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School issues overshadow budget meet

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A regular meeting to agree on a cleanup amendment to the Bedford County school system's budget was impeded by the absence of county finance director Robert Daniel.

The board, as most county boards do, holds a meeting near the end of the fiscal year to 'clean up' line items within the budget and shift funds within categories between line items that have been overspent.

The journal entries are made by the county finance department, and the entries are explained to the board before final approval.

Help needed

"Is there anyone here from the county to talk about it? Are we just left on our own?" asked Chairman Barry Cooper at Thursday's meeting.

"I mean, I don't know how we are supposed to do this without help. I wish Robert were here, he has been here every year that we've had a clean up meeting."

Cooper said Daniel had acknowledged the meeting earlier in the week.

"He knows more about this than all of the rest of us put together," Cooper said.

Figuring it out

The changes are not new spending, and the board expects this year's budget to be underspent by $1 million.

"Robert and I were talking about it the other day, and it may be as much as $2 million," said Cooper.

"We have not overspent our budget, nor have we been out spending on things that are frivolous," said Dr. Ray Butrum, superintendent. "We have spent only on things that this system is using to improve, and to improve the quality of education and the school system."

The school board ultimately approved the budget amendment during the meeting, but not before two board members raised concerns about other issues.

China trip

Diane Neeley expressed concerns about a trip to China made by four local educators earlier this month. The Confucius Institute paid the costs of that trip, and no taxpayer dollars were expended.

"I think we need to be apprised in a more timely manner of what we are spending," Neeley said.

Andrea Anderson agreed that she had many questions from the community about the trip and would have liked to have had more information.

"If you had called me, I would have told you it is not costing anything out of our general budget," said Butrum.

"I didn't take any money or do anything outside what my responsibilities are. But I cannot come and ask approval for every single educational thing that we are doing."

Butrum pointed to his experience as a school board member for Murfreesboro City Schools before being hired last year.

"I know ... what the proper policies and ethics are in running a school system. And setting a policy that I follow is what you should do as a board member."

Superintendent's role

Chad Graham cited board policy regarding the role of the superintendent,

"The policy assures that all activities meet those board established priorities. Prepares and recommends short and long term plans for board approval and implements those plans when approved."

Glen Forsee reminded the board that they had hired and put their trust in Butrum to run the day-to-day business of the school system,

"He has two letters in front of his name that says 'Dr.' He has a professional preparation. We hire and staff principals who have bachelors and masters and doctorates. There's not any other department in the county that has as many trained, licensed professionals as the educational system," Forsee said.

Amy Martin, a long-time board member, pointed out that management of the schools is not in the board's expertise. "I do not ever recall that the superintendent came to us to ask, 'Can we put an honors class in place?'"

Policy questions

Graham, who along with other board members attended a retreat at Henry Horton State Park last year, raised concerns then about whether Butrum was in violation of policy.

"The board needs to decide whether we want to follow policy or change some policy," Graham said.

"So, have we broken policy for the last 20 years that I've been on the board, when [similar] things have not been brought before us, and this system?" asked Martin.

"What's the big deal, guys? Why are we just now bringing it up," asked Cooper. Addressing Graham, "I never heard this out of your mouth for the first year and a half of your tenure -- I've never heard it from Diane's mouth, I don't think, except for the last year.

"I'm telling you, Amy is right, if we've broken policy, we've been breaking it for 20 years, not one year," said Cooper. "I don't think we need to nitpick every last comma and think we're doing the kids a favor."

"If we are all going to work together, then we're going to have to stop this bickering -- and I'm calling it bickering -- back and forth about a policy that is bothering you," Dixie Parker said to Graham.

"I'm asking you to call me and ask me. I'm hearing from a lot of board members who are concerned about communication who have yet to call me and ask me questions," said Butrum.


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