Panel rejects school budget

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Marshall County Commission's Budget Committee unanimously rejected the county schools' budget for the coming year at a meeting Tuesday evening. The Commission's Education Committee approved the document the night before.

Budget committeemen quickly saw that the proposed schools budget would use nearly $888,000 of undesignated money in the fund balance, and they voted against it for that reason. Spending from reserves not only exceeds revenues, it creates problems for the next fiscal year.

Even with the amount subtracted from reserves, that fund balance would still be more than a state mandated three percent at the end of the 2010-11 school year. Continuing at the same level of spending the next year, however, would pull the fund balance down to an unacceptably low level, with no hope of increased revenues to restore the reserve account.

"We've got to manage through this," said committee member Don Ledford, who is also on the education committee. "Dipping into reserves is not managing, in my humble opinion."

Craig Michael, the only school board member present, pointed out that the budget was not asking for any additional local money. He made sure that commissioners knew that the board had no control over the increase in retirement funding and health insurance that costs almost $800,000.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Michael expanded his point. "We're not asking for additional money and it won't affect the taxpayer," he said. "Why would money just sit there while services are not provided and people lose their jobs?"

At the meeting he had admitted, "We obviously can't continue in this direction. It's a huge challenge. We're going to have to prioritize and re-distribute."

"We've heard that every budget," Commissioner Mary Ann Neill said from her seat on the Budget Committee.

Ledford agreed with her, saying, "We do not need to delay 12 months to start working on it. There's no way in the world the taxpayers are going to accept this. They will rise up in rebellion."

Committee members asked detailed questions about items in the budget. Michael had answers for most of the questions.

After 90 minutes of discussion, it became clear he was not going to change the commissioners' minds, so Michael got up and said, "I'm going to leave; I've said everything I can say."

Wanda Odum of the Marshall County Education Association, which represents the teachers, made a heartfelt plea not to cut the two new positions for Forrest Middle School (a guidance counselor and an assistant principal). This fell on deaf ears, and shortly thereafter the vote to reject the school budget was unanimous.

Chairman Mickey King looked toward the post-election period and said, "None of us know whether we'll be here next year - I'm worried we'll be tying the hands of the new commission."

The full commission is meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, July 26.