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In Letter To Finance Board-School Business DirectorDefends His Actions



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In Letter To Finance Board—

School Business Director

Defends His Actions

By Larissa Lytwyn

Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze received a letter from school Business Director Ron Bienkowski this week taking issue with critical comments board member Jim Gaston made at the board’s October 28 meeting.

At that meeting, Mr Kortze reported that Mr Bienkowski was asked to have someone meet with finance board to explain the school board’s position regarding the 2003-04 school transportation contract. Mr Bienkowski was asked to attend the October 12 meeting; he was unable to due to a personal commitment and sent related figures and information to the Board of Finance for its consideration.

Over the course of the October 28 finance meeting discussion regarding the school transportation contract, Mr Gaston said it was his opinion that Mr Bienkowski’s attitude regarding the finance board’s request was “irresponsible” and “confrontational.”

Mr Gaston also remarked, regarding the school board’s awarding the transportation contract to owner/operators over more cost-effective outside bus companies, “the Board of Ed made a good decision, but if Mr Bienkowski is not willing to defend his position, he must think that he made a mistake.”

In his letter to Mr Kortze, dated November 5, Mr Bienkowski wrote that after reading the October 28 finance board minutes, he was “at a loss to understand the [board’s] attitude toward the Board of Education in general” and himself “in particular.”

“The remarks made about me and recorded in this public document are slanderous and libelous,” Mr Bienkowski wrote.

He went on to explain that the year-end transfers in question regarding school transportation costs were included in his August 18 year-end financial report.

In a memo Mr Bienkowski said he received on September 27, Board of Finance Secretary Jan Andras requested the figures he had compiled when the Board of Education invited requests for proposals from bus companies for specific transportation services.

This memo, which Mr Bienkowski enclosed with his November 5 letter, “simply solicited information for the October 12 finance board meeting. No request was made for Board of Education representation at this meeting.”

By September 30, according to Mr Bienkowski, he had submitted transportation-contract figures and information in response to Ms Andras’s inquiry.

On October 25, a fax was received at 3:58 pm, Mr Bienkowski wrote, inviting him to the October 28 finance board meeting.

“I responded by day’s end, indicating that I could not attend due to a prior personal commitment,” Mr Bienkowski wrote. “I offered assistance by phone. I was available in my office from 9 am to 5 pm on October 26, 27, and 28; no one called before the meeting.”

He continued, “As for the remark regarding my unwillingness to defend my position and the comment that I must feel that I made a mistake by hiring owner/operators over competitive bus companies, it was not my decision to make. My responsibility was to collect and present information and analyses to the Board of Education. At first, the [school board] was prepared to entertain the possibility of hiring an outside bus company. However, the decision ultimately made…was to stay with the owner/operator concept.”

In closing, Mr Bienkowski wrote that the issue was important enough to him to “expect that it be read during the next Board of Finance meeting” and that the “uncomplimentary remarks be retracted and noted in those minutes.”

A copy of the letter was included in each Board of Finance member’s preparatory package prior to the board’s November 29 meeting.

Though Mr Kortze did not read the letter aloud, he gave Mr Bienkowski, who was present, an opportunity to address the letter. Board of Finance members were also invited to speak about the issue.

“Mr Bienkowski said a few words about his letter [during the November 29 meeting],” said Mr Kortze. “No one from the finance board had anything to say, so we moved on.”

When sought for additional comment on his letter by The Bee, Mr Bienkowski declined.

“The Board of Finance has and will continue to endeavor to find means to satisfy the town’s need on a cost-effective basis,” said Mr Kortze. “And I think we are going to continue to perform this with due diligence. When we look into things for the first time, we aren’t treading on anyone else’s territory; we just want to understand. Once we understand the issue, and are provided the information, we can make an informed financial decision, which is part of the overall decision. Which is our job.”

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