SUMTER SCHOOL DISTRICT

Committee challenges board on new budget

Members want trustees to increase proposed fund balance

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In its first meeting since the Sumter School District Board of Trustees voted down the finance committee's motion to close two low-enrollment schools, the committee said Thursday a new proposed budget provides "insufficient financial security" for the district.

The proposal would have added $4.1 million to the district's fund balance.

After the board voted down the initial cost-savings recommendation, which was prepared by its financial consultant and put in the form of a motion by the advisory finance committee, the consultant drafted a new proposed budget for fiscal 2018 that would add $469,695 to the fund balance instead of the $4.1 million.

That proposed budget had first reading during the May 8 board meeting and was before the finance committee Thursday.

Several committee members said Thursday the updated proposed budget isn't enough to put the district on firm financial ground. The finance committee consists of four private-business leaders, who are appointed, and three board members and serves in an advisory role to the full board.

At Thursday's meeting, finance committee member and local private-business owner Greg Thompson made a motion, which passed by a 5-1 vote, to challenge the full board of trustees to review the newly proposed budget and come up with a larger fund balance because of a lack of financial security. The board will receive that motion Monday at its next meeting at the district office.

"I don't support this budget," Thompson said. "We don't have a budget approved for next fiscal year yet, and I think this is irresponsible. It's my opinion, but I don't support that budget. ... This is insufficient financial security for the district."

Supporters of Thursday's motion included Thompson, fellow private-business owners Ben Griffith and Bobby Anderson and board members Johnny Hilton and Lucille McQuilla. The dissenting vote against the motion came from board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, who also voted against the initial recommendation and motion at the April 24 board meeting.

Earlier in Thursday's meeting, Thompson had asked McGhaney a direct question regarding the full board's decision to vote down financial consultant Scott Allan's first recommendation to close F.J. DeLaine Elementary and Mayewood Middle schools in order to add $4.1 million next year to the fund balance.

"Mr. Chairman, at what point did we deem Mr. Allan incompetent?" Thompson asked. "Obviously, you must deem him incompetent at some point because we didn't heed his advice and support the budget that he put before this committee and put before the board."

McGhaney responded by explaining his belief that Allan has done an outstanding job, but the board wasn't ready to make a decision on closing schools yet.

"There have been several things that the board has chosen to have further conversation on, where we didn't take his advice, and that was one of them," he said.

McGhaney told Thompson the full board could still go back and support Allan's initial recommendation to close the two schools and add $4.1 million to the fund balance next year - after having further discussion on the matter. He agreed that the newly proposed budget for fiscal 2018 to add $469,695 to the fund balance doesn't put the district in a stronger financial position.

For the record, Allan said the board has until June 30 - the last day of this fiscal year - to approve the fiscal 2018 budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Allan said next year's budget doesn't include any funding for new academic program initiatives to improve achievement in low-performing schools. He did say, however, that certain grants could be pursued and the district does have the contingency of $469,695 that could be used in some way for initiatives.

Most committee members were in agreement that not affecting classroom instruction is paramount and having necessary funding for the classroom is essential.

As far as other potential cost-saving remedies, Thompson said none could improve the district's financial footing as much as school closures, and that has already been discussed.

"The only way we can save any money is to close infrastructure, to close schools," Thompson said. "And if the board chooses not to do it, at least the finance committee raised the point. ... We discussed this thoroughly at the last finance committee meeting a month ago. There is no substantial savings in this budget without closing schools. If the board chooses not to, they choose not to. But I think it's irresponsible."

The district's financial crisis became apparent in December when the fiscal year 2016 audit report revealed the district overspent by $6.2 million and had an ending general fund balance on June 30, 2016, of $106,449 - a critically low level, according to auditor Robin Poston. In early January, the board hired Allan to guide the district through its financial difficulties.

SCHOOL ENROLLMENT NUMBERS:

F.J. DeLaine Elementary and Mayewood Middle schools were recommended for closure last month by the board's finance committee, but that motion was voted down by the full board of trustees.

Projected enrollment for Mayewood next school year is 144 students, according to district data. This year, the official student total at the school is 153 students. A decade ago, Mayewood's enrollment was 180 during the 2006-07 school year. In the 2001-02 academic year - or 15 years ago - Mayewood's official student tally was 263 students, according to official district data. That's 45.2 percent higher than next year's projected enrollment for the school.

F.J. DeLaine's enrollment trends are somewhat similar. The district office's projected enrollment for the school next year is 164 students, which is the same as this year's tally. A decade ago, F.J. DeLaine's total was 176 students. In the 2001-02 school year, F.J. DeLaine's enrollment was 229 students, according to official district data. That's 28.4 percent higher than next year's projection.