The Liberty County Board of Education decided to wait before adopting a projected budget of $101.9 million for fiscal 2018 in light of recent events concerning the district’s finances.
Board members received the “tentative” budget at their Tuesday morning session.
Usually, the school board adopts such a budget and holds public hearings prior to the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
But these are unusual times for the school system. Tuesday’s postponement followed a tribunal hearing earlier this month concerning former Liberty County School System Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese.
During the hearing, testimony by a school system employee and an independent financial auditor allegedly revealed discrepancies in the district’s bookkeeping records and unreconciled bank statements since June 2016.
Reese was placed on leave without pay earlier this year by Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Jason Rogers, LCSS executive director of maintenance and operations, said the budget is based on “actual numbers” not the fiscal 2017 budget.
The budget includes an additional $23 million fund balance and capital expenditures of $7.1 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
“One of the very first things we had to do was forecast where we would end this fiscal year 2017 at because obviously we want to know where we would start next year at,” Rogers said. “We looked a the revenue we currently have on hand and the expenditures we currently have on hand and forecasted those remaining things throughout June 30 (the end of the fiscal year) to arrive at what we feel our ending fund balance will be this year and the beginning fund balance for next year.”
Rogers said the staff compared actual expenditures and revenue amounts from fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2015.
The proposed fiscal 2018 budget includes $61.5 million for instruction, $6.7 million for administration and $8.1 million for maintenance and operations.
The budget includes a 2 percent raise for teachers from the state. The board has yet to decide if employees will receive the raise as a salary adjustment or one-time bonus.
Rogers said the district is waiting on more Impact Aid funding, which could increase the budget by $4 million.
Board member Carolyn Smith Carter said she was concerned about approving a preliminary budget because the budget reports presented by Reese were said to be incorrect.
“Public officials have asked me, ‘Can you verify whether the district is secure financially?’ At the time I had nothing. My answer was no,” Carter said. “The figures we were actually given were not true. I’m just not feeling this (budget). One thing we do know is that we don’t know some things concerning our finances.”
Carter said she wanted another outside opinion on the finances, whether from a former superintendent or by hiring an interim finance director to look into the budget and explain exactly where the district is.
She felt the independent audit wasn’t good enough.
“The majority of the discrepancies Ms. Carter is referring to were budget,” Rogers said “and we didn’t rely on any budget for the numbers.”
Board member Verdell Jones was also uncomfortable adopting a tentative budget. She said in the past the board had a chance to go over the numbers in more detail, understand what each amount meant and wanted to know where the 2 percent raise fits in.
“Especially in light of where we are, I’m not comfortable with a tentative (budget) even though I know it can change,” Jones said. “Initially when you do a tentative budget that’s usually saying ‘What is in here right now we’re comfortable with.’”
Rogers said there was time in the schedule to adopting a tentative budget at their next meeting in June, so board members can review a breakdown of the numbers.
The board has to approve a final budget by June 30 and can amend the budget after.
The motion to adopt a tentative budget was tabled.
Before the fiscal 2018 budget is approved it will be advertised in the local newspaper and there will be two public hearings.