Supervisors and School Board Work Session Observations
On May 29th, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board met for what hopefully will be the first of quarterly work sessions to begin to develop and maintain better avenues of communication. The work session was tense at times, but there were some elements of agreement that both Boards agreed to build on in the future.
Some of my observations are below:
After an awkward start to the Board meeting, Supervisor Trampe deserves some credit for his motion to reorganize the Supervisors’ agenda to allow the work session to be conducted before public comment. This motion passed 4-3 (Supervisors Benton, McLaughlin, Ross). On a general note, it was disappointing for Livingston and Lee Hill residents that School Board members Ms. Phelps (Lee Hill) and Mr. Twigg (Livingston) were unable to attend this session to voice their thoughts on the discussed topics.
Supervisors McLaughlin and Ross appear to be strong advocates of having an internal auditor. Initially there was some misunderstanding between the Boards on what this meant. The School Board believed that Mr. Ross was proposing to add a financial auditor, which already takes place for both County and Schools annually. School Board Chair Grampp stated that the School Board would be open to having a separate auditor for the schools and county due to the school budget complexities. After additional discussion, Mr. Ross clarified that he was more interested in conducting a review of county and school operations to find efficiencies and cost savings. The Schools seemed to in theory be open to this but wanted to make sure there was a specific scoping of the review.
The idea of a consultant firm reviewing government operations for efficiencies could be a positive thing for the county. However, as Courtland School Board member Meyer pointed out, the audit could report that the County and Schools are less efficient because they do not have enough resources. Ultimately, this is a good concept to further investigate.
The Supervisors asked the School Board to conduct a compensation study alongside a County employee study. The Supervisors seamlessly implemented the County-side of the study, but became extremely inquisitory when the School Board began to implement their study. If a similar dynamic unfolded following the proposed efficiency review it could lead to similar tensions if an understanding is not reached before moving forward.
During the discussions, there was a comment made by Supervisor McLaughlin that the supervisors could have kept taxes at the equalized rate if the schools funded their 120 personnel request over 4 rather than 3 years. Chancellor School Board Member Shelly submitted that only 17 percent of new spending went to the schools; the other 83 percent to the County. There was no counter or disagreement from the Supervisors on this point. Battlefield School Board Member Braswell added that the School Board’s decision to alter their insurance plans saved the county close to 3 pennies on the real estate tax rate the last few years.
Following this exchange, Supervisor McLaughlin stated that it is the supervisors’ jobs to ask questions and investigate. I agree with Mr. McLaughlin wholeheartedly, we have no disagreement. The supervisors should question expenditures, but it should be balanced. The school budget takes up roughly half of the county budget, which deserves a close look. But as a Spotsy resident, I would like as strenuous a look directed to County expenditures.
Government oversight is not a problem if it is employed equally and fairly. Failure to do this generates the perception that some supervisors, potential innocent inquiries, could be viewed as targeting the schools and not just conducting due diligence as officials. As this perception continues to build, only supervisors can effectively alter that trajectory by reconsidering how they conduct their inquiries.
There was a very brief exchange about revenue sharing to the schools. School Board Chair Grampp expressed that such an agreement would better allow the schools to prepare their budget with the general expectation of how much money they could receive. Supervisors Yakabouski and Skinner seemed to prefer not to attach a percentage value to this due to competing priorities of the county. This was explained to go both ways, as county needs could have a greater need in some years as compared to the schools. Likewise, the schools in some years may have greater needs than that percentage agreement. The sides agreed more discussion would be needed on this topic.
Lastly, the Board of Supervisors seemed to be slightly embarrassed that the School Board and Superintendent Baker put forth greater effort to move their employees closer to market value rates than the supervisors did for county employees. Rather than looking in the mirror and rededicating themselves to ensure County employees are better compensated they seem more inclined to chastise the School Board for trying to do right by their employees. However, when low taxes are prioritized over maintaining county service levels, this is easier said then done.