School board and commissioners to meet

Dec. 16, 2013 @ 03:50 PM

The school board and county commissioners will discuss the school district’s newly found $15 million when the two bodies meet Tuesday for their second quarterly meeting of fiscal year 2013-14.
The school district thought it only had about $4 million in its unassigned fund balance or “rainy day” account during budget deliberations last spring, but an additional $15 million was discovered in the account during DPS’s most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), bringing the total to nearly $20 million.
That revelation has left some school board members hopping mad at Superintendent Eric Becoats, who is responsible for giving board members an accurate accounting of school district finances.
Some commissioners have also expressed a loss of confidence in the school district’s ability to accurately present its financial picture for budget consideration.
“I feel it has,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said in a recent interview when asked if the trust between commissioners and the school board had been damaged. “Now we may have to do more due diligence in the future and require more verification.”
Meanwhile, school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter and other board members have expressed embarrassment at going to county commissioners last spring to request an additional $4.8 million in local funding after hearing from school officials that the unassigned fund balance would be spent down to about $4 million, about $12 million short of what auditors have recommended DPS maintain. 
“It’s very important county commissioners have confidence in the school district to manage the local resources given to us,” Carter said. “Going into next budget season, we’re going to have to do double due diligence when we discuss our needs with them.”
She said the county will likely be more inclined to use its own budget projections in allocating funding to DPS.
“The county is going to be more inclined to follow its own instincts,” Carter said. “That will make it more difficult to make a case for increased funding for our needs.”
The county did conduct its own examination of school district finances and estimated DPS would have a $10 million to $12 million unassigned fund balance.
Still, commissioners agreed to meet DPS half way on its $4.8 million request with an additional $2.4 million in local funding in spite of a recommendation by County Manager Mike Ruffin that the school district’s local funding remain flat at $117.2 million.
The school district eventually received $119.6 million in county funding.
Becoats’ misstep with the school district’s unassigned fund balance is just one of several in recent months that have landed him in trouble with the school board.
In October, Becoats’ school-district issued credit card was terminated after The Herald Sun found he racked up more than $20,000 in charges over a 12-month period.
Then in June, Becoats found himself in hot water for hiring a school bus driver and a school system activity bus to take family and friends to private events, including a trip to The Streets at Southpoint.
He received a reprimand from the board for violating board policies and state law regarding the use of school activity bus, although the board found he did not intend to violate the policy or law.
After completing Becoats’ annual evaluation last month, the school board unanimously voted not to extend his contract or give him any performance-based raise.
His contract is set to expire in June 2016.