Brockton City Council questions expenditures after school deficit

BROCKTON — As the fallout continues from Brockton Public Schools’ overspending scandal, city councilors are putting expenses under the microscope.

Meetings of the city council accounts committee have fresh urgency since the revelation in August that Brockton Public Schools spent $14.4 million above its fiscal 2023 budget. The deficit has been the subject of many meetings since that day.

The Brockton City Council even hauled the entire Brockton School Committee to a meeting in early October so that councilors could ask questions face-to-face with school representatives.

The usually obscure work of the accounts committee, going line-by-line, purchase order-by-purchase order over school and city accounts, is now a step-by-step effort to convince voters that city councilors have a handle on spending.

Multiple audits are scheduled or underway. Meanwhile, here are five expenditures councilors have questioned in recent months:

1. Lease at Westgate Mall not cleared with council

Brockton schools failed to get the city council’s approval on a $422,592 lease for classroom and office space at the Westgate Mall. City councilors questioned it in a recent accounts subcommittee meeting.

More: Brockton Public Schools’ overspending probe expands to fiscal 2022

The lease provides classroom space for students who formerly went to the Huntington School. The 22,720-square-foot space on two floors at the mall also houses the district’s Multilingual Family Communication Center, Brockton Community Schools and the schools’ Technology Department, according to Jess Silva-Hodges, chief marketing and communications officer for Brockton Public Schools.

“I doubt this is the only lease they’ve got,” Ward 6 City Councilor Jack Lally said at the Sept. 26 meeting. “The question remains, how many, how much?”

Both the schools and city council have tasked the city’s top lawyer, Solicitor Megan Bridges, for a ruling on whether the schools must gain city council approval for such leases.

Lally said that whether or not the schools are within their rights not to gain council approval, they should do so.

“Renting, buying, selling real estate affects the city’s tax base,” Lally said.

Signed March 24, 2023, the lease costs $35,216 per month, according to records viewed during the city council’s accounts subcommittee. That’s about $18.60 per square foot per year, which broadly in line with the going rate for office space in Brockton, according to a review of data from LoopNet, an online commercial real estate data marketplace.

The Brockton School Committee unanimously approved the original lease on July 26, 2022 after calling for bids and getting just one respondent: bid winner CJC Realty Inc., which owns 365 Westgate Drive.

2. Tab at Porton di nos Ilha

Councilors raised eyebrows at a bill for $4,650.02 for dinner at one of Brockton’s best restaurants: Porton di nos Ilha.

On April 3, the president of Cape Verde, José Maria Neves, was in town with other dignitaries, including the island nation’s ambassador to the U.S. City officials hosted a dinner in honor of the state visit. A city spokesperson said about 50 people attended the evening, which included dinner, dessert, non-alcoholic beverages and an 18% tip. That comes to about $80 per person. The city spent another $500 for entertainment by a dance troupe.

“This event was the end of a day-long visit by Neves and his entourage where they addressed Brockton High School students at an assembly in the Nelson Auditorium, followed by a visit to a local business (Venue 727, Warren Ave., Brockton) where the Cape Verdean Association hosted a business forum with local businesses,” a city spokesperson said.

3. Red Sox tickets

Lame duck City Councilor Mark D’Agostino questioned $2,950 the police spent on Red Sox tickets. Assistant Auditor Irene Giannopoulos pulled up the details in the city’s system and found the money is an allowable expense under a grant where police cadets can go to events with at-risk youth. The Shannon Community Safety Initiative provides money statewide to address youth violence.

4. Massachusetts Teachers Association prints contract for $3,855

Lally probed a bill for $3,855 for printing services, which oddly came from the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Giannopoulos found that the schools have a three-year contract for “printing of Brockton contract.” Lally wondered why such a thing couldn’t be done cheaper in-house.

“Why wouldn’t we just print the contract? We’re really paying them to print the contract?” the Ward 6 representative said at Wednesday’s accounts meeting. “I apologize for my sarcasm but I’m still trying to get my head around that.”

The assistant auditor said she would check with the schools and report back the next time the accounts committee meets.

5. ‘Other contract services’

D’Agostino focused on several expenses not so much because of the expense itself, but for the vague way many of them are categorized. For instance, “other contract services” included things like 804 16-inch pizza screens.”

“The account description is what made such a minor thing jump out at me,” he said at Wednesday’s accounts meeting. “The description on the schools side doesn’t seem to match the descriptions on the city side.”

Giannopoulos said the software the city and schools both use, MUNIS, needs a clean-up on the school side to be more descriptive.

What is ‘open checkbook’?

As of press time, both the city and schools’ open checkbook databases were years out of date. The schools recently added a “budget tracker” for fiscal 2024 to their website. However, it isn’t a true “open checkbook” with real-time information about revenues and spending.

The city aims to update the city’s side of the “open checkbook” ledger by the end of November before moving on to the schools.

Send your news tips to reporter Chris Helms by email at CHelms@enterprisenews.com or connect on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, at @HelmsNews.


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