School board explains surplus

May 18, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education Tuesday night offered an explanation for its budget surplus and approved a final version of the budget for the upcoming budget year.

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Projections for the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year showed $1.6 million in unspent funds.

Last week, the County Commissioners questioned why the surplus wasn't disclosed sooner. They were told about the unspent funds on May 7.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said excess revenues usually are discovered after June 30, when the budget is closed out at the end of the fiscal year's fourth quarter.

The surplus was discovered sooner this year because of intense budget negotiations, he said at Tuesday night's business meeting.

"It is important to note we moved that process forward to better meet the school system's needs," he said.

Once the Washington County Commissioners decided how much they would give the School Board, the School Board's finance officer reviewed each line item in this year's budget based on third quarter results, he said.


He found $631,000 in excess revenues, half of which came from a Maryland Association of Boards of Education insurance pool. Interest income and state reimbursements for students placed in private programs also contributed to the surplus, Bartlett said.

The superintendent did not explain the other savings sources, although Budget and Finance Director Chris South gave a more detailed analysis to the County Commissioners last week.

During a work session Tuesday morning, School Board member B. Marie Byers urged Bartlett to be more specific.

"If you explain things you can build support and understanding," she said.

Bartlett took responsibility for the timing of the disclosure of the budget surplus.

"We always underestimate because if we miss projections, the county is responsible for the makeup," he said.

Bartlett said he didn't feel obligated to mention the surplus sooner. "I really didn't think it was something that was required of me."

School Board President Edwin Hayes said later that next year the budget process will be kept under tighter rein so there won't be any surprises.

Hayes said the surplus made the board look bad. "We're going to take a hit, in some people's opinions, on credibility," Hayes said.

"We did what we had to do. I think we're going to do a better job going forward on our budget. We're changing the way we do things," Hayes said.

The surplus enabled the School Board to buy some of next year's budget items ahead of time.

It will purchase 17 buses at $898,700, a painter's van and tools for $30,000, and a mail delivery van for $25,000.

The budget for fiscal year 2000, which begins July 1, will fund the School Board's original top priorities, including a negotiated salary increase, eight new reading teachers, five elementary school and 10 secondary school teachers.

For some, the question of credibility is unanswered. Testifying Tuesday night, parent Teri Williamson reminded board members of the parents who urged the County Commissioners for full funding on their behalf.

"What do you think these people think about finding the exact amount that was needed? Your credibility is at stake. Even though you give a reasonable explanation, the appearance is otherwise," she said.

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