Commissioners to hold school money
By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on July 3, 2005 2:00 AM
Wayne County School districts will get a 5 percent increase over last year's budget, but they won't be able to spend it.
Instead, the county commissioners will put the money, totaling $801,000, into a reserve account earmarked for the schools.
The school's budget for current expenses will be $16 million, the same as last year.
The commissioners cut the schools $2 million budget for building or renovation projects to $1.5 million. The other half-million, generated by sales tax revenue, will be reserved by the county for the schools capital projects in the future.
Commissioners believe that school administrators have put more money in reserve accounts than they have indicated, and the school system could use that money to fund teacher supplements.
Commissioner Andy Anderson said that last year the commissioners recommended giving the supplement to certified teachers that were actually teaching.
"They decided to give it to everyone, even staff," Anderson said. "We're trying to build up enough in reserves to help them in the future."
The commissioners also wants a more detailed account of where the school is spending, or saving, its money. In May, commissioners asked the school administration for a detailed analysis of its fund balance.
When the board finally received the analysis last week, it was only a two-page summary that lacked detail. The commissioners are asking now for a month-by-month analysis.
The commissioners appropriated the $16 million based on information from the school administration office.
The schools asked for money, listing 18 categories where the money would be used. Those categories included: Regular instruction, media, technology, executive administration costs, principal office costs, fiscal services, operations, maintenance of plant, information services, employee benefits, Edgewood School, remediation, vocational education, transportation of pupils, and athletics.
County Manager Lee Smith said the county split the $16 million up based on the percentages.
For example, the breakdown of the schools budget showed that 32.2 percent of the money would go for regular instruction. Smith applied $5.1 million in that category.
He said that while the categories might need to be adjusted, the total amount of $16 million would remain the same over the year.
"We will issue the money on a monthly basis, which we usually do, but if they change the appropriations, we'll be asking for details of the change," Smith said.
Smith said that the county has to prepare for a possible bond referendum for future school building projects.
"We have to have greater accountability of the school's function and spending as part of the bond process," he said. "We're moving into that process."
The county will now pay companies or contractors directly for work done on the schools.
"If they put a new roof on a school and it cost $300,000, we would just write a check to the school," Smith said. "Now we'll get an invoice for the work."
County Commissioner Chairman J.D. Evans said that some years ago the commissioners told the school board that it would try to increase local current expense appropriations by five percent each year.
Evans said that the county had used its fund balance to maintain that practice.
"In the current economy, all governments have had to readjust spendings," Evans said. "Wayne County has cut $9.5 million dollars from its operating expenses, except for Medicaid growth in the last three years."
Evans said he expected other entities that the county funded to do the same.
"Last year, we asked the Board of Education to substantially reduce its administrative overhead. It apparently has not done so," Evans said.
Evans said that the commissioners made it very clear to the school board during budget discussions last year that the county did not intend to keep increasing its budget automatically each year.
Commissioner Atlas Price said that the commissioners intent was to build a fund balance to help the school system.
"If they will work with us to build this fund balance, then we can borrow for new schools," Price said. "We've got to build a fund balance."
Price understands the challenges before the school board, because he used to be a school board member.
"All we're doing," Price said, "is asking them to cooperate by holding the money in a special fund. We're not trying to take away from them, we're just not handing it out."
It's the only way, he said, to accomplish what the school system wanted to do as far as its facility plan.
Commissioner Efton Sager agreed with Price, saying that basically it boiled down to trying to build schools.
"It's only fair that we both try to do what we can," Sager said.
Commissioner Bud Gray said that he had several good friends on the school board, and wasn't against any of them.
"We just need to put the money aside because of future debt to build schools," Gray said. "We need to work together for the benefit of the county and the schools."
Commissioner John Bell said that "this is the only way we can get in line to help the schools."
"We have to build our fund balance so we can either float a bond, or borrow the money," Bell said.
Commissioner Jack Best was out of town, and couldn't be reached for comment.
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