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Error blamed for school budget shortfall

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

NASHVILLE — The Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education held two meetings Monday — one of which revealed more details about the state of the school district’s budget woes and one at which members of the community shared their thoughts about ways to correct the situation.

At a workshop session held at 5 p.m., school board members were presented with more details about the status of the budget and one new issue came to light that explained almost $600,000 of the nearly $800,000 budget shortfall.

Sheila Wallace, interim chief finance officer, explained that the technology budget alone had $578,226.80 in errors when it was presented and approved last year. These errors came about because of technology contracts that were active into the current year but were not budgeted for in this year’s budget because they were thought to have ended in the previous year.

“These contracts had been in place for six years under the previous CFO but were not presented in last year’s budget,” Jefferies said. “Upon the transition to the interim finance officer in the fall, some more investigation and some contacts by our vendors, we realized that there was an extended payment period we needed to budget for.”

Jefferies said he took responsibility for the error and that more protocols had been put in place this year to make sure that issues like this are not overlooked in the future. 

“I own the oversight 100 percent,” Jefferies said.

Jefferies said the discrepancies were not noted until Wallace assumed her position. He also defended Wallace’s credentials for her position, saying that she met state-required qualifications and had been approved for her position at the state level. However, the school district still has the chief finance position open for hiring.

So many people attended the school board’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday that some people were asked to leave because the number of people present violated fire codes. Ten residents, several of them former employees of the district, signed up to speak before the school board before the vote on the budget reconciliation issue was taken.

Though some of the speakers addressed other issues, most addressed the issue of teacher pay, admonishing the school board and the superintendent to look for ways to cut other areas. Some suggested reducing the number of highly paid employees in the central office before looking at cutting teacher pay.

According to information presented at the 5 p.m. workshop session, the central office accounts for 3.7 percent of the total local budget funds while classroom teachers and supplements account for 26.95 percent of the more than $23,100,000 in funds locally provided to the school district. Of these local funds, more than $20,320,000 is provided by Nash County. The rest is provided by the city of Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County.

Adrianne Wood, a Nash County native and well-known blogger, said she had received a letter from a Nash-Rocky Mount teacher that illustrated some of the concerns about central office staff and the fact that the school superintendent goes to his home in the Charlotte area most weekends.

“Central office has too many staff whose jobs overlap,” the letter said. “We are also paying someone to cover events when Jefferies is out of town. I don’t understand why we have a superintendent who often does not show up until Tuesday and leaves early on Fridays. Can teachers do that?”

In light of the issues facing the school district, Cindy Puckett, a local parent, said that considering cutting teacher pay was an insult.

“The discussion of cutting teacher pay is a slap in the face to teachers,” Puckett said.

Other speakers felt Nash County commissioners were at fault and need to provide more funding to the school district.

“Instead of focusing on the flaws, we need to build bridges and find ways we can increase funding from funding partners,” Bronson Williams said.

At the end of the meeting, the school board voted to end any further consideration of cutting teacher pay for this budget year. But school school members tabled further discussion of acceptance of an $800,000 advance from county commissioners to solve this year’s budget woes pending further negotiations with commissioners over the strings attached.

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