The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer
Franklin County School Board members have tabled "for the time being" the idea of a facilitator to improve communication and budget negotiations between themselves and the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.
During a joint meeting between the two boards last month, an agreement was made to appoint two members each to an informal budget committee that will meet periodically to curb potential issues before they become larger problems during spring negotiations.
"I thing we need to let our budget committees work in that smaller group setting," said school board chair Sarah Alexander. "I feel much more confident that we all can reach a mutual understanding and we can collaborate in a more positive way."
Julie Nix, Blue Ridge district member, liked the idea of a facilitator, but thought the informal committees should be given a chance to work before taking further measures.
"I want to feel this committee out to see how it does first," said Nix. "I have all the confidence that you all (members of both boards) understand each other, but bringing it (conversations between committee members) back and making both boards understand where each is coming from...if you can do that successfully, a facilitator should not be needed."
Gills Creek District member Bill Brush and Snow Creek District member G.B. Washburn are on that committee.
Brush said the joint meeting between the two boards last month was "pretty smooth and civil."
"There was good discussion from both sides," said Brush. "It was a good civil meeting. I think this perception we have that we can't communicate with board members - it's just a perception. And in this case, perception is not reality."
The budget committee on the supervisors' side includes Gills Creek District supervisor Bob Camicia and Blackwater District supervisor Cline Brubaker.
Washburn agreed that talks between both boards remain civil, but showed concern for the talks nearing the end of budget discussions.
"We're always civil with each other until we get closer and closer to that final vote on the budget," said Washburn. "That's when things get hostile. We have to do a better job - all members of both boards - to make sure it does not become heated. The committee meetings we're having are going to help set the ground rules for budget presentations."
Brush said that the boards agree on a lot more issues than they disagree on and that the school board can accommodate requests from the supervisors for improved budget formats and expanded explanations of the budget.
"It doesn't bother me that the supervisors are frustrated and are struggling to balance the budget and not raise taxes," said Brush. "But one thing that really bothers me are the comments that were made by the county administrator" during the last of the supervisors' annual retreat meetings held earlier this month.
Brush responded to several comments made by county administrator Rick Huff and explained why he felt those types of comments cause citizens of Franklin County to "suspect that we don't know what schools are doing" and cause the board of supervisors to "question what we are doing."
During the retreat meeting, Huff presented several examples of school budget details that the supervisors have questioned, including changes in the number of positions in the school system, staff turnover metrics (new vs. replaced, first-year vs. experienced), budget adjustments from previous years and average daily membership (ADM) updates.
"I know, with the exception of turnover methods, all of this information was included in the last budget," said Brush. "This information has never been requested that I know of."
During the retreat meeting, Huff also presented specific examples from the school budget where changes occurred with no added explanation.
"He's never asked for an explanation," Brush said. "That may be the case, but at least give us a chance to respond. If he didn't understand it, how can he recommend a budget?"
Another of Huff's concerns was related to how the school board budget is developed.
"Their methodology of building a budget is completely opposite of ours (the county's)," said Huff during the meeting, explaining that the county budget is developed by starting with line items and building up to an overview.
The school system's budget is developed by basically taking last year's numbers and working from there, he said.
"How can you build a budget without line item details?" he asked. "We are making the suggestion to start at the line-item level so we can see what is going on there. It would be helpful for us to see those details."
Brush said Huff is mistaken about how the school budget is developed.
"First of all, the school board has to present a budget in a state format," Brush said. "We've built our budget for the last 20 years with that format, building up to it with line items that include a great deal of explanation. We use the same accounting system the county uses. We record all our expenditures in our budget in the ledger and the county has total access to go in there and look at it at any time."
Brush suggested that superintendent Mark Church and school finance director Lee Cheatham invite Huff and his staff to sit down and review how the school system's budget is put together.
"Maybe once that's done, this friction will start to decrease," said Brush.
Brush said the committee members will meet Thursday.