Fri08012014

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School Debt comes full circle for Chairman Trivett

Colonial Beach School Board Chairman Tim Trivett talked to the town council at the March work session to try to put to rest rumors of the School owing a debt to the town. There are many aspects that make this debt confusing.


First, there are architectural drawings for a new middle school planned back around 2005, and there is a case of embezzlement of school money; people seem to get confused as to which issue is at the root of the School’s debt.

 

Architectural Drawings
During a meeting on Nov. 9, 2006, the School came to the town council asking for approval to appropriate state construction funds during the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2007. On council at that time was Mayor George W. “Pete” Bone, Jr., Vice Mayor Trish King, Linda Crandell, Gerrald E. Higgs, Stephen Kennedy, Fred Rummage and Gary Seeber.

The minutes of that meeting show that when the sitting council asked what the money was for, the sitting School Board Chairman Robert Driskell and Superintendent Alice Howard came forward to explain.

Driskell told the council that the School had been approved by the previous council to apply for a Literary Loan for $4 million to build a new middle school. In order to get their application on the Board of Education’s waiting list, the School had to provide plans for the new school. This lead to the school system hiring architect Ballou Justice Upton.

At that meeting, the actual cost of the architectural plans was in dispute, but what is important is that the minutes read that Driskell said, “Since the town has decided to withdraw financial support for the Literary Loan, the school board is still obligated to pay the architect for their work. This is the reason why we are requesting to appropriate the funds. They have done their work, and they need to get paid.”

Embezzlement
In May of 2009, after an investigation initiated by School Board Chairman Tim Trivett, the Westmoreland Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office announced an investigation of the schools finances by the State.
Barbara Worrell, the School’s Chief Financial Officer, was put on administrative leave by the School.

Worrell was arrested in March of 2010, and stood trial, accused of 13 felony counts of embezzlement of funds from Colonial Beach Public Schools from Feb. 25, 2008, to April 10, 2009.

According to Trivett and members of the current council, it is those architectural fees that are the source of money owed to the school system. However, two auditors have stated that these fees should be wiped from the books, since the town provides the funding for the school system.

Auditor Nancy Miller explained during an audit meeting with council on Jan. 28, 2010, that funds (Town and School) are all placed in the same account. The School prepares a budget, which states how much it will spend. The council, by approving the School’s budget, gives the School permission to write checks on that amount of money, and that no actual money or checks change hands. If the School does not use all of the money they were approved to spend, then it remains in the account.

The Town of Colonial Beach collects taxes from citizens in various forms. A portion of those taxes is slated to fund the school system. The school system creates a budget then asks the Town to provide its share of the money the School will need for the upcoming year. Money given to the School by the Town and Westmoreland County, as well as state and federal funding are all collected together to make up the School’s revenue for the year. The revenue must match the School’s budget, or they have to cut spending somewhere.

Money or revenue that comes from the federal government is strictly regulated by the feds and cannot be used in any area other than what the federal government has slated it for. If the School saves money in areas that are funded by the Town, there is money left over from the budget, which the School calls a ‘fund balance’. Simply put, it is the balance of funds left over after all the bills are paid.

Money in the account for the Town is also divided up into funds; water and sewer, general fund, etc. However, these funds are only on paper, and all money still remains in the same bank account.

At the March 2014 meeting, Trivett presented to the council a handout with copies of the auditors’ reports for the last five years. Trivett began addressing council by saying, “I came on the school board in 2008, and I think one of the biggest goals that Mike Looney and I had was to ensure that if there was a deficit somewhere, that we paid that back, and we did the right thing; I think that we really did that. I don’t know where the confusion came in from all this, but what I have provided you tonight is the audit reports from 2009; this is the Town’s auditor that they do every year.”

Councilwoman Linda Brubaker offered to look over the documents with both Financial Officers from the Town and School to verify the information is correct. To date, that meeting has not taken place.

Trivett outlined what was in the documents. He explained that when he became a member of the school board in 2008, the School had a debt of $344,400 already on the books from the architectural drawings. This debt is shown on the 2009 Town audit sheet that Trivett presented. In 2009, the School’s revenue (income) exceeded the School’s expenditures by $135,896. Trivett said that reduced the debt of $344,440 for the drawings to $208,504.

Trivett continued to show through the documents that the School had overages totaling another $138,967 up until Fiscal Year ending in June of 2011; leaving a debt of $69,536.

Trivett said that in 2012, the Town changed auditors. Billy Robinson from Brown and Edwards took over the town’s audits. Trivett said that Brown and Edwards did not agree with Nancy Miller’s amount, so they increased the debt to $126,499.

Trivett said that also in 2012, the School received an insurance check for $250,000; about which he said, “You all know what that was for” [referring to the embezzled money] and a $50,000 check for storm damage. The audit report shows the School had a total of $316,248 in revenue that was not spent. Subtracting the debt of $126,499 still left the School with an unspent amount of $189,749.

Trivett said at that point in time, all of the debt had been wiped clean from excess funds not used by the school system.

Trivett ended his explanation of payment by referring to last year’s 2013 audit report which shows the School had a much smaller portion of unused money in the amount of $4,706 which results in a total of $194,445 of budgeted money that was not used from the last two years; even after the School wiped the debt from the books using excess money.

During the Jan. 2010 audit meeting, Nancy Miller said she found a debt owed by the school board to the town’s general fund in the amount of $335,000; this related to the architectural drawings from back in 2005. However, Miller also said, “We question whether or not those funds were truly collectible by the General Fund.”

So, to recap: The school board gained permission from the town council to apply for a loan to fund the building of a new middle school back in 2005, then hired an architect to prepare drawings to submit with the loan application. The next council pulled their support for the loan, thereby leaving the School to pay the architect out of the School’s budget. The Town then insisted the money for the architect be paid back to the town with tax money the town provides to them. In essence, the School has to prepare a budget in good faith, then scrimp and save to have money left over to go back to the Town to pay a debt created by a previous council that reneged on support for a literary loan.

So, whatever happened in that meeting on Nov. 9, 2006, where the School asked the town council to hand over state construction funds to help pay the debt?

Well, it seems before the business portion of the meeting began, a well-minded citizen spoke to council at length telling them the school board was not honoring FOIA requests or providing information on the debt concerning the architectural drawings. The speaker said the figure he heard was being spent on architectural drawings amounted to $236,000, which he felt was a waste of money. He told the council that the night before, School Board Chairman Robert Driskell “basically blamed it on the town council and the former council for the reason they are not getting the money.” The speaker said he attended previous council meetings, where the School did not provide information. He said, “I think that really contributed to you denying them the request to get the $4 million in the Literary Fund.” He also said he wanted to see a new middle school, but didn’t trust the current school administration. He requested the council deny the school board the appropriation of state construction funds if they did not turn over the information.

The council took that speaker’s words to heart and approved the appropriation of funds, contingent upon the School presenting a long list of documents.

One has to wonder if the speaker that evening ever dreamed that one day he would be behind the podium on March 13, 2014, trying to put that debt to rest as the town’s School Board Chairman?


—Linda Farneth

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