A demand for transparency from Girard school board

Late last week, the Girard school board accepted the resignation of school district treasurer Mark Bello by a 5-0 vote after a recent state audit revealed he was paid over $460,000 in one fiscal year as part of a retire-rehire contract.

Simply accepting Bello’s resignation is not enough. The board must take full responsibility for a complete oversight of district funds that were given to Bello during the 2023 fiscal year as part of a contract that the state audit called “an excessive and extravagant use of district resources.”

According to the state audit, Bello’s retire / rehire contract was effective Sept. 5, 2022, to June 30, 2024. As part of that contract, a stipulation was changed in which he started to receive 1% of all revenue of the district, rather than 2.5% of all federal, state and local grants / CCIP / awards / private revenue of the district.

For example, the audit stated that in fiscal year 2022, Bello was paid $188,683 after earning $115,114 as a base salary. So, Bello was paid $58,932 from the 2.5% of the district’s federal, state and local grants / CCIP / awards / private revenue. A year later, after signing his new contract, Bello made $118,078 as his base salary and also received $325,918 from the 1% of all revenue of the district. In total, Bello made $461,187 in the 2023 fiscal year after a leave payout balance. The audit states that the amount paid to Bello “as a retire / rehire was excessive,” and we must completely agree.

The Girard school district took a unique approach to compensating Bello during his previous contract by incentivizing him to bring in grant money for the district. However, giving a school district treasurer CEO-type money, while also not fully understanding the contract, is a complete dereliction of duty, and there needs to be complete accountability taken by both the current, and former, board members who approved Bello’s retire / rehire contract.

The audit states that an “Inquiry with board members revealed that certain board members were aware of the percentage change in the contract but were not aware of the language change to ‘all revenue of the district’ and there was an expectation of reduced payment to the treasurer.”

As a course of action moving forward, the school board stated in the audit that from now on the board will hold a meeting within 15 and 30 days prior the reemployment of a retiree to comply with Ohio law and board policy. Also, as additional oversight, it will also consider engaging outside counsel to review any contracts entered into by the board and employees of the district.

While these are both steps in the right direction to protect the future of the school district, there must be accountability taken and there must be an assurance that it will never happen again.

Explaining the reasoning behind Bello’s exorbitant contract may earn the board some leeway as they move forward, which is exactly what they want to do.

“We are not jumping for joy because this happened, but we have to deal with this,” Girard school board president Diane Alejars said during an emergency school board meeting last Friday to accept Bello’s resignation. “We are concerned about the school system and want to move forward.”

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy as questions must be answered to determine why such an egregious error was made. Until that happens, there must be complete transparency from the school board.

During last Friday’s meeting, Alejars said that the school board had an executive session planned for 5 p.m. June 25 to discuss seeking a new treasurer.

“We will be discu´ssing the procedure to follow going forward in finding and appointing a permanent treasurer,” Alejars said.

In an effort to provide that transparency, the board’s conversation about how it will approach its search for a new district treasurer should follow Ohio Sunshine Laws and should be done in an open meeting.

While the board can discuss position applicants and the hiring of a new treasurer in executive session, how it will approach that process should be heard by the rest of the district.

An open and honest approach by the school board is the best approach moving forward.


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