Sat04192014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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School Board to update its financial policies

King George school division Superintendent Candace Brown last week informed the School Board that she would be providing recommendations to update 25 financial policies at an upcoming meeting.
Updating those polices is overdue, since the School Board’s accounting and procurement functions were consolidated under the county nearly six years ago, on July 1, 2004.
Virginia code §22.1-253.13:7, Standard 7 of the Standards of Quality, specifically addresses the requirements for school board policies, saying, “Each local school board shall maintain and follow up-to-date policies. All school board policies shall be reviewed at least every five years and revised as needed.”
Eight of the 25 policies have revision dates on them after the July 2004 date, but most of the policies were last revised in April 2004, prior to the consolidation of financial and procurement functions.
Brown brought up the topic as an item in her “Superintendent’s Report” which she distributed at the meeting on March 8, along with a sheaf of 25 School Board policies.
“On several occasions we have talked about the need to revise these policies since we now have centralized accounting and, in many cases, fall under county policies and procedures,” Brown said.
“We are not following some of these policies. I would like to put them on the next agenda so we have policies and procedures that you want to follow and ones that coordinate with what we are actually doing.”
Only the current policies were provided with no recommendations for amending them to bring them in line with existing practice.

Brown did not say what had prompted her to address policy revisions to get the School Board in line with state law.  
State school law, §22.1-79, “Powers and duties” provides that the first listed duty of school boards is to, “See that the school laws are properly explained, enforced and observed.”
Having out-of-date financial policies may have caused some confusion with School Board members.

WARRANTS
For example, a question about warrant approval was raised during last year’s county public hearing on its budget proposal, a large part of which includes funding for the School Board.
At that April 2009 meeting, a resident asked if the School Board reviewed and approved its warrants.  
Warrants are the documents that trigger issuance of payment for the division’s bills, which are expected to be approved in accordance with the School Board’s approved budget.

The resident also asked, “When the money is turned over to the schools, who is accountable for that money?  Is the School Board looking over what is asking to be spent by Dr. Brown and are they approving that?”
Those questions brought School Board member, now Chairman, Lynn Pardee to her feet.
Pardee stated, “I take responsibility for the school budget.”
She added, “What Dr. Brown does goes through five members and we stand by what she does. We oversee her. She isn’t allowed to freely cut checks. She makes recommendations to the school budget.  For the most part, we follow those recommendations.” 
But unlike the Board of Supervisors, which is required to approve all warrants/bills for the county government and constitutional offices, the School Board stopped receiving warrants in their meeting packets several years ago. 
At a town meeting he held on March 1, School Board member Dennis Paulsen brought up the warrant topic, explaining that years ago the School Board had received stacks of warrants for its approval every month.
But Paulsen said that practice of reviewing warrants stopped when the county took over the School Board’s financial and procurement functions.
Paulsen was right about not reviewing the warrants, but he was off by a couple of years about the sequence of events.
The authority to approve warrants was delegated to Brown by passing a resolution when she requested that power not long after she was hired. 
That action by the School Board took place on July 17, 2002, with a unanimous vote of the School Board of which Paulsen was a member. 
That was nearly two years prior to the consolidation of the School Board’s financial functions and procurement functions under the county on July 1, 2004.

FINANCIAL FUNCTIONS CONSOLIDATED IN 2004   
Consolidation of the division’s financial and procurement functions under the county had been under discussion for the better part of a year before it finally took place. 
The idea had first been publicly broached by Brown at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors in August 2003. 
After months of public discussion, consolidation of the financial and procurement functions was implemented under then-county administrator Dennis Kerns at the direction of the Board of Supervisors.
At the same time, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 6, 2004, to amend the School Board budget for 2004-05 by lowering the amount of finance funding by $247,112.
That amount represented the costs for salary and benefits of three finance positions under the School Board. 
When the funding was shifted, the three individuals in those positions were extended similar positions with the county, but none ended up accepting the positions offered. The positions were filled by the county with other applicants.
The county had consolidated the financial functions as an efficiency to save money by eliminating one of the duplicate functions performed under both boards.

MECHANISM TO ACCOUNT FOR IN-KIND SERVICES   
Supervisors didn’t foresee and the county has yet to rectify the problem of including that quarter of a million dollars for financial services in the School Board budget.
Members of the School Board and others in the public have said that the county has the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the state. Part of that is due to the fact that in-kind services provided by the county are not counted toward school division funding. 
It was pointed out in a memo distributed to supervisors by county Director of Finance Donita Harper last November that there is a mechanism that can be employed to include in-kind expenditures to provide a more accurate picture of the local funding supplied to the school division.
The memo had been provided to Harper by Brown.  It came to the school division from Cecelia Rieb, who is an education finance analyst with the Virginia Department of Education.
Rieb quoted from legislation, which instructs how to handle in-kind services, stating, “In order for costs of this nature to qualify, the local governing body should appropriate the funds to the school board, which can then pay the local governing body for the good or service.”
There has been talk of the county including such costs incurred on behalf of the School Board, but it is not yet known whether the upcoming budget will finally include them.
In addition to costs for financial and procurement services, the county also provides other services to the school division, including those for auditing services and grounds maintenance.

Phyllis Cook
Staff Reporter

 

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