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School Officials Defend Against Report

School Officials Defend Against Report
Retired Schools Supt. Ralph Iassogna returned to school again Tuesday night to defend against charges from Trumbull Internal Auditor James Henderson.

Henderson drafted a 16-page report mainly targeting the district facilities manager Al Barbarotta.

Specifically, Iassogna said he believed First Selectman Tim Herbst was supportive of schools' efforts to "do whatever it takes to open school on time and safely" after snow storms in early 2013. Schools opened several days earlier than other districts.

In 2011, there was no problem with hiring without a bid waiver, and Facilities Manager Al Barbarotta hired people to clear snow from town roofs without bidding it out. But feelings changed after winter 2013.

"I did authorize AFB [run by Barbarotta] to get the schools open safely and as soon as possible. We were the envy of the school districts," Iassogna said Tuesday night.

Regarding a charge that payment procedure was violated, Iassogna denied the Henderson's finding. "It took nine days to get payment to these vendors. I take exception. It's erroneous and misleading," the former superintendent said.

Business Manager Sean O'Keefe agreed. "It was processed on a normal basis."

O'Keefe added that normally bidding processes are followed. "I'm looking at enhancing processes constantly," he said.

Additionally, most of the money spent on snow removal has been reimbursed by FEMA.

Board members noted that removing snow quickly was important because it was a cold, snowy winter in 2011 and the roof had already collapsed at the Tennis Club of Trumbull due to too much snow.

In a letter to the school district after that, Herbst praised Iassogna, the town building official, the fire marshal, Custodial Services Head Steve Kennedy and Facilities Manager Al Barbarotta for the cleanup efforts, said Board member Tom Kelly. 

But the attitude changed after winter 2013.

Henderson specifically accused Barbarotta of having conflicts of interest and/or trying to steer work toward an energy company he managed. Barbarotta has sued Herbst for allegedly interfering in a contract to add to a Trumbull Loves Children Inc. building.

The Chairman of the Board

Departing Board Chairman Steve Wright, who is not running again, criticized all of Henderson's charges.

"We make an effort to be collaborative," Wright said. "We do not have to answer to the auditor."

The board uses tax money and comprises a large amount of the budget, but it is independent when it comes to how to spend its money, Wright said. Still, it should not work alone.

"That is no way to run a shop. You should cooperate with the people on the other end of Main Street. When people write reports based on lack of best evidence and authority to write the report, I find that troubling," Wright said.

He was referring to the Board of Finance not authorizing Henderson to audit the snow removal process.

"In three weeks [after the Nov. 5 election]  most of us will be gone," he added. Cooperation between the district and the town resulted in all-day kindergarten, a highly-praised pre-kindergarten program and made the district "stellar" in the state, according to the chairman.

It's also been recognized as financially transparent.

In the end, the school board decided to draft a response in time for its Nov. 13 meeting, and invited Henderson to attend.

"I wish we at least get a fair say on what goes in that report," Wright said. 

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