer break next week, she’ll help create reports that could establish or rule out the notion that the lunch ladies arrested last week depleted school parents’ funds while stealing nearly $500,000 from the district itself, officials said Monday night. Tracy Haberman knows the point-of-sale or ‘POS’ software system used at cash registers in Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School “very, very well,” according to Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, director of finance and operations for the district. “We are going to look at pulling reports and I am not certain that all the transactions are time-stamped, but that would be a key piece to doing an audit and reviewing accounts that have been modified,” Keating told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “So, we can see where transactions take place—a parent deposits to a child’s account, it is pulled in through the system, a child goes to a register to purchase something, it’s keyed in there—and we can also see if there are double entries at that point and we can also see if someone went in and modified after-the-fact. So those are the kinds of things that we are going to try and audit and we are going to be looking at situations surrounding those changes, if there are any, and also look at the frequency of that.

‘The District Is Always Looking for Ways To Rationalize Costs’: Board of Ed Spotlights Money-Saving Efforts

Through contract negotiations, competitive bidding, new carrier agreements and shifting retirees to a state health plan, New Canaan Public Schools has saved nearly $1.6 million annually in the area of employee benefits, district officials said last week. About 80 percent of the district’s operating budget is devoted to staff salaries or benefits and that is an area “we can be creative in and have some good thoughtful conversations is around the type of health benefits that we offer our employees,” Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, NCPS director of finance and operations, told members of the Board of Education at their regular meeting May 21. Public schools officials looks especially at plan design changes, such as those in other districts, and cost-sharing options, Keating said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. Together those components “do generate quite a bit of savings for the school district.”

“And it is really the one thing that we are able to use to offset our salaries, because salaries grow at a much lower rate than health insurance does,” Keating said. “You have close to double-digit increases with trends in some years whereas salaries lower percentages.”

Specifically, she said, the district is saving $747,000 per year through contract negotiations (by replacing a PPO with a high-deductible plan for both certified and non-certified staff, and a 1 percent savings through cost-sharing), $326,000 through competitive bidding (stop loss insurance changes that significantly increased the threshold, creating risk, but saved money as fewer claims came in, and life and long-term disability), and $506,000 through carrier agreements such as pharmacy rebates and performance guarantees, as well as transitioning retirees from Cigna to the state Teachers’ Retirement Board or ‘TRB’ plan.

New Canaan High School Per-Sport Spending [TABLE]

On a per-student, per-season basis and before private donations are applied, New Canaan Public Schools projects next fiscal year to spend the most money among all sports on NCHS girls ice hockey ($2,264), followed by boys ice hockey ($2,094), girls gymnastics ($2,072), girls softball ($1,437) and girls golf ($1,311), according to district officials (see table below). Within the total NCHS athletics program cost of $1.47 million for fiscal year 2018, the varsity football team at an estimated $154,993 by far would garner the highest percentage of spending for any single sport, according to the schools’ budget book. Football’s high participation (158 total athletes across four teams) drives that overall cost, as does its large combined coaching staff of 16—more than twice the next-closest sport (boys’ lacrosse, at seven), according to the data. Overall, NCPS expects to spend about 23.7 percent more on combined boys’ sports versus girls’ sports next year—$589,875 versus $477,033, the data shows. On an average per-student basis, it expects to spend about 11 percent more overall on boys than girls, before shared costs and private contributions are considered, according to the district’s own data.