Questions raised about school budget
By MIKE WEST, Courier Editor
A confusing Cannon County Board of Education budget session left at least one board member asking questions about $1.4 million in unassigned funds.
It began with a discussion of capital outlay and how roofing repair is needed at Auburn High School and two new air conditioning units are needed at Short Mountain and one at East Side School. The units cost about $4,000 each.
“At 1:21 today we had $190,000,” answered Director of Schools Barbara Parker.
Board member Bruce Daniel asked what the cost of the Auburn repairs to the roof of the art and vocational building would be.
“They are trying to keep it under $10,000,” Parker said.
“So how are we looking at the fund balance now?” Daniel asked.
“Well it’s kinda hard to say right now because we have two more payrolls, but right now we are looking at $3 million without our payrolls coming out. That is if all the revenue comes in on time,” Parker said. “About half of that is reserves that you cannot touch.”
“So how much of that can you use?” Daniel asked.
“That’s one of the questions before you tonight. The projects … how much do you want to spend on football lights,” Parker said.
“Is the concession stand one of them?” Daniel asked.
“No, you have already taken care of that,” Parker said, adding that the system should have a better idea in June when a fiscal consultant comes in to make sure the budget is set.
As a point of clarification, Parker pointed out the system pays out about $1.3 million per month in payroll and bills.
“So we should have $2 million?’ Daniel asked.
“Some of that can’t be touched,” Parker said.
“We have budgeted some $570,000 to go into surplus this year,” she said.
Daniel asked what the budget surplus was last year.
“About $200,000,” Parker answered.
Daniel said he had been studying the budget “best as I can” and determined that $1.4 million was being held
Unassigned is your fund balance that doesn’t have strings attached,” Parker said.
“We’re not broke,” Parker said. “And I hope we will never be broke, but we were almost broke five years ago, but we have kinda built it up a little bit, adding $200,000 last year.”
Some of that $1.4 million dates back to the administration of Nell Smith for the school building program, she said.
“You just can’t go use that. You have to have it in your budget or you have to have a budget amendment approved by the (county) commissioners before you spend it,” Parker said.
“We have to have three months of running expenses … about $450,000,” she said. If a system doesn’t have about 3 percent in reserve the state will not approve the budget.
“The county runs off our money, I don’t know if you knew that, and the trustee will tell you that because the biggest check coming in at a time is the school system check,” Parker said. “Eventually it works itself out, but basically they deposit the school check and they pay all the bills. That’s the cash flow.
But from June through September there’s not a check. That is why we want to have a fund balance,” Parker explained.
Much of the school systems funds (about $1.2 million) come from the state Basic Education Program. (BEP). Some federal funding is available. The county pays a little over $2 million.
“All of that goes together and you budget it out,” Parker said.
“We have become a banker instead of a teacher,” she laughed.
Daniel repeated his question about the surplus. “How much is there?”
“I won’t know until the end of the budget year,” Parker answered.
Changes in personnel, overages in insurance and other costs will change that figure, she explained.
Melodie Daniel asked if some of the surplus funds could be used in a positive way.
“We can do better,” Mrs. Daniel said. “You’ve got to spend a little more money to make it nicer for the public and for students.”
“We need to put some energy and some money in improving appearances,” she said.
Parker admitted to be partially the cause of that. “I always plan for crises, but the County Commission has the final say.”