Hartman Hits Subs, Legal Fees

School Budget Squeaks by Second Reading

WINNSBORO – The Fairfield County School Board Tuesday night passed second reading on a more than $37 million budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but not before Board member Paula Hartman (District 2) hammered the administration on the legal fees budget, which she said was being used as a “slush fund.”

Kevin Robinson, Director of Finance, told the Board that the $37,401,195 (up from $35,548,351 in 2014-2015) has not changed since the April 7 first reading or the April 21 work session. The operational budget includes no millage increase, Robinson said, holding steady at 203.1 mills, while the debt service millage will decrease slightly from 32 to 23.6 mills.

As she had done during the April 7 first reading, Hartman again questioned why the District was budgeting $307,707 for legal fees when actual expenses last year were down to $83,547. During the April 7 meeting, Robinson said that $282,707 had been budgeted under “Legal Fees,” while $25,000 was budgeted under “Legal Services,” the latter of which Robinson said was for the expenses associated with recruitment and retention of foreign teachers. Hartman said the legal budget could be lowered and, if necessary, money could come out of the fund balance, which Robinson said stood at $6.7 million at the end of last year.

“If we run into a problem there, there’s always money there (in the fund balance) that it could come from,” Hartman said, “instead of using this as a slush fund, a fund to take whatever out of it.”

But Dr. J.R. Green, Superintendent, said he took exception to the term “slush fund.”

“Because my first question would be ‘a slush fund for whom?’,” Green said. “Who is using it as a slush fund?”

Hartman said the legal fund had been dipped into on two occasions in the last fiscal year, but Green said that hardly rose to the level of “slush fund.” Both expenditures – one to pay for holiday gift cards for employees, and the other to pay a portion of the expense to send the Middle School chorus to perform at Disney World – were approved by the Board, Green said.

“I find it hard to imagine that two expenditures that were approved by the Board can be characterized as a slush fund,” Green said. “When you use the term ‘slush fund,’ that provides a connotation that people are just using these funds for these kinds of extravagant junkets or something, that we’re just spending money. It’s not a slush fund for me and I don’t think it’s a slush fund for Board members.”

Green said last month that two or three years of decreasing legal expenses did not constitute enough of a trend to lower the legal fees budget. If the reduction continues, he said, the administration would revisit it.

Hartman also suggested reducing funds for substitute teachers by at least $100,000, noting that the proposed amount of $518,412 was more than double what had been spent last year.

“The amount for substitutes that’s in the budget is not a static amount from year to year,” Robinson said. “It’s going to fluctuate depending on many factors. If we have a rash of long-term illnesses, that means we’re going to mean a higher amount of substitutes. If we have a number of teachers that are out on leave for pregnancy, that’s going to mean a higher increase.”

Robinson said the District budgets high in that account to avoid a shortfall, which would force the District to have to dip into the fund balance to make up the difference.

First reading passed on a vote of 4-3, with Hartman, Andrea Harrison (District 1) and Annie McDaniel (District 4) voting against.

The Board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the District Office.

Comments

  1. Norm_Nav says

    Money allocated to a specific fund that is intentionally over funded for the purpose off having a fund to draw from for incidentals later in the year is a slush fund. Denial isn’t very attractive, like defining what “IS” “IS”. Please Help me understand how you can anticipate absences of almost 100% more than last year? What world are they living in?

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