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Board moves for budget transparency

Article Date: 
20 September, 2013 (All day)

Morgan County School Board members want to form an audit committee in an effort to make their budgets and finances more transparent to the community, but are still developing the details.
 “Overall, it comes down to accountability,” said Boardmember Mark Farmer.  “The purpose is to have a subset of the board comfortable and knowledgeable about the finances.”
“We need to be more transparent with the budget.  It is more of a communication thing,” said Superintendent Doug Jacobs.  “We need to articulate it better, be more specific.”
Jacobs addressed several specific budget items the community has asked for transparency on including proceeds from the sale of the bus garage earmarked for new buses, status of money saved from administrative changes at the middle school, and revenue from foreign exchange students.
Boardmember Ken Durrant initially suggested a committee that could scrutinize district finances.
“We need to get a handle on our budget,” Durrant said at the Sept. 10 school board meeting.  “I don’t think anyone is cooking the books.  I would just like to understand the budget.”
District Business Manager D’Lynn Poll said some of the confusion comes from the state-mandated software districts use to track their finances.
“This is not corporate finance,” Board President Bruce Galbraith said.  “This is a state bookkeeping system.”
Boardmember Neil Carrigan was hesitant to call the committee an “audit committee” because the body would not be performing an audit on the district’s budget.  The district hires an outside, third-party accounting firm to conduct their annual audit.  He seemed to favor calling it a “finance committee.”
Galbraith said such duties rest in the hands of the school board and he was hesitant to hand those responsibilities over to members of the community.
“The board is fiscally responsible for what is going on in the district.  We can’t give our responsibilities away,” Galbraith said.  “Maybe it is because we are maturing as a board, but there has been a lack in the last three years.  We need to be judicious with our responsibilities as a board to the point we feel comfortable.  I’m very apprehensive of turning too much power over to a committee.”
Hipwell said she envisioned the committee having access to district financial statements in order to make semi-annual recommendations to the school board “so the community had some insight.” But she stopped short of agreeing to let the committee make official decisions.  
Jacobs agreed.
“Inevitably, it is the board’s decision,” he said.  “You don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen.”
“I hate to see you give power to someone not elected,” Carrigan said.  “But I don’t have a problem with someone looking to see where we can save money.”
Hipwell favors community members with financial experience to sit on the committee.
“They will know the questions to ask,” she said, such as the many questions the community has about the Trojan Center.
While the board prepared for a voted levy, three community members asked to scrutinize the district’s financial records, Poll said.
The board asked Jacobs, Farmer and Durrant to prepare details about the committee to be presented at their next board meeting.
“There is no question we are tight dollar-wise,” Galbraith said.  “We are down to the basic rudimentary way to run things.  Every dollar is pigeon-holed.”