Deficit crisis provokes change - District's finances heading on right path

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Sumter School District's financial picture is headed in the right direction with the help of its independent finance consultant and decisions made Thursday to give the board's finance committee more oversight on the district's budget, says two private business leaders who serve on the committee.

Sumter School District Finance Committee members Greg Thompson and William Byrd made their remarks Friday after the full committee had its regular monthly meeting Thursday with school finance consultant Scott Allan.

The board's finance committee includes four local private-business owners in Thompson of Thompson Construction Group; Byrd of William Levan Byrd, CPA, PC; Ben Griffith of State Farm Insurance; and Bobby Anderson of Green Savannah Nursery.

Also serving on the committee are three school board members and the district's superintendent and executive director of finance.

According to Thompson, starting next month the committee will hold its regular monthly meeting about a week before the board's regularly scheduled meeting and review the district's monthly financial report at that time.

If committee members have any questions or concerns with the report, those can be addressed to Superintendent Frank Baker at that time and the committee can provide recommendations to the board for its ensuing meeting.

Previously, the committee and the board received quarterly financial reports.

"The finance committee will be the tool that the board needs," Thompson said. "In other words, you have four private-business sectors represented there; all of us know how to run a business, set a budget and live within a budget."

He said the committee will now work hand-in-hand with the district's administration to get a good budget to put before the board.

"We have three voting board members also on the finance committee, and we're going to make financial recommendations to the board to take action on at their next meeting," Thompson said. "I think this decision was the most positive thing that came out of Thursday's meeting."

Thompson and Byrd also said they are pleased with the work Allan has done so far with the district.

Allan was hired Jan. 9 by the board to help guide the district through its current financial straits.

In December, the fiscal year 2016 audit report was released and revealed the district overspent by $6.2 million last fiscal year and had an ending general fund balance on June 30, 2016, of $106,449 - a critically low level, according to auditor Robin Poston.

The district's fiscal year begins each July 1 and ends June 30 and is referred to as the fiscal year in which it ends. The current fiscal year is 2017 and ends June 30.

Allan's work to date has revealed that 37 unbudgeted hires and drastically underbudgeting expenditures for other existing personnel greatly contributed to the overspending last fiscal year. He has also worked with district staff to fix this year's budget and implement safeguards to prevent unbudgeted hiring in the future.

"I think what Scott has done has put fundamental processes in place to give the administration control over making commitments," Thompson said.

Byrd, a CPA himself, shared similar sentiments.

"If we speak to what he has reported out in terms of his findings, I think that's been a tremendous step in the right direction to correct this matter," Byrd said. "I think Scott is doing an outstanding job of helping us get through this crisis."

Thompson also said he believes Allan was helping the district budget responsibly for its revenue.

Thompson said an important next step will be for Allan to project costs for the fourth quarter; so the committee and board can better know how it's going to finish the fiscal year.

He said, historically, district administration has not done well at projecting costs.