|Committee recommends school budget|
|Tuesday, September 11, 2012|
Learns of extra $3.2 million in reserve
The County Budget Committee unanimously recommended approval of the latest School budgets Monday. Also unanimously recommended for approval was a separate motion by Commissioner Jim Vaughn to request that the School Board strongly consider not laying off classroom teachers to make $935,000 in cuts but, if necessary, to cut all related costs for seven coordinators for the proposed but not yet approved specialty focus schools.“We don’t want them laying off classroom teachers,” stated Comm. Shawn Utley to make the committee’s intent clear.
Committee members indicated they were astounded to learn the latest figures from the school system show an ending reserve fund balance of $12,428,864 to close out last year’s books. That is $3,228,864 more than the July 17 draft of $9.2 million, according to a spreadsheet analysis put together by County Finance Director David Lawing. Of the $3.2 million, only $1,050,000 had been added to the Aug. 9 draft before the Aug. 13 Special Called Commission meeting and the regular Aug. 20 Commission meeting to vote on how much funding it would approve for education. Of the reserve funds, almost $500,000 was all that was said to be in a restricted fund.
Stone said, “This is the difference in a crisis.” Tuesday he said, “There was absolutely no reason not to open the schools. There is no excuse for a mistake like that.” The County Commission and School Board had been locked in a running budget battle during which schools were closed for two weeks.
“Twelve million dollars is a lot of money,” said Vaughn who continued to shake his head from side to side in disbelief after looking at the spreadsheet. Several members noted in the meeting and afterwards that it was a substantial difference, more than a third.
Moser requested the new School Finance Director Amanda Prichard to work on getting a more accurate estimate of the reserve funds for next year. “I will work on getting that accurate,” she replied. She started in June after the budget process was well under way and noted that the budget was done with a very conservative number for the reserve fund balance.
When asked, Lawing said the county was “relatively close” to the estimate for its closing reserve fund balance. Pritchard noted that theirs was within $300,000 of the school’s largest line item of $66 million. “That’s incredibly close.”
Moser asked if the school budget was balanced. Prichard responded: “Yes, and it passes the state’s maintenance of effort.”
The committee also discussed the recent revelation of $327,729 of funding for Adult Education that was left out of the budget until this most recent version. The Education Committee learned last Monday that Adult Education was still operating with no cuts made to date and could continue after Oct. 1 in a reduced form with federal and state grant money. Because the Education Committee did not have the budget last week, it was invited to attend the Budget Committee for comments by Chairman Kirk Moser.
“I was told in no uncertain terms there were no funds for Adult Education. That left me with the impression it would not be funded,” said Moser.
Comm. Shawn Utley noted that Adult Education had been at zero before. “That was an oversight,” explained Prichard. The school system had applied for and received state grants and the non-local money was put back in the budget.
Members questioned some of the adult education spending at both meetings with some terming it “a Cadillac program.” Comm. Frank Freels said that when he visited a 70-year-old lady was taking computer classes. “There comes a time when you have to pay your own way,” he told the Budget Committee. Others also said they had visited the computer classes and noticed they were providing training to senior citizens and not to those trying to enter the work force by getting a GED. That training competes with other private and public programs.
Members also are requesting more details about a 501(c)(3) operating under control of the school board.
The Budget meeting lasted almost two hours with one and one-half hours on the school budgets. Last week’s Education Committee meeting lasted almost two hours. Members of both committees indicate they want the public to know about these matters. There was even discussion of requesting the School Board to post the good news about Adult Education on its web page. Last month, commissioners were “bombarded” by irate emails and calls after the School Board used its web site to facilitate contact with commissioners.
In other matters, both committees learned that the roof work at Ellis Middle School was much more expensive than originally estimated. The low bid came in at $815,200, $300,200 more than the budgeted amount of $515,000. The committee recommended it for acceptance after being advised that rebid for the same work normally did not result in a lower bid but may even result in a low bid at a higher amount due to the improving situation for construction-related work and increasing costs of material.
By Jesse Hughes