Taxpayers Continue to Call For Answers From School System on Shortfall at Public Hearing

boe hearingStephens County taxpayers continue to call for answers from the Stephens County School System as to how it ended up in a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.

The Stephens County Board of Education held its second of three required public hearings on a proposed millage rate increase on Tuesday in front of a full meeting room at the Stephens County School System Administrative Offices on Mize Road.

Currently, the Board of Education is proposing to raise the millage rate by 1.6 mills to the state maximum of 20 mills.

A 1.6 mill increase for the school system would increase taxes by about $64 for every $100,000 in property value.

The millage rate increase is part of a plan by the school system to re-coup a total of about $2.7 million.

Stephens County School Superintendent Bryan Dorsey has said that is what is needed to both balance the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and pay back an estimated deficit in the school system’s fund balance of about $1.3 million.

Dorsey said the plan to make up the budget shortfall also includes nine calendar reduction days next year for school system staff.

Steve Dessauer is one of many who spoke Tuesday who said the school system needs to provide a full accountability of what happened before doing anything else.

“We need to know where those pennies are at,” said Dessauer.

He said a state investigation should be done, noting the turnover in the finance director position.

Board of Education member Sandra Childs said things were looked into when the finance director position first opened up.

“In 2012, when the first financial person left, there were some questions about that,” said Childs. “We had the state come in here to audit her books to see if there was fraud and the state told us there was no fraud.”

Childs said it is not that the money is gone, but there were a lot of postings not done in 2012 from what it appears.

She went on to say that the Board and she assumes, staff at that time, were given a figure and did a budget based on that figure, which turned out to be incorrect.

Meanwhile, Dorsey said it all goes back to accounting errors that led to more problems.

“If I were going to try to simplify for our daily lives, it is no different than if you put the wrong number in your checking account just because you have written $800, but if the bank knows you have negative $800, you might be making some decisions at the grocery store based off of the balance you think you have,” said Dorsey. “Well that in reality that is not the accurate balance.”

The school system expects to have that Fiscal Year 2013 audit from the state later this month.

Dorsey said that audit report is expected to provide the school system with findings and recommendations from auditors.

“My anticipation as I have been evaluating this process all along is that we do need to have a better accounting process internally, that we do have a stronger finance department that is more adequately staffed, and I think they are going to want us to follow some better guidelines for internal controls,” said Dorsey.

Some questioned why the school system would use the state to audit, instead of an outside firm.

Dorsey said many school systems use the state auditors.

Meanwhile, other speakers say they want to know how the school system is going to keep this from happening again.

Dorsey said the Board will discuss a plan of action based on that audit report once it receives it from the state.

The final public hearing on the Board of Education’s proposed millage rate increase is set for Friday at 8 a.m. at the School System Administrative Offices.

Following that public hearing, the Board of Education is expected to vote to officially set the millage rate.