February 23, 2013 9:46:58 PM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Columbus Municipal School District is changing the way it tracks travel expenses, board members learned Saturday during a two-hour budget workshop at Brandon Central Services.
Anthony Brown, assistant superintendent of federal and special programs, took issue with recent allegations about how CMSD handles employee travel outside the district.
"We track every single dollar associated with travel," Brown said, referring to a comment at the February board meeting that suggested otherwise.
He unveiled a new program that he said will make tracking travel expenses easier.
As part of his demonstration, he showed his travel expenses from a Dropout Prevention Conference he attended in Jackson last fall. His costs of $863.50 were funded by Title 1, a federal program, he said.
The board then discussed the per diem rate for food. Currently, employees who travel for school business are reimbursed per diem depending on their destination. If an employee travels to Jackson, they receive a per diem of $41 per day for food. If they spend more than the allotted amount, they are not reimbursed for the overage. They do not have to provide receipts.
Spears questioned the current practice and asked that, in the interest of saving the district money, employees begin providing receipts for food.
Fisher echoed Spears, saying the district needs to pay for the actual cost of food, not a per diem rate.
"Why are we paying for the extra?" she asked.
Brown said that due to board members' concerns, he will ensure employees begin providing receipts and curtail blanket per diem rates.
He was quick to point out that the travel paid for by federal funding is a small percentage of the district's budget.
"Our total budget travel out of Title 1 is less than 1.5 percent of total allocation," he said. "It's a very small amount."
Leslie Shivers, a former state auditor who is now employed as a contract certified public accountant, has been working with the district the past several weeks, reviewing documentation, especially that pertaining to travel by district employees, Liddell said.
In other news, Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews did not give a presentation on the tax collections and a report on 16th Section land, as was scheduled on the original agenda. An amended agenda excluded Andrews and added four budget requests from CMSD Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon, as well as a closed executive session to discuss a personnel matter. Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell said Andrews had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend.
Before the new agenda could be adopted, board member Aubra Turner voiced her concern over the newest version of the agenda.
"I do not approve of this agenda," she said. "Nor do I approve of the rescheduling of the March board meeting."
Originally scheduled for March 11, the board meeting was rescheduled to March 19 to accommodate the spring break.
The workshop began with Liddell introducing the Board Book, a system that will be used to place each agenda and related documents online. Liddell said the district was purchasing the program "in the interest of transparency."
Next on the agenda, CMSD Special Assistant for Public Relations Michael Jackson led the board through a web-based tutorial of a new public information system that will soon be used by the district. With three separate tabs, the new system contains information for board members, residents interested in following the district's academic progress and members of the parent academy.
Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Hughes then approached the board for the meatier subject of the budget workshop: the year-to-date finances of the district.
In an 11-page document, Hughes outlined the current financial obligations owed by CMSD.
For the 2012-2013 school year, CMSD requested $13,158,956 in ad valorem taxes. From July 2012 to January 2013, the district received $10,595,108.45 -- 82 percent -- of their request. A total of $2,379,752 remains to be collected for the remaining five months of the school year.
Board member Jason Spears, making note of the 69 teachers and certified staff members who learned last February that their contracts would not be renewed, asked Hughes if the district is on track financially.
"Compared to this time in 2011-2012, where do we stand in terms of percentages for the period that's covered?" Spears asked.
Hughes said he did not have the exact numbers on hand but speculated the district was in good standing financially.
"I'm sorry, I do not have that here off the top of my head," Hughes said. "We are, on the revenue side, about where we were last year. Ad valorem is within $100,000 of where we were last year."
Addressing long-term debt, Hughes informed the board of the nine different areas where CMSD has debts. However, Hughes did not give an estimate of the total debt. As of June 30, 2012, the principal balance on the debt owed was a total $33,800,139.
Hughes also addressed year-to-date revenue collected by the district. As of Jan. 31, the district collected $17,521,621 from local, state and federal taxes and 16th Section revenue. The district budgeted $40,484,567 for the 2012-2013 school year. In 2011-2012, the district received $44,534,005 in revenue.
Hughes also said the district has a current total of $21,589,500 in expenditures. Those fees are from every expense in the district related to instructional services, support services, non-instructional services and debt service. That number is subject to increase as the year progresses.
Board president Tommy Prude, whose term expires in March, did not attend Saturday's meeting. Board vice president Currie Fisher led the two-hour workshop.
The next board meeting has been rescheduled from March 11 to March 19 at Brandon Central Services.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.