Sumter School District Finance Committee recommends Mayewood reopening be reconsidered

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 2/18/19

The Sumter school board’s advisory Finance Committee wants the district’s Board of Trustees to reconsider its decision to reopen Mayewood Middle School next school year.

Reasoning that …

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Sumter School District Finance Committee recommends Mayewood reopening be reconsidered

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The Sumter school board’s advisory Finance Committee wants the district’s Board of Trustees to reconsider its decision to reopen Mayewood Middle School next school year.

Reasoning that the full board’s Feb. 11 vote to reopen the school after it voted to close it just last year is in “direct conflict” to the district’s financial recovery plan previously submitted to the state, the committee made the recommendation with unanimous approval Monday at its regular monthly meeting at the district office.

Greg Thompson, a local private-business owner and member of the committee, made the motion at the end of the meeting.

“Our motion is to recommend to the board that they reconsider reopening Mayewood Middle School because it’s in direct conflict of the district’s financial recovery plan submitted to the state,” Thompson said, “and will begin immediate erosion of our district’s fund balance.”

All other Finance Committee members supported the motion, including board members Johnny Hilton, Sherril Ray and Shawn Ragin and private-business leaders Bobby Anderson and Ben Griffith.

Ray, who represents Area 2, was among the six board members who voted to reopen Mayewood earlier this month. Hilton, Area 4’s representative, and Ragin, one of two at-large board members who represent the entire county, voted to keep the school closed.

District administrators have detailed first-year costs to reopen the East Brewington Road school in the range of $1 million to $1.2 million and recurring annual operational costs after that in the range of $360,000 to $471,000.

The district was required to submit a financial recovery plan to the state education department over the summer to demonstrate how it would build its fund balance to $12 million by June 30, 2020, which represents one month’s operating expenses. The fund balance was depleted to $106,449 by the end of fiscal 2016, as revealed in an official audit, due to $6.2 million in overspending.

By the end of fiscal 2018, the district’s bank account had risen to $8.6 million. It was projected it would reach $10.7 million by the end of this fiscal year with details from that plan in place, including a conservative estimate of $505,821 in savings from the consolidation of Mayewood into R.E. Davis Elementary School, which is currently a K-8 magnet-style program called R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy, and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School into Cherryvale Elementary School.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman sent a letter to the district last week detailing her concern about the decision to reopen the school and what she said are potential impacts on the district’s finances and on student achievement and educational opportunities district-wide.

During the committee meeting, district Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller cited several “unknowns” concerning next year’s budget, including declining student enrollment and legislative mandates that force the district to pay for additional services with no extra funding from the state. Also, the district may not be eligible to perform a tax swap mechanism for a third consecutive year to directly inject about $2 million into its fund balance.

The district has been able to do the tax swap the past two years, which benefited the district and taxpayers financially.

The Finance Committee has been under debate this month since board member Frank Baker, the second at-large representative, recommended at a Policy Committee meeting on Feb. 5 that he wants to take out involvement on the committee by non-board members.

Baker was the superintendent at the time of the financial crisis in 2016. He retied in the fallout from it and was handily elected to the board in November along with four other new members, turning over a majority of the nine-member board.

The new trustees have requested detailed charters with definitions listing clear roles of the three existing board committees, which include Finance, Policy and Facilities. Only the Finance Committee currently currently has community members.

The Sumter Item will write about more details from the meeting on Tuesday.