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Last updateMon, 27 Nov 2017 12am

   201411metrocastweb

School Board looking at $257K+ surplus for ’09-’10

$26K lawn mower under ‘Instruction’ in June spending

The King George Board of Supervisors was given some preliminary end-of-year projections for unspent budgeted funds leftover at the end of the 2009-10 year that ended on June 30.
The news was provided by Deputy County Administrator Donita Harper at last week’s meeting on Aug. 17.
Calling the numbers, “very, very preliminary,” Harper said she was projecting surpluses for both the county and the School Board.


SCHOOL BOARD SURPLUS FUNDS
Harper told supervisors that at the current time, she was projecting a surplus for the School Board in excess of $257,000.  
Harper qualified that by adding that her department had not yet received all accruals from the division, saying the division staff member responsible for that has been out of the office.
“This is my best guess at this time,” Harper added.
During the same meeting, supervisors also appropriated an additional $59,469 in sales tax revenue that came in from the state for the school division.
“From my perspective, what we’ve not seen is that there are any expenditures that need to be covered from last year’s budget. I’ll phrase it that way.” Chairman Dale Sisson said. “They still have excess money.”
Sisson was likely referring to news of the school spending that took place by the division in late June near the end of the fiscal year.

$26,000 LAWNMOWER PAID WITH INSTRUCTION FUNDS    
It turns out that Superintendent Candace Brown was provided so much money in the 2009-10 Instruction category that she spent more than $26,000 of it on one lawnmower at the end of the fiscal year.
Some are asking why.  
It was reported earlier this month by the Virginia Department of Education that four of the five county schools failed to make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on benchmarks during the school year just finished.  
There are questions being raised as to why there was Instructional funding leftover when it might have been spent on tutoring and actual instructional materials to get students up to speed.
Warrant lists indicate that Brown approved numerous expenditures at the end of the fiscal year.
For 2008-09 unspent funds totaled $1.19 million, even with the School Board continuing to complain of chronic underfunding.
Some examples of the June spending this year include purchase orders approved to buy four riding lawn mowers totaling $61,818.
One of those four lawnmowers was charged to the Instruction category under “Instructional Materials.” That one cost $26,663.98 including Bimini canvas sunshade, mulching blades and filter maintenance kit.
The $26,000 lawnmower is described thusly: “The Groundsmaster 3505-D has three independent, ContourTM Plus 27-inch decks that provide superior performance, cutting as low as three-quarters of an inch. The design incorporates full deck rollers to deliver a precision cut and a high-quality striping effect on your sports fields. With the productive 72-inch width of cut, you can stripe your football or soccer field up to 20 minutes faster.”
The other lawn mowers were one for $18,329.60 — for a Toro Groundsmaster 3505-D, two-wheel drive with 72-inch base deck — and two more riding mowers at $8,580 each.  Those are both Hustler 31HP Kawasaki models, 72-inch XR-7 models.
Now, with the possibility of installing synthetic turf at a new high school stadium to be built and with Hunter Field to be turned over to the county for community use, four riding mowers could be a few too many.

WARRANT APPROVAL    
It’s not clear whether members of the School Board are aware of the details of that spending by Brown, as that body neither approves nor reviews spending bills, called warrants.
That was made clear at last week’s supervisors meeting when Supervisor Joe Grzeika asked for clarification on the issue.  
“Who in the school system reviews and approves the warrants for expenditures?” Grzeika asked.  “I’ve been told second- or third-hand that the School Board thinks we do that. And that is incorrect. We don’t look at their warrants. Can the county administrator or finance director please clarify that for me?”
Harper responded: “The process that we have in place for the warrants is, once we cut the checks, we run a register and that gets sent to Dr. Brown — a warrant register — and she does it for the school division.  She approves it.”
Last year, during a budget public hearing, a resident asked that same question about who approved School Board warrants, and that got member Lynn Pardee, now chairman, to her feet to respond.  
In April 2009, Pardee said of Brown, “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.”  
Not so.
For decades, the School Board had the responsibility of reviewing and voting to approve all division expenditures.  
But that was changed prior to the time that Pardee came onto the School Board.
The authority to approve warrants was delegated to Brown not long after she was hired.
And while the School Board annually approves a budget, that budget does not provide any detail on individual purchases.  
Warrants for all departments of county government are required to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. But supervisors do not review School Board warrants, though some in the county may mistakenly think so.

COUNTY SURPLUS FUNDS     
Last week, supervisors were told the county could also have a surplus as high as $1.6 million.
Harper said that surplus came mostly from robust collections of real estate taxes, saying those came in $1.4 million higher than anticipated in the budget.
Budgets are adopted for the fiscal year, which for county governments in Virginia run from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next year. But tax rates are set in the spring for the calendar year, with county taxes due in both June and December.
This calendar year’s first-half June collections were based on a new equalized tax rate of 50-cents per $100 valuation for real estate and mobile homes that was set in April of this year. When the budget was adopted more than a year ago, in April 2009, the real estate rate was then 45-cents and the county was undergoing a property reassessment, with uncertainty about how low real estate values would plunge. Conservative estimates for that tax revenue were adopted.
There’s no guarantee, but surplus funds would be expected to go into county reserves to partially replenish them.  
This past April, a majority of the members of the county board, including John LoBuglio, Cedell Brooks and James Mullen voted to give the School Board a big increase for its current 2010-11 budget by taking more than $2 million out of county reserves in addition to $1.19 million that had been set aside in a separate reserve fund for schools.
But later in last week’s meeting, supervisors had to appropriate $208,839 as the county’s additional share to cover unbudgeted and unanticipated costs to fund the Comprehensive Services Act.
Grzeika commented on that required action, saying: “These types of things highlight why we’ve got to be very cognizant of our fund balance because there are things like this come up at the end of every year that we can’t predict. And we need to have that money in reserve and can’t just spend it.”

FINAL FIGURES COMING IN SEPTEMBER    
Harper said she expected to provide final figures for 2009-10 at a meeting in mid-September, saying that last fiscal year’s accounting would not be closed out until Aug. 31. That’s when all encumbered expenditures and accrued revenues are expected to be finalized.

Phyllis Cook
Staff reporter

 

 

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