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Education: In search for budget data, board bedeviled by details
By Charles Swenson
Two months after the Georgetown County School Board adopted its annual budget, details of the $79.3 million spending package remain uncertain. It’s likely to be another month before that changes, according to the district’s finance director. At the same time, a board member is pressing for more and better information about how the district budgets and spends money.
The start of the new school year this week is likely to prompt changes in the number and location of teachers. “I wouldn’t say we’ve had a great influx of students,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said, but enrollment is no longer in decline. The four Waccamaw Neck schools each have 40 to 50 more students than anticipated. “We can accommodate that,” Dozier said. “Does everybody show up? That’s another story.”
Rising enrollment brings increased revenue because of the way the state funds local education through a portion of sales tax revenue.
The board approved a budget that’s up $2.4 million from the previous fiscal year based primarily on an increase in per-pupil funding from the state and a rise in local property taxes on vehicles.
Board Member Richard Kerr has pushed for more information about how the district budget stacks up against actual spending. This week the board received binders containing a list of revenues and expenses through June 30, but Lisa Johnson, the finance director, noted that “money is still coming in, bills are still coming in” for fiscal 2014.
“It’s a preliminary number, but it’s where you are,” Kerr said. That’s what he’s looking for, but he said it was hard to find in the details provided by the district. For instance, one item in the revenue column is for miscellaneous refunds and rebates: $14.79. That’s $14.79 more than the district budgeted.
“I wanted to see a summary report and the details if there was a problem,” said Kerr, who spent 20 years as the CEO of a metals company.
Other board members told him they also found the detailed report confusing.
The district began providing quarterly comparisons last year. Like the budget itself, they consolidate the information in two pages, showing state and local revenue and expenses for instruction and support services. “We haven’t had a report in two quarters now,” Kerr said, adding that those reports were too thin on details. “I just want more attention paid to expenditures through the year.”
What the more detailed information shows is that many of the district’s expenditure, and some of its revenues, aren’t included in the budget. For example, the superintendent’s office had a $440,457 budget last year. It spent $517,898. And 15 of the 41 expense categories weren’t budgeted. The biggest portion of the extra expense was $52,580 for “temporary help,” an item that wasn’t budgeted.
The school board itself spent $5,570 more than its $365,732 budget. It spent $8,978 more than its $10,000 budget for travel and $1,000 for “litigation and settlements” that wasn’t budgeted.
Those were partially offset by $1,000 budgeted for technology and $2,850 budgeted for miscellaneous services that went unspent.
Kerr said he wants to see how current spending compares with the budget adopted in June. “That’s the important number,” he said.
Johnson said one thing that makes that difficult, aside from the moving target of revenue and expenses, is that there are 93 special revenue funds for the district. Those range from federal programs such as Medicaid to grants to individual schools. “We’re working on that very hard,” Johnson said.
“I want to see better financial information on a more regular basis,” Kerr said. “I think that’s only prudent.”