Archive for Tuesday, August 15, 2006

District’s financial problems were widespread

August 15, 2006

As the reality of a $300,000 shortfall in the Baldwin School District sinks in, reaction has started and solutions are being sought. Bottom line is, school will go on. Budgets will be tight.

"The supplemental general fund was overspent to the tune of $295,000," School Board Attorney Bob Bezek told the board at a special meeting last Thursday that was attended by well over 60 people.

Although the district is broke, it's not a matter of any criminal wrongdoing with funds being taken.

"This is not a case of taking any money, no suggestion of that at all," said Bezek. "Overspending your checkbook is not good, but it's not a criminal thing."

The revelation during the special meeting came as a result of new Supt. Paul Dorathy asking for a thorough audit of the school district books once he started in July. That audit lasted for well over a week and found numerous problems with how money was moved from one fund account to another and other problems, such as unchecked use of district credit cards and unposted written checks.

The spending resulted in charges against petty cash at $75,000. Bezek told the board the petty cash fund should never be over $13,000. The board was told that most of the problems occurred in the spring during then-Supt. James White's tenure. White retired at the end of June. Dorathy took over in July and found the books just didn't make sense. That's when he asked for the audit.

Although school board members made no comment after the special meeting, they have started talking.

"I want our community to understand that the school board never authorized this kind of over spending," said Board Member Ande Parks. "Of course, the spending authority ultimately rests upon our shoulders, but we had no idea until Mr. Dorathy arrived that things were this dire.

"Frankly, we were making spending decisions based upon bad or insufficient data," said Parks. "I'm as disappointed as anyone that things were not being handled properly."

Bezek and Tom Thomas, the auditor, told the board money was moved from one account to another to pay for various items. Since then, Thomas has been able to move the money back around to where the shortfall is in the supplemental general fund.

"They robbed Peter and the whole gang to pay Paul," said Thomas. "Most of this happened in the spring."

Dorathy, Bezek and Thomas have come up with a plan on how to get the district through the first semester until new tax money arrives in January. There will be no disruption in classes or activities as a result of a district-wide belt tightening, they said.

"It's not about salaries and school will go on," said Bezek.

Dorathy told the board that numerous items will be tried to ease the situation, including a request for more state aid. But, he said times will be tough -- but school will go on.

"We've got four really tough months that are going to be tight," said Dorathy. "We are looking at ways to solve this so that the buses will run, the kids will be in class, food will be served, teachers will teach and football games will be played on Friday night.

"Those things are going to continue to happen as long as we can get what we plan done," he said. "We will fix the problem. A year from now, it will be better. In two years, we will have this district back fiscally sound."

The Signal will continue to update this story online and a full story and pictures will be in this week's Signal.

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