When Bethel resident Dan Gaita, 1992 Class President, Henry Abbott Technical (HAT) School in Danbury, wrote a letter to HAT's school administration asking for the almost $10,000 in reserved funds his class had raised for their 20th high school reunion, little did he know what a can of worms he had opened.
He was surprised when he received a letter from Robert F. Lombardi, assistant superintendent for the Connecticut Technical High School System saying that the funds were no longer available. He was even more surprised to learn from an ensuing audit, that more than $100,000 of scholarship and student activity money had been misused.
In 1993, the Class of 1992 had a balance of $13,648.10. Besides interest transfers, the only other activity in the account was for their five year reunion in 1997. In 1998, the balance was $9,741.68. In 1999, the balance was $0. Gaita wondered, where did it all go?
The letter he received from Lombardi said that unless the Class had maintained meeting minutes, “No funds are retained for any future purposes — including reunions.”
The letter stated that graduating classes are advised to leave directions for how the money is to be used in the minutes. Without directions, the funds would be placed in the student activity association’s general fund.
Under Freedom of Information, Gaita replied to Lombardi, and his letter was forwarded to Connecticut Technical High School System Attorney Beatrice Tinty, who recommended an audit.
Gaita was told that in order to retrieve the reunion money, he had to produce the final meeting minutes saying that the money was for the reunion, and that he should also produce supporting documentation.
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Since Lombardi's letter had stated that schools were no longer required to keep minutes beyond three years after graduation, there were no minutes to be found. The supporting documentation came in the form of classmates. Gaita and fellow 1992 graduates Ada Kercado, Joseph Peros and William P. Keenan, Jr. submitted letters stating that they had been promised this money for the reunions.
“We were kids, and we were told, on multiple occasions, that we had to pay the dues. It was $35 a year, and we were told that we would have money in our account for our 20th year reunion,” Gaita said.
A 1986 Abbott Tech graduate, Michele Kellerman, Bethel, said, “We all did fundraisers. We sold candy and all kinds of stuff, with the expectations that it would go towards the reunion. We were kids and we were told the money would be there.”
Gaita’s first letter had been sent in January, and he recently received a copy of the audit, completed by the State Department of Education, Office of Internal Audit. Dated April 4, 2012, it stated, “Through inquiry with the school’s principal and business manager... we revealed the following instances in which the school did not adhere to established operating procedures or policies associated with STA [Student Activity Funds].”
According to the audit, “the school had transferred $100,000.00 from the Kenneth A. Michael Scholarship Account to the Miscellaneous and General Surplus account within the STA.” According to regulations, the scholarship money from that fund was “to be used for post-secondary scholarships and/or tool/equipment awards.”
Instead, approximately $91,235 was used for gym repairs and equipment that had not been approved. Less than $9,000 remained in the General Surplus budget. Additionally, $1,825.00 had been spent on non-student activities including newspaper advertising, open house signs and a school sponsored dinner. The audit further claimed that those expenditures are “clearly School operating expenses and should not have been paid from the STA.”
In the end, the audit showed that the School was unable to provide documentation of what had happened to the 1992 Class fund of $9,741.68.
“As a high school student, we weren’t taught FOI or Robert’s Rules," Gaita said. "What we were promised was that the money would be there for reunions. It was there for our fifth reunion, but then it was gone.”
Pat Ciccone, Superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School System, said that the entire problem rested with the fact that there were no minutes to be found. “It is a districtwide policy. We have funds for classes that have long since graduated. At Abbott, this has been problematic because there have been no minutes.”
Gaita said it would be hard to produce minutes when the policy of the school was not to keep the minutes beyond three years.
Through Attorney Tinty’s efforts, Gaita and his classmates will have their money for their reunion. However, Gaita said, “We hope to ensure that funds collected from our class are used as promised, and we want to assure if this has happened to other classes that this be rectified.”