OPINION / Sheriff of Nottingham: School Board Members Form Budget Committee – The BOCS Could Take a Lesson
The Sheriff of Nottingham
in Prince William County, Virginia
School Board Members Gil Trenum & Alyson Satterwhite Set Independent Budget Committee
Brentsville District School Board Member Gil Trenum has been a maverick on the School Board for a while, and now it looks like he has found a soulmate in Gainesville District School Board Member Alyson Satterwhite. Trenum and Satterwhite have announced they will form an independent Budget Committee to give parents, teachers, and students an actual voice in what has heretofore been a closed process for input.
The School Board operates much like BOCS in the preparation of the budget for the schools by holding most of the budget information out of public view — including from the School Board Members themselves — until the formal budget process. BOCS does exactly the same thing.
The fissures in the School Board evidenced themselves in the review of the FY 2013 budget when Gil Trenum (Brentsville), Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Lisa Bell (Neabsco) voted no on the motion for budget approval. Birdies at Independence Hill claim School Board Chairman Milt Johns is outraged at the break in the ranks, and attributes it to a general mistrust of County government overall.
But it could not come at a worse time for the School Board following the credit card scandal that just broke in the Washington Post. But Birdies at Independence Hill claim it is a culture of corruption that permeates the PWC School Administrative Office. The audit report cited weaknesses in the School waste and fraud safeguards. The Independence Hill Birdies laugh at that characterization, claiming there are no such safeguards that effectively restrain improper spending.
Trenum has been something of a lone wolf on the School Board on reforms to the budget process, but Alyson Satterwhite has clearly signaled she will not be a wallflower on the Board, nor will she shy away from rocking the boat.
The Sheriff is most impressed with Mrs. Satterwhite and her independence from the controlling hand of Chairman Johns. The Sheriff wonders if there is something in the water in the Gainesville District where they send strong reformers to public office.
But the task will not be easy.
Just like at the Board of County Supervisors, the staff control the flow of information, and extracting needed data from the morass of confusion that professional budgeteers can create can be a most daunting task. Money flows to hidden accounts, appears in the oddest of places, and seeps out of every crack imaginable when it is being sought by reformers.
But the problems are easy to see.
At Rippon Middle School students in an Algebra class started the school year with 38 students in the class. There were only 32 desks.
Six students had to stand and use bookshelves as their desks.
The Sheriff is not that good at math (or English, for that matter), but the School Board appears to have parked a considerable hoard of cash in the form of a “Reserve Account” that totals $90 million.
That number is found in the FY 2012 budget on the page titled “Fund Statement for the Operating Fund” on page 72.
It is a huge, astounding number given all the whining about needing tax increases and more money from the commoners.
Worse, they refuse to treat the classroom teachers fairly and spend tons of money on administrators who spend their days thinking up ways to make life harder for classroom teachers.
But the money that flows into the so-called Reserve Account is actually money not spent from last year’s budget, and rather than spend it on things that are really needed — better classroom teacher pay and reducing class sizes, the School Board just plopped it into the FY 2013 budget.
When you ask about this huge Reserve Account, the answer is that is the money the schools need in case of an emergency or a really cold winter.
Or maybe another binge night at Applebees?
But the truth is that funds for these kinds of emergencies are already built into the School Budget in specific categories by other budgeteers who understand how to plan for such contingencies.
Add to that the planned action on the BOCS agenda for Tuesday (tomorrow) and you find the School Board as asked for a cool $159 million and some change.
It must be hard to find places to store all of those bags of money, but no worries.
The School Budget has a Warehouse Fund with $5 million in it. What for? The Sheriff guesses that’s where all of the excess bags of money are being stored.
So Mr. Trenum & Ms. Satterwhite, happy hunting.
The Sheriff appreciates the Birdies who have contributed to this report, and hopes for more to come to help get the School Board on the right track.
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