SNOW HILL – Education officials responded to county questions about the school system’s budget with a variety of financial information.
The Worcester County Board of Education last Thursday responded to the request the Worcester County Commissioners sent earlier this month seeking answers to budget questions. Todd Ferrante, president of the school board, said education officials appreciated the chance to share insight.
“As the primary funding agent for the Board of Education, we want to ensure you have a greater understanding of the school budget process,” Ferrante wrote in his response. “Our Finance Office, under the responsible leadership of Chief Financial Officer Vince Tolbert and Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor, continues its work to reformat our budget to better reflect the level of detail desired by the Board
and previously requested by the Commissioners.”
At the request of county officials, the school system provided Worcester County with thousands of pages of detailed budget information in June. The school system responded to questions about that information with a letter late last week. Though the commissioners questioned the school system’s “irregular budgeting style,” the school system said it was in line with education budgeting practices.
“Regarding the examples below, the WCPS finance office is currently working to establish a new format for budgeting moving forward; however, the current categorial budgeting philosophy is not irregular, but is in alignment with school system budgeting practices across the State,” the school system responded. “We do, however, agree that long-range planning does present challenges as student needs can change more rapidly than anticipated and the maintenance of fifteen school buildings–many of which are aging–can result in unforeseen expenses. We remain committed to evolving our practices to ensure clarity while maintaining the necessary flexibility to balance addressing school-level needs with system-wide expenditures.”
An example provided in the county’s list of questions shows that Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) has no funding budgeted for a technology coach in fiscal year 2024 despite the fact that the county spent between $481,000 and $585,000 in that account during each of the previous four years. The response from the school system explains that the budget for the technology coach is now in the “Educational Assistants” account.
The county also questioned how the school system handled adding new positions. The school system’s response explains that school improvement committees, coordinators or an executive team member could request new positions.
“If a need for a new position(s) is expressed to the Superintendent, research is completed to determine if the request is necessary,” the letter reads. “If the need is verified, the Superintendent will task the Finance Office with researching to verify funds are available to support the new position(s). If funds are available, the position will be posted. If a qualified applicant is identified, they will be submitted to our Board for approval.”
The commissioners also wanted to know why the school system was funding a staff position for the nonprofit Worcester County Education Foundation.
“This position is the single staff member for an organization that has fundraised more than one million dollars,” the school system’s response reads. “To date the Education Foundation has donated back over $256,199 directly to the school system over the past 9 years. We expect this year’s direct donation back to the school system to be around $120,000. Capping over $385,000 in donations.”
The commissioners asked if it made sense for the county to fund a position for a nonprofit.
“This is a challenging question to answer and one that the Board of Directors and the School system will come to a common agreement around based on financial advice of several financial advisors that work with the Board of Directors for the Education Foundation. The goal is to have an endowment in addition to the considerable yearly donations, which can pay the salary for the single staffer from the endowment, as well as the yearly donations to the school system.”
In response to questions about WCPS purchasing cards and why they weren’t always used for meal expenses, the school system explained that sales tax charges on purchasing cards were prohibited.
“Some establishments will not honor the tax-exempt status of WCPS,” the letter reads. “In these cases, it is better practice for staff to pay for the purchase personally, including sales tax. Then, a staff member may ask for reimbursement, excluding the sales tax.”
WCPS also notes that the commissioners are each provided with a $3,000 annual meal stipend.
“Moving forward, we will investigate adopting a similar expense practice with school system leadership, and we believe that given past practice, it will likely fall below the existing county allotment,” the letter reads. “Additionally, many of the other receipts are meal allowances for out of county and state travel for meetings.”