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Questions persist over school surplus

September 08, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education during a Tuesday work session again defended the $1.5-million surplus with which it ended the last budget year.

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School Board member B. Marie Byers sparked the discussion by requesting an explanation of the surplus from the Frederick, Md., firm of Keller Bruner & Co., which conducts the School Board's annual audit.

"In your report to the board, please give a detailed analysis of where the unanticipated revenue originated and when," Byers wrote in the Aug. 25 request.

Board members were critical of Byers for sending the letter without telling them.

"I think that letter usurps the power of the board," said School Board President Edwin Hayes.

"It's something all seven of us should have decided," said board member Doris J. Nipps. "I don't believe the request came through the proper channels."

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Byers said she wanted a neutral third party to account for the money. "I was just trying to clear the air," she said. "This needed to be put to rest."

Board member Andrew Humphreys said the question has been answered, but others agreed further explanation was warranted.

"There is a perception out there in the community that it's shady," said Mary L. Wilfong.

"There are questions out there that are being asked," said Herbert J. Hardin.

"If we need the discussion to satisfy the community, to satisfy you, we will have that discussion," Hayes told Byers.

Director of Budget and Finance Chris South said much of the confusion was the result of a timing shift in the budget process.

In years past, the board's end-of-year accounting was done in late June, he said.

The board typically had some money left over and would ask the Washington County Commissioners for permission to carry it over into the next budget year. In the three previous years, the surplus amounts were $531,000, $319,000 and $695,000, according to South.

"This year we looked at that in the April-May time frame," and the accelerated schedule showed a surplus sooner, he said.

South said he discovered unexpected interest income and dividends from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education self-insurance pool.

He also found extra savings in "turnover credit," or money budgeted for salaries but not spent because employees retired, were hired late in the year or never hired.

The total surplus was about $1.5 million.

To balance the fiscal year 1999 budget, the board spent $898,700 on buses and $30,000 on a painter's van and tools. It gave a $20,000 supplement to schools for extra postage costs and bought $20,000 worth of medical supplies needed in health rooms.

The board also spent $102,600 on computer repair, $110,000 to liquidate its warehouse and $300,000 on maintenance projects and capital improvements.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said he didn't try to hide the surplus. When the commissioners asked if any money would be left over, he said no, because he felt that was a truthful answer.

"We felt we had spent all the turnover credit and if we spent the budget out as planned we wouldn't have any extra money," he said.

The budget year ended June 30 with a surplus of $3,152, less than 1 percent of the total budget.

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