It’s gotten quiet around Lee County these past few weeks. The furor over the budget crisis has passed, or has it? Dr. Moss and the Board of Education snookered the County Commissioners into spending increases, or did they? Actually, neither. In truth, the demand for fiscal accountability has only begun. The Board of Commissioners already has responded by mandating a complete financial audit of the schools prior to appropriating funds for the following school year. Public opinion is only now beginning to question the Board of Education over how it spends money, and whether it provides any oversight over its chief employee. In parallel to the words of Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, following his country’s December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Board of Education has awakened sleeping Lee County taxpayers and filled them with an unyielding resolve to demand fiscal accountability as never before.
Therein lies the challenge: Lee County Board of Education, you must demand far more transparency and accountability from your central office in the expenditure of taxpayer dollars than ever before. Every dollar spent by the Lee County School System is either directly obtained through taxation, was made available on some form of tax deferment, or came as the result of a fine or forfeiture levied by the county courts, every dollar.
Every tax dollar spent deserves an open, public accounting. So the first challenge is to openly account for fund expenditure on a monthly basis. The Board of Education must begin to publicly review how funds are spent every month. The public questions the veracity of the superintendent and his accounting procedures. The tax payers of Lee County challenge BOE members to openly challenge even routine expenditures and to aggressively question ALL fund transfers. If there is enough money to transfer from one area to another, then there was TOO much requested in the budget submission for that item. If one area needs more funding, then the budget development for that area was done poorly and needs closer scrutiny before the same mistake is made next year.
A second challenge is about fund balances ‘carried forward’ from the prior fiscal years. How much was carried forward and why was it carried forward and rather than being spent according to the budget request in the preceding year? Was this balance used to reduce the amount needed for the next year? If so, have the County Commissioners been appraised that the schools won’t need as much money? Budgetary carryover, while a legal accounting maneuver, is a prime area of taxpayer interest. Every dollar of carryover funds, should offset some additional fiscal need for the next year. The LCCS has a habit of ‘spending forward’ on requirements into the next year, theoretically saving money, and then asking for that same funding item in the next budget anyway. The challenge is to identify every dollar of carry over and its purpose, then honestly develop the next budget request.
The next part of the challenge is to account for every dollar of funding received ‘off-budget’. These are the grants received every year, and the money forwarded to the LCCS from the Lee County Clerk of Court resulting from fines and forfeitures collected by the courts. The LCCS has treated this money as ‘found’ money in the past. It has spent this money off-budget as well. The challenge fiscal challenge for this year is not to find ways to spend this ‘found’ money, but to use it to save other budgeted tax payer money.
The last major fiscal challenge for the LCCS this next year is to find ways to save money. In the past, rarely has the LCCS made publicly noticeable attempts to employ cost saving measures. It shoould already have started for this new fiscal year. What energy saving measures have been directed to the principals at the various schools? What classroom projects will implore students to save water, and electricity, to reduce trash at the schools, to become more responsible citizens? These should be emphasized at least if not more than the political campaigns waged on public officials this past budget cycle. Every month the Board of Education needs to publish how it saved money over the past year, on a school by school basis. This shouldn’t be too hard, someone accounts for this every month when the bills are paid anyway.
So, Lee County Board of Education, it is time to accept the challenge of fiscal responsibility. Every month taxpayers will demand to know what the numbers were for the last month and how spending compares to the same period last year. Every month taxpayers will demand to know how much of the carryover money was spent and on what it was spent. Every month taxpayers will demand an accounting of ALL ‘found’ money and how much of the budget will be offset by it. This is the challenge. Accept it voluntarily and look like visionary leaders. Alternatively, sustain your fight with “city hall” and your taxpaying public and feel the heat of constant deriding and public humiliation until the challenges are met. It’s your choice.