Review of school finances presented to BOE, BOC

Published 2:38 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2018

If Currituck County Schools would do everything a report suggested, the district could save more than $3 million over a five year period.

However, even the presenter of the report, Dr. Linda Recio, president of Evergreen Solutions, acknowledged that fully implementing 100 percent of the recommendations was realistically probably not going to happen.

Evergreen Solutions was hired by the county to review the finances of the schools after some commissioners questioned where the money was being spent. Recio was introduced to a room full of county and school officials by commissioners’ chairman Bobby Hanig during a special meeting held last week to go over Recio’s report.

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Recio acknowledged that some of the recommendations in her report would be controversial.

However, some could be doable, and some the Board of Education has been working on, including getting the efficiency rating of the Transportation Department back to 100 percent as it was in 2015-16; as recommended, by multi-age ridership and broadening the range of schools on a staggered bell. Every percentage point below 100 reduces the amount of funding from the state, that is then made up for with local dollars.

Additionally, identify more children who qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches. Right now, Recio reported that about 37 percent of those who qualify have been identified, a number she said is too low and well below the state average 52.5 percent. Every student who qualifies, equals $2,000 in federal funding. Leaving that money on the table means local dollars are used instead. However, Recio added that she realizes that some families do not want to be identified.

A related recommendation, and another issue school officials have been addressing, is collecting money that is owed on past-due lunch accounts. This is also impacted by those who would qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch, but who do not apply.

In addition, Recio recommended increasing the number of students eating breakfast and lunch, and increase the meal charge to be at or near the federal reimbursement rate.

Recio also recommended something the Board of Education asked for this year and got from the county, an adjustment to the funding formula that the county uses to determine the amount of local dollars allocated to the schools for operating expense; capital outlay is a separate allocation and she recommended to insure that operating funds are not used for capital needs.

Recio suggested modifying the manner in which the ADM (average daily membership) and the inflation factor are adjusted in that formula, the two components that make up the funding formula.

Fund balance is something else school officials have been concerned about, ever since it began dwindling. Recio recommended operating on a balanced budget and replenish the fund balance until it equals three months operating expenses.

Other recommendations included: save local funds by paying supplements as a “hard” amount and not a percentage of a salary; phase out the use of dual employees (i.e., part time custodian, part time bus driver equals full time employee); rebid and/or reassess insurance coverage every five years (costs that Recio said is a reason for the dwindling fund balance); reduce the span of control of the superintendent; a district of 4,000 students does not need two assistant superintendents.

Also recommended: sell off the newer mobile units not used as classrooms; fully implement the already existing facility use fee schedule; create a comprehensive district technology plan (no longer required by the state); develop a district recovery plan (to implement after a storm or other disaster); hire someone to pick up and deliver mail and make bank deposits; have quarterly meetings between school and county officials; have all departments do their own data entry instead of the finance office; pay invoices and issue checks on a weekly basis rather than multiple times per week; charge for athletic trips the same as other field trips instead of from operating expense fund.

The report also contained a number of commendations: more than $60,000 raised by recycling old technology; comprehensive strategic plans in place; the repair of busses in-house; improving student wellness (beyond the federal requirement); a child nutrition staff that is trained and certified, including in food safety; controls tightened on cash-handling at the school level; deposits are being made electronically; internal control on purchases to insure are within budget; district accounting for school-level purchases; streamlined accounting codes; an adjusted salary scale; supplements to bus drivers were eliminated; the asset tracking system and disposal process for assets by the technology department.

At the close of Recio’s presentation, chairman Hanig thanked school officials for “all the great things you do,” noting that not every recommendation is going to work, but that he doesn’t want “finances to hinder the education of our children.”

Hanig asked the Board of Education to provide a written response to the report and for school and county officials to then get together to discuss it.