Forensic audit requested for Freelake school budget

May 28, 2024

LAKEVILLE — In response to a nearly $800,000 deficit in the Freetown-Lakeville School budget, a regional finance subcommittee has met and is pushing for a forensic audit of the school district’s budget.

The Freetown-Lakeville Regional Finance Subcommittee, which met on Tuesday, May 28, is composed of finance committee members, school committee members and select board members from the two towns. 

Freetown Lakeville School District Superintendent Alan Strauss confirmed last week that the school budget of $46,550,959, which was voted on by the School Committee on April 1, was just under $800,000 short. The deficit was due to “clerical errors,” he said.

The finance subcommittee met on Tuesday for the first time since December of 2023 with school district officials to discuss solutions. 

During the meeting, regional finance subcommittee members voted to request that the select boards of each town decide if a forensic audit of the school budget is necessary. The group also voted to request that the Freetown Lakeville School Committee vote to authorize the audit. 

Strauss’ explanation that “a mistake was made,” in regards to how the deficit was overlooked, did not quell the uncertainty of those at the meeting. Several questioned whether or not there were other errors that hadn’t been caught. 

Lakeville School Committee member Crystal Ng, who has been vocal about the budget issues, wasn’t satisfied with the answer that the shortfall amounted to clerical errors. Ng said, “I’m supposed to have faith that this was it? I don’t. I want a forensic audit,” Ng said.

Lakeville Finance Committee Chair Chris Plonka echoed her opinion.

“I don’t have any confidence in the accuracy of this budget,” she said. “I’m suspicious as to what else could be there.”

The School district plans to use school choice funds as well as the additional Chapter 70 funding it will receive and money from Excess and Deficiency funds as primary means to front the gap, school officials said.

Members of the subcommittee and the audience voiced their concerns about how the situation would impact the Fiscal Year 2026 budget. 

Lakeville resident Rich LaCamera said that by using one-time funds, such as those listed above, the district would be “digging a deeper hole” in terms of next year’s spending plan. 

Select Board member Brian Day noted that Lakeville appreciates the school district’s efforts to make cuts to the 2025 budget, but, he said, “we’re very nervous about 2026. We’re just looking for solutions. Next year is the one that scares me.” 

Freetown Town Administrator Deborah Pettey also expressed worry over how these decisions would impact Freetown’s 2026 budget.

The school district’s new director of finance, Jack Higgins, stated that one of the ways the district plans to mitigate that impact is by breaking up school choice funds between Fiscal Year 2025 and 2026.  

The Lakeville School Committee will meet to discuss whether or not to authorize a forensic audit on Wednesday, May 29.