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Town Plans Last-Ditch Effort to Keep Schools Open

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Winchester Schools will run out of money by December unless officials act. At the Monday night Board of Selectmen meeting, they discussed their options. (Published Monday, Oct 7, 2013)

    Officials in a Connecticut town still reeling from an alleged embezzlement scheme, are considering seeking a loan from a bank and raising taxes in a last-ditch effort to keep all three Winchester public schools from closing their doors in December.

    Tonight, the Board of Selectmen will vote whether to support the plan to borrow $2.5 million from a bank to hold the town over until April, when it receives $4 million in grant money from the state.   

    Part of the problems stems from the disappearance of $2.5 million.

    Former Winchester Finance Director Henry Centrella is accused of embezzling the money over a period of five years and was arrested earlier this year.

    Centrella, who was finance director for 32 years, is due in court this morning and the town is scrambling to replace the missing money.

    "The stuff that we're seeing is a result of poor decisions and bad management for several years," Bryan Sundie, of Winchester, said.

    Town officials addressed the crisis at a Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday night and the most popular solution was to borrow from a bank and levy a supplement tax to pay off the loan.

    Bank of America has agreed to loan the town the money, according to the town manager, who said this is just a short-term solution and there are some long-term financial woes to tackle.

    "Something has to be done," Lisa Steeves, of Winchester, said. "Do we like it? No, but unfortunately we've put ourselves in this position. And that's where we have to go. Whatever happens, happens."

    The loan is no guarantee, however.

    Unlike the supplemental tax, voters will need to approve the loan in a referendum.

    "Our audits have been routinely late," said Town Manager Dale Martin. "In fact, we just completed our 2010-to-2011 audit in May of this year."

    Martin said the problem has been a long time coming.

    "The former finance director put a lot of holes in our boat, and we were sinking. And now all the holes are plugged, and what we're doing now is we're bailing," she said.

    However, residents said their troubles stem from more than just one person.

    "These hijinks have been going on for years with infighting, bickering, you name it, and it brought us to where we are today," Sundie said.

    Unless officials can reach an agreement, it's the students who will suffer.