By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Schools business administrator Glenn Fratto reportedly took a parting shot at the Methuen’s education funding and its commitment to its schools as he heads to a higher paying job with the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.
Fratto, who is negotiating with Lincoln-Sudbury to become the school’s new finance director, told the Framingham-based MetroWest Daily News last week he was happy to be moving to a district that spends more money on its schools. Methuen Superintendent Judith Scannell said Fratto explained his words were taken out of context.
“I currently work in a district that doesn’t appear to value education as much as L-S,” the paper reported Fratto as saying in its June 8 edition. “I’m looking forward to working with two communities that put their money where there (sic) mouth is.”
The comment annoyed local officials, who said Methuen and Lincoln-Sudbury are very different communities with different needs and abilities to pay for education. Mayor Stephen Zanni said the comment was “unwarranted.”
“I’m upset about the parting shot he took at the school system,” Zanni said.
Evan Chaisson, the Methuen School Committee vice chairman, said comparing Methuen to wealthy suburban towns like Lincoln and Sudbury was “comparing apples to oranges.”
“My initial reaction was, it took me by shock, especially since we just gave Glenn a three-year contract extension,” Chaisson said. “But it’s tough to compare Methuen to Lincoln-Sudbury. Methuen has always been a level-funded school. Lincoln-Sudbury has money to spend. We have to pinch to the penny.”
Methuen typically funds its schools at the minimum level required by the state. This year, Scannell proposed an $80.8 million budget that came in about $3 million above the state minimum and drew an immediate push back from the mayor and several committee members. The extra funding was for enrichment, foreign language and math and reading coaches.
She and School Committee members pared that back to about $77.6 million, which covers the state minimum plus transportation and other costs.
Committee member Robert Vogler, who was on the School Committee when it hired Fratto, said he had a positive impression of Fratto’s tenure and did not make a lot of his comments
“Lincoln-Sudbury is a rich community, and Methuen isn’t,” he said. “I think we do the best we can with what we’re given. I think we’re a good school system and getting better all the time.”
Scannell said she spoke about the comments with Fratto, who told her he was expressing frustration and was quoted out of context. “He said, ‘Judy, they took that totally out of context,’” Scannell said. “He was talking about how in Methuen, we really never get more money than what is allotted to us with the Chapter 70 formula and how frustrating it is for a business manager.”
Fratto could not be reached for comment Wednesday and yesterday.
Scannell praised Fratto’s tenure as business manager. “He’s been a great business manager to work with. His passion always is, and should be, it’s all about the kids. That’s where the money goes,” she said.
His new contract did not include a cost-of-living raise and Scannell said she could not compete with Lincoln-Sudbury’s offer, which is about $25,000 more than his current $97,000 salary.
The Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School Committee voted unanimously on June 7 to hire Fratto to succeed Michael Connelly, the current finance director who is taking a similar job in North Reading.
Committee Chairman Radha Gargeya said his members liked Fratto’s experience in public education finance and operations, and in municipal finance. “His commitment and wherewithal to restore confidence in the school finances and operations in Methuen, his transparency and willingness to engage and communicate with stakeholder groups and his collaborative style are all assets we know will be of value to the district and our communities,” Gargeya said.
Fratto was hired as full-time business director in June 2009, about 18 months after former business manager Joseph Salvo resigned amid an investigation. He later pleaded guilty to stealing and embezzling from the School Department.
Consultant Frank Colvario served as an interim business manager from January 2008 to June 2009 at $100 an hour for 20 to 25 hours per week.
Scannell said the school budget is nearly done, and the summer is a quiet time she will use to decide whether to start a search or to hire an interim manager and search in the spring, the top time for business manager searches because the school fiscal year typically ends in June. “We’re in a very good place right now,” she said.
His final day has not yet been set, she said.
Both Sudbury and Lincoln have their own independent elementary and middle school systems. The regional Lincoln-Sudbury High School is run by a separate school committee and superintendent/principal.
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