12/07/11 — School board eyes fund balance, dress code policy

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School board eyes fund balance, dress code policy

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 7, 2011 1:46 PM

School board members Monday night discussed keeping a heftier fund balance in reserve for emergencies, heard an update on construction projects at two schools and voted to keep the higher standard dress code policy as is.

A fund balance, typically money kept on hand for such items as salaries and unexpected expenses, is utilized by most government agencies.

For the school district, though, it has long been a contested issue when it comes to determining the appropriate amount to keep on hand.

The Department of Public Instruction does not make recommendations on a specific amount, except to consider budgeting for such essentials as salaries.

The topic surfaced again Monday night, as the school board received a clean audit report.

Board member Arnold Flowers asked how much monthly expenditures are for the district.

"An average of $2 million," responded Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance.

Flowers asked how the amount for the fund balance is determined.

"The general rule has always been around two or three months (worth)," Mrs. Barwick said. "We would need around $6 million."

"The public needs to know and the county commissioners need to know that we're running a tight budget," Flowers said. "We have got one month (worth) in our fund balance."

Board Chairman Eddie Radford said that despite the minimal amount in reserve, Mrs. Barwick and her staff have done an admirable job "staying afloat."

But board member Rick Pridgen said that could all change if something unforeseen happens.

"I appreciate Mr. Flowers bringing that subject up," he said. "We have always been way low on our fund balance.

"It frightens me to think about what could happen when we only have a $2 million fund balance and what would we do if we had one or several schools wiped out?"

He cited cases of districts experiencing a hurricane or flood and school officials being faced with replacing schools or making other provisions.

"You have got to do something tomorrow," he said. "You can't wait for federal (aid) to come in and do things.

"We can't do it the way that we are. It's a frightening thing and sadly enough, we need more people than just the board to do something about it."

Meanwhile, renovations at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools are progressing smoothly, said Roger Ferguson, project manager of R.N. Rouse.

"For the first month, the project is on time," he told the board. "We're all happy about that."

So far, workers at Eastern Wayne have been involved in asbestos abatement, have removed the trees and leveled one of the existing buildings and are readying for construction of a new building. At Norwayne, they are preparing the parking lot and foundation work.

"This project will greatly enhance the campus at both schools," Ferguson said, promising regular updates on the progress at future meetings.

The board also passed a spate of policies relating to school improvement plans, safety and staff development, but pulled one out for separate consideration. The student dress code policy came up for review last month, with board member Len Henderson raising concerns that parents be surveyed again about the higher standard dress code.

When the districtwide survey was initially done, in 2007, six schools had 70 percent of parents choose to go that route.

Henderson suggested that since the populations at those schools change annually, a survey should be administered every year.

"I understand why this is being suggested," board member Chris West said. "However, the options of addressing this every year, I think that we have the provisions (for the principal and Parent Advisory Council). I'm not in favor of making it mandatory that the principal do this every year."

West made a motion to keep the policy as it was -- with the decision to readminister the survey being made by each school's Parent Advisory Council.

Henderson asked how many times since its implementation had the policy been revisited?

Olivia Pierce, executive director of community relations, media and technology, said she was uncertain but believed it might have happened three times.

"The policy says you can visit it more than once a year," board member Thelma Smith said. "To my knowledge nobody has requested, other than a few people have asked to do it but it has to be done through the procedure that we have provided and nobody has done that."

Henderson said parents have approached him with concerns, and asked if he should advise them to bring the matter before the Parent Advisory group.

After the motion passed with Henderson the only dissenting vote, Mrs. Smith addressed a portion of her board comments to Henderson.

"I just want to make sure that we follow the policies that we have got," she said. "I would like to do the will of the parents. If we do one survey and 70 percent say they want to overturn it, I don't have any problem whatsoever."