Dr. Harry Fensom named SAU 36 interim superintendent


December 16, 2009
WHITEFIELD — In a surprise announcement, Dr. Harry Fensom of Nottingham was appointed the Interim Superintendent of SAU #36 at Monday night's school board meeting.

Dr. Fensom retired as superintendent of SAU #79 in Gilmanton that operates a Kindergarten-to-grade-8 elementary school in the Lakes Region.

White Mountains Regional School District school board chairman Greg Odell of Dalton made the announcement following a half-hour executive session that was attended by all board members, except Cathy Warren of Carroll.

"Dr. Fensom has tentatively accepted the WMRSD position, pending negotiations over his salary and benefits," chairman Odell stated.

Two candidates, each a retired N. H. superintendent, were considered and interviewed, he said.

Dr. Fensom explained in a 9 p.m. telephone interview on Monday night that he has been a little bored in retirement and is eager to take on the immediate challenge of finishing the WMRSD school budget process and presenting a responsible budget to District voters. In his more than 20 years as a school superintendent, he did serve in an SB2 district, he said, and understands the crucial nature of the First Deliberative Session at which voters set each warrant article's exact wording and figures.

"I'm excited about getting back in harness," said Dr. Fensom. "I'm sure there are challenges in the White Mountains Regional School District, but I'm also sure that a lot of good things are happening in the schools — things that usually get lost in the fiscal squabbling that so often marks the budget process."

Dr. Fensom said that he anticipates soon being in the District.

Chairman Odell started Monday night's meeting by offering the entire board's thanks to all District employees — teachers, support staff, Central Office personnel, and administrators — for their exemplary efforts over the last two weeks.

"Bravo!" he said.

Mr. Odell gave special kudos to both Whitefield School principal Ellen Turcotte, who is serving as Interim Superintendent, and Lancaster School principal Pat McLean, who is serving as Interim Assistant Superintendent for their willingness to step and help out while continuing to successfully run their respective schools. He also commended budget guru Sheila Goulet in the Central Office for her outstanding efforts.

Mr. Odell firmly said "no" in reply to a question about whether the pending appointment of Dr. Fensom as Interim Superintendent would change Dr. Lou Lafasciano's status as being on paid administrative leave.

The District's attorney, he explained, continues to caution against the board making any statement as to the reason or reasons it took action on Nov. 30 to place Dr. Lafasciano on leave. "There is no new information and no timeline for when there might be any new information," Mr. Odell said. He promised, however, to talk with the District's attorney before the board's next meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. next Monday, Dec. 21, at the Jefferson School.

Earlier this fall, Auditor Paul Mercier of the Mercier Group, a full-service certified public accounting firm located in Canterbury, came to a school board meeting held in the Central to routinely discuss his firm's auditing procedures. At that time, a couple of school board members requested that particular areas be looked into more closely, and Mr. Mercier offered to meet with the board in executive session without Dr. Lafasciano present.

At that time the board was awaiting final resolution to allocation questions raised by the Trustees of the Trust Funds on the use of Building Maintenance Expendable Trust funds. The auditing firm could not begin its work until the District's books were closed. The Trustees informed the state Attorney General's Office about their concerns that the District was using funds from that account that were not in strict accordance with its stated purpose, as established by District vote. The AG's office backed the Trustees understanding, and some funds were taken instead from the special Forestry account. The District's books were then closed for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

No report or mention has been made in public, however, as to whether the regular routine annual audit is now underway or whether additional scrutiny is being sought for particular District accounts.

Dr. Lafasciano's name was mentioned in press reports published in early November in the "Caledonian-Record" as possibly contributing to the creation of a reported $1.6 million deficit in the St. Johnsbury (Vt.) School District when he was superintendent there before coming to WMRSD, allegedly by double spending a federal grant.

Business manager Kathy Ducharme of the St. Johnsbury School District, and she said that the forensic audit being worked on by Carew and Wells PLLC of Concord has not been completed and that there has been no time announced as the probable time in which it would be finished or when it would be a public document.

The regular audit by Pace and Hawley, an auditing firm located in Montpelier, Vt., will be presented on Dec. 21 to the St. Johnsbury school board. Ms. Ducharme did not believe, however, that it would deal with the origins or reasons behind the District's deficit problem.

The controversy surrounding the audit in St. Johnsbury paired with the trust fund issue in the WMRSD have spawned rumor and speculation in the community, but neither district has made any allegations against Dr. Lafasciano.

Dr. Lafasciano has not spoken with reporters. His home telephone in Whitefield is still not recording messages, and he has not returned previously made phone calls.

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