Wilson County Schools budget needs a makeover
I have read with interest the three articles in the Lebanon Democrat addressing the school district budget meetings as well as the thoughtful letter from Kristi Dunn in the May 14, issue of the paper.
As an experienced county official as well as a professional finance executive I offer the following observations and suggestions:
I shouldn’t be surprised at how tone deaf the school board is when the best they can do is recommend cutting income from 95 teaching assistant families in the middle of a pandemic which has affected us all and during the recovery from a devastating tornado which has affected many.
What happened to the concept of shared sacrifice? How much is the board and senior staff willing to sacrifice? Apparently nothing.
Accordingly I recommend that the seven members of the board accept a one year reduction in their salary of $400 per month.
I am advised that over one half of the County commission has offered to accept a similar cut of $400 per month for a period of one year. This adds up to savings of $153,600.
I am further advised that over 105 administrative staff members of the school district earn $80,000 or more. I recommend that they all accept a one year reduction of 10%. This adds up to at least $840,000.
These two adjustments exceed one million dollars. How many teaching assistants does a million dollars fund?
In the most recent budget meeting it appears that Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall and Director of Schools Donna Wright and the board have suggested that the commission accept the responsibility for funding the GED program, the Adult High School and debt service to tune of about $3 million dollars.
So if the county commission is asked to pay for these items, it is only fair that they accept responsibility for managing the same items!
If the board can’t handle these items, why not turn over the total financial management of the district to the county commission?
In fact, the state auditors have recommended this for the past 15 years.
If you review the last page of the Wilson County Annual Financial Report you will find the following recommendation whose time has come:
“Accounting literature describes a best practice as a recommended policy, procedure, or technique that aids management in improving financial performance. Historically, a best practice has shown superior results over conventional methods.
“The Division of Local Government Audit strongly believes that the item noted below is a best practice that should be adopted by the governing body as a means of significantly improving accountability and the quality of services provided to the citizens of Wilson County.
WILSON COUNTY SHOULD ADOPT A CENTRAL SYSTEM OF ACCOUNTING, BUDGETING, AND PURCHASING
“Wilson County does not have a central system of accounting, budgeting and purchasing. Sound business practices dictate that establishing a central system would significantly improve internal controls over the accounting, budgeting and purchasing processes. The absence of a central system of accounting, budgeting and purchasing was the result of the Board of Education withdrawing of the Financial Management System of 1981 pursuant to section 5-21-124, TCS. The withdrawal has resulted is decentralization and some duplication of effort. We recommend the adoption of a private act, which would provide for a central system of accounting, budgeting and purchasing covering all county departments.”
When I was chair of the audit committee we reviewed the above and determined that the costs would outweigh the benefits. As with all things, times change and needs change and it is clear to me now that it is time to adopt the above best practice.
The County Commission has already implemented an increase in the Adequate Facilities Tax and the Local Sales Tax and there should be no need for a property tax increase for some time to come.
I am confident that with the adoption of the above and the adoption of the previously recommended reduction of $10.5 million in budget increases we will continue to provide high quality education to our students.
Former Wilson County Commissioner (2006-2018)