Over-Funded

On March 3, I requested from my school board representative and received a copy of the proposed 2015 -2016 School District budget. In that budget there were two items that immediately raised a continuing question regarding the district’s budgeting and spending. These were the budgeting for legal fees of $282,707 and $25,000 for legal services for a total of $307,707 found on page 56 of the Annual Budget Estimate – Expenditure. This figure appears grossly excessive given the district spent $67,268 in 2013-2014 according to their posted audit document and $53,547 for 2014 – 2015 projected actual according to the 2015-2016 budget document. Looking back over the last year, this practice may not be odd given the below.

An April 14, 2014 article in The Voice referenced Dr. Mick Zais stating he was targeting nine counties (one Fairfield County) who spent more on operating costs than on teacher’s salaries. In this same article, Dr. J.R. Green, Superintendent of Fairfield County Schools, questioned this, stating in part “that the greatest reduction in operating costs during his tenure has been in legal fees” and “that puts us on track to spend less than $100,000 on Legal fees by the end of the year” (2014). Despite saying that, the district budgeted $282,707 again in 2014-2015 and $307,707 in 2015-2016. According to articles printed in The Voice, funds have been transferred from this “over budgeted” Legal Fees item to pay roughly $60,000 in teacher bonuses in 2014 (unbudgeted) and then $12,500 was pledged for a chorus trip in the Feb. 12 school board meeting from this “over budgeted” item, without being in the budget for public review.

How are we as taxpayers to trust the district as a good steward of our tax funds when to an ordinary taxpayer it looks like budgets are being made for excessive amounts to develop large “discretionary” funds that are not budgeted for public scrutiny. In my experience in business, if I had padded my budget items is this manner, I would have been reprimanded and the budget cut. Is this the transparency that the Superintendent has spoken about in town hall meetings?

The district’s budget increased from $34,358,564 in 2013 – 2014 to $35,584,351 in 2014 – 2015 which is a $1,225,787 increase or 3.56 percent. For 2015 – 2016, the proposed budget increase is $1,816,844, an increase of 5.1 percent to $37,401,195. Why the increase in these tough economic times? Are we training more students and doing it better or just increasing spending and growing budgets?

Charles Stogner

Ridgeway

 

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