Published in print August 19, 2015
Again requests increase, but timetable set to push
potential budget adoption past August 31 deadline
By THOMAS P. WEAVER
CELINA-After hearing emotional words of encouragement like “stay strong,” “maintain your stand,” “be tough,” and “now is not the time to back down,” the Clay County school board stood their ground here last Thursday night by voting to again request a funding increase despite being asked to submit a budget without one by the county commission earlier in the week.
The unanimous vote followed passionate pleas from a standing-room-only crowd packed into the school system’s board room, but action on the request and the potential adoption of a budget may come too little too late.
In an effort to comply with a new state law setting a budget adoption deadline of August 31, county mayor Dale Reagan has published the proposed budget without general purpose school fund numbers in this week’s HORIZON (page __) and also published a notice of a special called meeting (page __) to vote on the approved funds set for Monday, August 31 at 6:30 p.m.
“We are trying to do everything we can possibly do to try to meet the requirements,” Reagan said Monday when asked about the publication of the proposed budget not including the school fund. “All of the other departments’ budgets have been approved by the budget committee and the commission will be voting on appropriation funds for those departments, excluding the school and cafeteria funds, because they can’t vote on a fund that hasn’t been recommended by the budget committee.
“All of the others have been approved to go before the commission and a tax levy (identical to last year’s) has been set.
“I’m going to try my best to get a budget passed for the approved funds,” the mayor continued. “It’s my duty to get the funds appropriated and the commission can vote on these individual funds that have been approved.”
Action may not
be taken on time
When asked whether or not the newly approved school budget could be adopted at the upcoming special called meeting if the school board’s request for an additional $200,000 was accepted, and the school budget was approved after HORIZON press time at Monday night’s budget committee meeting, Reagan explained it would not be possible.
“When a proposed budget is published no action can be taken on that budget until 10 days after its publication,” he said Monday afternoon. “If the school budget is approved tonight we won’t be able to publish it until the following week and then the commission couldn’t act on it until 10 days later.
“It can’t be voted on at the special called meeting on August 31.”
When asked what consequences would arise due to missing the adoption deadline, Reagan said he had been told the county would receive an audit finding—which he defined as a formal write-up for not adopting a budget on time—and explained the new statute said department heads like himself will have no spending authority.
“There’s nothing in there about the county completely shutting down,” Reagan said. “It is my hope we can all keep diligently working towards a solution to this situation.
“They’re not telling us to close down, but if we write a check we will be in violation but I don’t know the consequences. Take it like it is, but I can’t speak for everybody.”
Reagan said he would make the decision for the county general fund on whether or not to continue operations, but explained it would be up to the other department heads to decide what they do.
to “wait and see”
Director of schools Jerry Strong said he had been advised there could be additional consequences to the audit finding and he also explained he would be taking the “wait and see” approach if a budget is not passed on time.
“We don’t want to speculate because I’ll be the first to tell you that I can’t give you a direct answer,” Strong said. “At first we thought it would just be a slap on the hand in the form of an audit write-up, but our attorney has suggested there could be more implications.
“We will just have to wait and see what the commission does and where we are at. There is so much uncertainty right now and we don’t want to get into a guessing game.
“I wish I had the answers and we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”
When asked if schools would close September 1 if a budget wasn’t adopted, Strong said he had no definite answer.
“If we are following state law, we are not allowed to issue any checks—which would make it impossible to operate,” he said, “but if the only penalty is an audit finding (write-up), then yes, we will remain open.
“If there’s more involved, then we will have to make a decision, but as of right now we are still going with the October deadline that has been set by the board.
“We will have to wait and see what the commission does tonight,” he said Monday. “We have no choice. They are the funding body. They make decisions regarding that.”
See a future HORIZON for details about Monday night’s budget committee meeting and more updates on this ongoing story, including details from last Thursday night’s school board meeting where director Strong and his staff detailed the entire school budget, answered questions regarding their fund balance, and much more.