Budget director under fire

Friday, July 15, 2011
Budget director Sheila Cook-Jones, left, sits next to board member Ann Tears at last week's meeting of the budget committee.

School board members voted to approve a motion to formally request their budget director provide "complete and accurate information" for the budget committee's meeting next week.

Discussion of this motion included some harsh criticism of Sheila Cook-Jones, who has been in the job for about one year.

Cook-Jones admitted at the budget committee meeting last week that she still had not closed the books for April, May and June, but said her state consultant is here this week to help get this done.

"We need the books closed," exclaimed board member Barbara Kennedy, who made the motion. "I'm talking about money we've already spent."

Board member Kristen Gold, who seconded the motion, agreed with her.

"This includes having the 2010-2011 year nailed down, with books closed and codes correct," Gold said.

"We can't go into August still trying to fix last year's numbers," Kennedy added.

"We should be seeing month-end reports at each board meeting," said budget committee chairman Donnie Moses.

Kennedy then moved on to another question.

"At what point do we cut ties with the state consultant?" she asked.

"We always need to communicate with state people," answered schools director Roy Dukes.

"Yes, but we're utilizing state resources for tasks that are the responsibility of staff here," Kennedy said.

"That's a requirement of that job (budget director): ability to close the books every month," agreed Gold. "It's a high-paying job that comes with responsibilities. I'm very concerned we haven't cleaned up the line items."

"It will be better next year, as we move forward," Dukes promised.

The school system is also facing an Internal Revenue Service penalty of nearly $70,000 for failure to send the correct forms with the payroll taxes paid in the second quarter of 2010 "when we had no one in the finance department," said Dukes. He has written to the IRS explaining the circumstance and is "very hopeful" the penalty will be reversed.

"Thirty-two days passed between receiving the IRS notice and informing the board," Kennedy protested. "We're not managing the county's money in a responsible manner."

The motion requesting "complete and accurate information" for the budget committee's meeting on July 19 passed with seven votes in favor. Ann Tears abstained, and Randy Perryman was absent.

"We will leave that meeting with numbers a committee could vote on, or we will have identified the money to cut," promised Moses. By Aug. 1, his committee intends to have a preliminary budget, to be approved by a special-called meeting of the school board.

Then the budget can be passed on to the education and budget committees of the county commission.