Board maintains stance on budget

Monday, August 31, 2009

Marshall County's school board refused to change the budget it had submitted for the 2009-2010 school year, in spite of being asked to modify it by the county commission's budget committee. A special called meeting of the board Wednesday night lasted only about 35 minutes and ended with a refusal to make any changes.

"This all seems to be about control," said board member Randy Perryman. "Our schools have so many deficiencies now, it's time this county got its priorities straight."

Applause from a packed audience interrupted Perryman at this point. When quiet was restored, he went on to make a motion to approve the budget as it was, with no changes.

The motion was carried 6-3, with Mike Keny, Todd Tietgens, Mark Wilkerson, Ann Tears, Kristen Gold, and Perryman voting in favor, and Dee Dee Owens, Curt Denton, and Craig Michael voting against.

Gold, chairwoman of the board's budget committee, opened the meeting by explaining that the commission's budget committee had rejected the school budget and asked for cuts in expenditures, in order not to draw so much from the fund balance.

"We're here tonight to decide what we want to do," Gold said. "The concern is about dipping into fund balance. It's the board's decision on where to cut expenditures."

Wilkerson asked for recommendations from schools director Stan Curtis.

"Of course I would like to keep it where it's at," Curtis said. He then went on to suggest cuts in capital outlay, professional development, and maintenance, but acknowledged that he made these "reluctantly."

Professional development got the most scrutiny.

"To spend $82,000 more is a significant increase," Michael said. "If we cut development and travel in half, we would save $65,000 and still have a 10 percent increase over a two year period. I know professional development is critical, but in the current economic times it's worth looking at saving $65,000."

"When I came 15 months ago, I understood the board wanted to put more money into professional development," Curtis said. "The conferences we're going to give us information we need to get. Lots of teachers came back from conferences and taught others what they had learned. They've told me they appreciate the opportunity."

Denton complained that the only report he had heard on professional development came from Curtis when he told the board about his trip to San Francisco.

"I know where the money went," said Denton. "I just don't know the outcome. We'd like to see what we got for our money."

"I'm sure a lot of teachers would like to come before the board," responded Curtis.

"Yes," said Tears. "We should be updated."

"It would be easier to swallow if we were updated at the time," agreed Denton.

Commissioner Larry McKnight spoke up on behalf of the County Commission.

"I'm just the messenger - give me a running start before you throw rocks at me," he jokingly pleaded.

"The school board is to be commended for the work they've done on the budget," McKnight went on seriously. "These are tough times for everyone. The County has cut $1 million from all departments, and we may have to cut two hours off each County employee's workweek. The budget committee is asking the board to look again at capital outlay and professional development."

Michael replied, "Cutting capital outlay is a dangerous thing. It's important we have another discussion about the fund balance and the stimulus money. In two years we will be asking for $300,000 for things the stimulus money is paying for now, or we will be cutting those things out of the budget. It makes good business sense to try to increase the fund balance."

"There's no question we have serious revenue issues," Michael continued. "In 2012 we'll need another $1 million."

"Point well taken," exclaimed Wilkerson.

"We're still going to get the same amount of money, right?" asked Keny.

"Yes,' answered Michael. "The intent is to build up the fund balance."

After another reading of Perryman's motion - to approve the budget as it was with no changes - a roll call vote was taken. The motion carried by six votes to three, and the meeting was adjourned.