Inside Story – Pocahontas Schools FY 2016-2017 Budget
Wanting to learn more about how the Pocahontas County School’s FY2016-2017 budget compared to the current year’s budget and if several rumors about irresponsible spending by the Board of Education are true or not, I sat down with Sherry Radcliff, the Board Treasurer to get accurate answers to my questions.
My first question – Is State or Federal funding getting reduced this coming year.
“The last 2 years we’ve had the National Forest money, we do not know if that will be in the picture” said Sherry. “I have budgeted money in that hoping I will get some –less than what we would like. We’ve seen tighter restrains on our state aid –which is the majority of the funds allocated for our teachers, and our funds that pays for our text books. We’ve seen decreases in our Special Ed funds, in our Title One funds which funds out interventionists and a couple of people dealing with reading with our students. Then the State has cut what we call ‘support staff’. There is no way we can do without any more staff there. I mean, one Nurse for 5 schools? That’s not a good thing.”
Sherry explains that there will likely be further cuts especially in State money which will have to be absorbed. Sherry says that while funding shrinks, expenses are going up. There was a 14% increase in employee insurance or PEIA costs for example.
A major yearly increase in expenses is payroll, which as Sherry explains, is beyond the Board’s control. She says that salaries constitute 95 to 98 percent of the funds received, limiting the Board’s ability to save up money in a rainy day fund. Sherry.
“Our payroll, it increases every year just because you have another year’s experience, and that is mandated by our State Legislature” Sherry said. “In (FY) 16-17 my General fund is like 12.6 (million dollars). In 15-16 it was 11.4 million, and the majority of that is because of increases in retirement and PEIA costs and just the increase in salaries. We haven’t increased any more staff, as a matter of fact, we have reduced numbers.
Another big cut was from Medicaid funding, which has been running between 350 to 500 thousand dollars, but this year it was about 12 Thousand dollars.
I asked Sherry if unnecessary or frivolous spending has contributed to the problem.
“I don’t think there is any frivolous spending” Sherry says. “Schools have decreased electric bills as much as they could and we’ve asked them to cut their bills back to 68 (degrees) and turn computers off. We came to Principals and told them what that savings would be. I think everybody’s worked together trying to make the best out of the situation that we can. I know and appreciate some of the people who have paid for some of their own travel expenses for trainings. They wanted to go and they were willing to do that on their own. Board members are not turning travel in.”
I asked Sherry about statements I had heard citizens make that the board had wasted money hiring Bob Martin as their Counsel when the County Prosecutor, Gene Simmons, had been serving as the Board’s Counsel at no charge. Sherry.
“I do not know that we have ever used the Prosecuting Attorney, (but) I cannot say for when I haven’t been here” said Sherry. “We need somebody that knows school law and has the time, and the Prosecuting Attorney is overwhelmed by the cases he has. And so is it fair to our tax dollars for him to have to go back and look-up school law. But we’re just trying to get ends to meet. In the 14-15 year we spent about 70 thousand dollars (on attorney fees), the attorney now we’ve hired at 36 thousand dollars, that’s for part of the school year.”
School Board President Emery Grimes told me that prior to hiring the current Counsel; they had used an out of county attorney, Jason Long of Dinsmore and Sholl Law firm who charged per hour and informed him that he was not interested in working at the same fixed rate as the current Counsel. He added they are now saving over 30 thousand dollars.
I also asked Sherry about rumors I had heard that the Board of Education members had given themselves a generous pay raise. Sherry said an emphatic “no” to that and explained that the Board Members are paid $160.00 per meeting and that amount is set by the State. They have even volunteered to give up insurance coverage and travel expenses in an effort to save money.