- Office of the Inspector General
Media Contact for OIG Letter to Burlington Public Schools Regarding Misuse of School Department Resources
Following the receipt of a hotline tip, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the superintendent of Burlington Public Schools’ (BPS) use of school resources and the management of a BPS bank account. The Burlington School Committee and BPS employees cooperated throughout the investigation.
The OIG concluded that BPS’s superintendent, Eric Conti, regularly used BPS equipment beyond the scope allowed in his employment contract and that the contract language was likely void because state ethics law prohibits using public resource for personal purposes. The OIG also found that the school inappropriately used a bank account to reimburse employees for purchases that should have been expensed elsewhere.
In 2015 the BPS School Committee approved contract language allowing Dr. Conti “reasonable use of the district’s facilities and equipment when not in conflict with student programming.” When Dr. Conti asked the School Committee for this contract language, he gave the example that he wanted to use the gym and shower facilities in the time between the end of his work day and School Committee meetings.
The reasonable use language in Dr. Conti’s contract, and other school employees’ contracts, effectively ignored the provision in the conflict-of-interest law that prohibits unwarranted privilege. The OIG did not find that this was the School Committee’s intent; however, public officials cannot contract around the conflict-of-interest law. Because the contract language violated existing law it was likely unenforceable.
Through its investigation the OIG also found that Dr. Conti’s use of BPS equipment violated the terms of his contract. For example, Dr. Conti used BPS equipment to repair his car, refurbish barn doors for his farm and to haul materials to his Virginia farm. Also, other BPS employees utilized the equipment to assist Dr. Conti with his, and their own, personal projects.
The OIG also found that BPS used a bank account to reimburse employees for training and travel expenses; this violated BPS’s policies and lacked internal controls. Specifically, based upon the BPS reimbursement policy, employee reimbursements should have been paid directly by the town of Burlington, not BPS, and the reimbursement should have been subject to multiple levels of review prior to payment. In addition, the superintendent’s secretary was responsible for the reimbursement account, which meant that when Dr. Conti required reimbursement, his subordinate was responsible for approving the request. Furthermore, BPS used the account to deposit checks and cash that should have been deposited into separate, more appropriate accounts.
In its letter to BPS, the OIG recommended that the School Committee eliminate the clause regarding the use of facilities and equipment from all BPS employee contracts. The OIG also recommended that the School Committee actively oversee the superintendent’s performance, including contract compliance, and that every committee member complete annual state ethics training. The OIG also recommended BPS follow its reimbursement policy, expand internal controls and work with the Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services to ensure the school follows proper accounting processes.
BPS reported that, in response to the OIG’s recommendations:
- BPS administrators stopped using the district’s equipment and facilities for personal projects.
- The School Committee removed the clause that allowed personal use of BPS facilities and equipment from all employment contracts.
- The School Committee plans to complete state ethics training by June 2021.
- BPS stopped using the reimbursement account when it hired a new school business manager in 2017. The account was permanently closed in January 2020.