School Board shuts out budget questions

When the Fairfield County School Board met May 22 to participate in a Budget Work Session which was No. C. 1. on the agenda, it turned out individual Board members were not actually allowed to ask questions about the District’s $38,772,653 budget.

“You don’t have the authority to ask (a budget question) of the Superintendent,” Board Chairman Beth Reid sternly instructed Board member Paula Hartman who had asked Superintendent J. R. Green how much the District was spending to fund certain events and organizations. “The Board as a whole has to ask the question,” Reid said. “You can’t just ask a general question (about the budget) and expect to be answered,” Reid continued, telling Board member Annie McDaniel that if she had a question about the budget, that she should have submitted it last week. Reid then went further, accusing McDaniel of not being prepared for the budget workshop because she asked a question about a budget line item that had not been submitted the week prior.

The ruckus began in earnest when McDaniel asked Green, “Where is that line item that you’ve been using for the Superintendent’s contingency fund?”

I couldn’t tell you – will have to get back to you on that. The District’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin Robinson had the same answer.

Hartman asked Green if the expenses for the Bow Tie Club, the Elite Ladies Cotillion and the Hall of Fame event came out of the Superintendent’s contingency fund.  Green acknowledged that the Bow Tie Club and Cotillion did, but he was not sure where the Hall of Fame event funding comes from.

“So, can you give us the amounts spent on each of these organizations?” Hartman asked.

“I don’t understand the question,” Green said.

“How much is the District funding for these organizations?” Hartman repeated.

Green hesitated.

“If that’s something the Board wants to direct to me, I’ll be happy to answer directly to the Board,” Green said. “If I’m directed by (a vote of) the Board, I’ll be happy to comply.”

“Does that mean that you won’t give us that information?” Hartman asked.

“That means if the Board directs me to provide it, I will,” Green said.

That’s when Reid told Hartman that only the Board as a whole had the authority to question the Superintendent about a line item on the budget.

“If a person from the audience asked for that information, could they get it?” Hartman asked.

“Yes,” Reid answered.

“Then what can’t I?” Hartman asked.

“You can submit an FOI (Freedom of Information) request,” Reid said.

“We’re discussing the budget,” McDaniel said, “and she, as a Board member, is asking for specific information regarding funding that’s in the budget and you’re telling her that she has to submit an FOI request to get it or that the full Board has to vote to approve (the question)? Is that what I’m hearing?” McDaniel asked.

“Yep,” Reid said. “That’s what you’re hearing. That’s not changed.”

“We are in a budget work session and we’re trying to discuss the budget and we can’t get specific information about a line item?” McDaniel asked.

Reid said the question should have been submitted in writing the previous week to get an answer at this meeting.

“You can’t just ask a general question (about the budget) and expect it to be answered,” Reid said. “Unless you submit your question ahead, he (Green) can’t be prepared for it.”

As shouting ensued among Reid, McDaniel and Hartman, the rest of the Board members sat quietly, asking no questions of Green at any time during the budget work session.

McDaniel’s voice prevailed.

“If we are discussing the budget, the finance director should have the information there and be prepared to answer questions,” McDaniel’s said.

“When did that happen? Reid asked.

“Years ago,” McDaniel said. “But it should currently be happening that way. I’m under the impression that something is being hidden when a member of the Board asks for information and can’t receive it.”

“I told the Board (last week) they would have to submit any questions at the last meeting if they wanted answers,” Reid reiterated. Defending Green, Reid said, “He can’t stop and answer a question about the budget that has not been submitted ahead of time.”

“If you have a work session, a question can’t come up and get answered? McDaniel asked. “You can bring your information and with your computer and technology aids, you can key in right there whatever information you need.”

Again shouting broke out as Hartman and McDaniel were chided for asking questions.

“They don’t ask any questions and don’t care,” Hartman shot back, referring to the other Board members.

Talking over Hartman and McDaniel, Reid said she had a motion (to approve the second reading of the budget) and called for a second.

“If you’re going to cut out the discussion,” McDaniel said, “you need a motion to stop the discussion, then a motion for the reading.”

“We’ve had enough discussion,” Reid said, again talking over McDaniel and Hartman. Then, pounding her gavel, Reid called McDaniel out of order.

“So we can’t ask questions? Is that what I’m hearing?” McDaniel asked.

“You can submit a question for next session,” Reid said.

“This was a time for us to discuss the budget,” McDaniel said. “And when we asked a question of the administration that somebody is obviously uncomfortable about, then you just close the discussion and call for a vote.”

“You’re assumption about a lack of comfort is wrong,” Reid said and called for the vote which was 5-2 with McDaniel and Hartman voting against.

The third and final vote on the budget is set for ?????