Guest Post: Bay-Waveland School Board Budget Hearing – A New Ballgame

The Bay St. Louis-Waveland Budget hearing Monday night was a whole new ball game as compared to the last 15 years. Not only was the Administration called on to justify their spending, but the public was actually invited to speak and ask questions.

The School District Budget report distributed to the audience last night claims a per pupil spending $11,083.00 to educate each child in the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District. While the Superintendent stated they are underfunded $700,000 by the State, it appears we are doing just fine without State Funding because $11,083.00 is more than it costs to educated a student in our local private schools.

But what are we spending this $11,083 on?

Locally Under Major District Maintenance Expenditures the Instructional Budget ($297, 931) came in way behind Insurance ($794,307), Utilities ($900,670), and Transportation ($834, 500). Bringing up the rear were School Nurses ($180,000) and Maintenance ($127,000). Remember folks, the more we continue to play with bricks and mortar the more our Maintenance Budget will be and the Administration seems to be addicted to Architects and Engineers.

Under Administrative Costs, of the 14 Coast School Districts listed, we are the second highest percentage wise. That has pretty much stayed the same since a survey the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government did on Coast School District Administrative Spending in 2010.

The Superintendent and Business Manager defended their Administrative spending with regards to the low enrollment 0f 1,924 by saying that no matter how small a district is, the State still requires the same number of administrators. Well, there is your best argument for one School District in Hancock County. Why should the taxpayers in a county of only 45,000 residents, a lot of whom are below poverty level, have to continue to support duplicate administrative costs for a little over 6,000 students combined?

A few highlights of the dialogue between the Board, Administration, and Public were when the Board asked for a total on travel expenses this past year, they were given only the figure on School Board travel, which was $8,839, but when asked by a member of the audience what overall travel expenses were including Administrators and other personnel, Board Trustee Kidd answered that it amounted to somewhere around $57,000. That was a strange move on the part of the Administration to try to make it appear that only the Board traveled at the expense of the taxpayers. But after studying dockets for the past 6 years, we discovered some pretty well traveled employees at our expense.

Attorney fees are a real problem this coming year, not because the current Board Attorney is getting a raise ( his retainer remains $32,500 a year) which is $2,700 per meeting, but because the Board is having to budget an additional $60,000 for a special Attorney to resolve a situation at Waveland Elementary. A hearing has be conducted some time next week. Think of what that $60,000 could have bought for the classrooms.

I questioned the Board regarding a still unanswered question that six times their last year’s budget was amended with no explanation in the Board minutes as to why the budgets were amended and for how much. The Superintendent assured everyone they had gotten a “clean audit” from their auditor Joel Cunningham.

I informed the Board that was a mystery to me since my conversation with the Office of the State Auditor Technical Support Auditor Tom Chain, who stated the amendments are, by State Law, to be incorporated into their minutes so the public can see exactly how much the amendment is and what it was for. I am still surprised this was not a finding in their audit. I feel the new Board members will not tolerate this going forward.

Last, but not least, the Board expressed their concern over paying a public relations firm — Ad Lib Communications, $27,000 a year when they have an IT person in the system. The Superintendent stated that her Advisory Committee (we all know they are going to give unbiased opinions to her) feels as she does that this Public Relations Firm is most important because it serves to offset so much negative criticism about the district from the community!

Well, how dare the taxpayers have an opinion or God forbid express it as to how Rebecca Ladner runs the school district! So, she’ll just hire someone at our expense to fluff things up rather than address problems! AND, could some of that negativity be coming from you, Mr. Handshoe?! She repeated this need to defend the District against this negative publicity throughout the meeting. Not sure the Board is convinced.

The School Board meets again next Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Lana Noonan
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government

34 thoughts on “Guest Post: Bay-Waveland School Board Budget Hearing – A New Ballgame”

  1. The minutes don’t show the details of the budget amendments?

    I hear that the most expensive PR campaigns are the ones where the facts are the problem.

    Anyone else wonder if this is the same PR firm that was helping Jerky Boi Guice with his social media posts?

    On Guice’s Facebook page, he shared a meme last month that said, “I’m so lucky people can’t hear what I’m thinking.

    1. The old school board voted blind, once a month to amend the budget at Ladner’s request. No detail was ever given and it wasn’t until Mike Bell was elected to the School Board that anyone on the board ever bothered to ask. Ladner stonewalled Trustee Bell and of course Slabbed was there to cover it.

      http://slabbed.org/2015/04/22/the-roof-the-roof-the-roof-is-on-fire/

      There is another post where Slabbed revealed the Board was voting blind on financial matters with Superintendent Ladner withholding information that I know sent a couple of the Trustees and Ladner into orbit but I can’t put my fingers on it this morning.

      Here is what bothers me about paying, via no-bid contract, a CONsultant that supposedly handles PR for the District because this looks to me like the local good ol’ boy network is being greased.

      You can’t go to the AdLib Communications Facebook page and find out where it is physically located or even who owns it. There is a cell phone number listed that traces to Jennifer Bell, who is the spouse of a local lawyer that is very active in the same local democrat circles that Rebecca Ladner hangs with. Go to the Secretary of State website and we find AdLib Communications, LLC was created in March, 2011 and was subsequently dissolved in December 2014. Jennifer Bell is listed as a member along with Lisa Eveleigh. Back to the Facebook page, based on the posts it looks like AdLib does a fine job producing fliers and brochures but $27,000 a year for that is exorbitant.

      I look at that no-bid contract and all I see is the Mississippi West Coast version of Joe Cloyd the only difference is the school kids in Bay-Waveland are paying for it. It reeks.

      As Rachael says below, if money were truly allocated to the classroom instead of the Superintendent’s political buddies, maybe that woeful 17 average ACT score would come up a few points.

      I’ve never in my career auditing K12s seen an appointed Superintendent try to strong arm their Board of Trustees. Ms. Ladner went from having a Board of stooges to one where a majority 1. Are able to think for themselves and 2. Take their jobs as Trustees seriously instead of viewing it as a glamor appointment. My own opinion on the outside looking in is Ms. Ladner is time limited in her position.

      1. This post had a classic financial disclosure and governance quote.

        City of Bay St Louis asks Bay Waveland School Board for Municipal capital projects funding

        When the Business Manager took the podium to give the first update on the upcoming budget, he was interrupted early on by Trustee Benvenutti who asked, “Do you have any copies for the Board of the information you are reading from. I am not a CPA and certainly won’t remember all of this.”

        Superintendent Ladner spoke up and said that they didn’t really want people having this information on the budget at this time as it is a work in progress. Benvenutti shot back, “who do you mean by “people?’ We are the Board who will have to approve this budget, and I want this information. Can you arrange for it to be emailed to us no later than tomorrow?” Ladner agreed.

        1. My My Mr. Benvenutti, why so demanding on information now after all of these years??? Information has been brought to you before and you took no action. Glad to see you’re taking some initiative finally after all of these years. Lets see how far you go on standing up for the children of the district.

    1. The fracas at Waveland elementary involves a Rebecca Ladner hand picked Administrator that I am told lacks the credentials to hold the job and a long time employee of the district. Brute force management is not viable long term as an organizational strategy and it comes with a cost.

      1. You are exactly correct on this matter. The $60k involves the district (taxpayers) paying for Ladner to defend Sharon Sutherlin against not one, but 2 employees of Waveland Elementary. As a matter of fact, when these employees attempted to follow the grievance process and report Sutherlin they were ignored. They weren’t taken seriously or investigated until the employees hired an attorney. The “special attorney” would not have been needed, had Lader done her job and investigated the matter. Now, you have two employees paying outof their own pockets, fighting for fair treatment and the district (taxpayers) paying to keep them from being treated fairly. It is ridiculous! This is what you all should be outraged about! How can anyone of us expect teachers to treat our children fairly if we don’t demand the administrators treattach the teachers fairly?!

        1. Good to have you here with us and thank you for that insightful comment.

          Just an FYI there is another person that goes by the handle Outraged that is currently commenting here on the BSL City financial meltdown. It could get confusing.

  2. Outraged,
    Mr. Benvenutti left the Board last July of 2015. When I saw your post, I realized you must not have realized that, so I went to the Board minutes to make sure what month he left. I was there the night he read his letter of resignation, July 23, 2015.
    I researched the minutes this afternoon to make sure I had the month correct before I posted here, and guess what?!
    Bingo!! No record in the minutes of his resignation!!! I was there and witnessed him read his letter at the end of the meeting. And he has attended no meetings since.
    I could not believe my eyes. I read those minutes over and over. His reading of his letter of resignation is not mentioned in the minutes, there is no recording of the Board voting to accept it, nor is the letter attached to the minutes.
    Unreal.
    It made me think of what the Performance Auditor from the State Auditor’s Office recently told the Bay St. Louis City Council:
    “Minutes are legal documents, and public bodies speak only through their minutes. If it is not in the minutes, it did not happen.” Sam Atkinson, Office of the State Auditor
    So, did Benvenutti really resign or not legally?!
    What are we paying that Superintendent and her staff to run that office for us?!$$$$$

    1. Too much. I retired from that district after many years, and strong arm tactics goes on with teachers as well. I was happy to see Ms. Ladner had resigned. I also hope the two teachers fighting at Waveland Elementary win. I retired rather than bring a grievance, because I knew it would go nowhere. She had her “goons” in place, and there was no fighting them. I am enjoying my retirement, but remain interested in how things go in a school district or which I was once proud to be a part of. Thank you Lana for keeping the public informed. I don’t want my name dispersed please. Interested Viewer, or IV.

        1. Before everyone gets ahead of themselves, were the minutes ever submitted to the board for approval?

          KnowwhatImean?

          :-)

  3. Yes, Doug, the minutes were presented to the Board for their approval at the very next meeting on August 10, 2015. And all of them that witnessed Mike resign were present in August including the attorney. They get the minutes in their information packet prior to the meeting.
    Sherry should have caught this. She was Chairman. Good grief this was a resignation for crying out loud, and she was no novice. She was in her fifteenth year on the Board and Chairman for 10.
    How long do you have to peel potatoes to know which end of the knife to use???!!!
    And they all voted to approve them with no corrections!!
    To do a nunc pro tunc you are going back and correcting a previous “action.” Well, their problem is they took no action. According to their Board Policies, it is the responsibility of the Board Secretary to attest to the accuracy of the minutes. That would be Clevand Williams at that time!!! No comment.
    By the way, I forgot to mention that at Monday’s meeting this week, Waveland Board member Mike Bell made a motion to temporarily suspend the inter local agreement between the School Board and the City of Bay St. Louis. That agreement was created last summer about this time so the city of Bay St. Louis could accept $50,000 from the School District towards a sidewalk project in the Bay just because it happens to be “near” the high school. Yep, they were going to take my school taxes in Waveland to build sidewalks in Bay St. Louis. I told my Board of Aldermen in Waveland I don’t want my school taxes in Waveland doing city projects there either, much less in Bay St. Louis.
    The catalyst for Bell’s motion is the fact that the city of Bay St. Louis is refusing to waive permit fees for the school district for a construction project in the School District currently underway. The fees amounted to around $35,000.
    Apparently Bell’s position is “you can’t waive $35,000 for the School District right in your community, we can keep our $50,000.
    Sounds good to me. Not one student from Waveland was going to walk on that sidewalk anyway.
    And, the city of Waveland recently waived permit fees for a building project at Waveland Elementary.
    I believe it’s called operating out of courtesy rather than greed.

    1. So people don’t get the wrong idea Doug is not BSL Waveland Mad Libs!

      Thanks for the info that the minutes were apparently presented and approved without the resignation. (If the minutes are correct!) It is apparent that some people apparently don’t read what they are voting on before they vote on it.

  4. Maybe we will have someone on the Board that will really look out for the $$$and children of the county. Thank you Mike Bell. I always thought government entities especially a School Board would have the city waive their fees as a courtesy since they are servicing the children in the city and county?? Greedy Les, guess he is looking everywhere to find money to pay off all those loans. Watch out he might put a toll booth up at each end of city limits and charge to enter !!
    So did they ever approve Benvenutti’s resignation?

  5. No, Benvenutti’s resignation has not even been recorded in the minutes for the Board to act on.
    This responsibility will fall to new Board President Casey Favre and new Board Secretary Mark Kidd according to Board policy. Ponder and Williams dropped the ball.
    My guess is there will be more discovered to clean up than this.
    But minutes are serious and have to reflect “exactly what happens at meetings.”*
    *Attorney General’s opinion
    stated in Board Policy Book.

  6. Thanks, Doug, that’s what I thought. The school’s insurer is Stewart-Snead-Hewes. And, don’t I recall recently that the school’s insurer said that the school couldn’t change insurers because of some contract or something, when the school was considering re-bidding the insurance to get a better price? Just another example and evidence of the wide-spread corruption that Hewes and the rest of the dot-connected KoolAiders are engaged.

    How many of our other municipalities, schools, agencies, etc., have their insurance with Stewart-Sneed-Hewes and is it at the best or competitive pricing? How about it WLOX and Sun Herald – how about some investigative journalism or are your editors drinking the KoolAid. Stop padding the truth and misleading the public that everything is rosy on the Gulf Coast.

  7. Just spoke to a Bay St. Louis- Waveland School Board member and the news is:
    They are going into their meeting tonight “without” the financial information they have been directing the administration to provide them.
    Could you see this happening in the private sector at budget time?
    Maybe they ought to just not approve her budget and let her figure it out from there.
    Sounds like Bay St. Louis City
    Council trying to extract documents from the Mayor on information for which they are responsible??!!
    You can’t make this up!

    1. Going by the Miss. school district accounting manual the budget should have been adopted two weeks ago. One reason to start the process late is to get Board approval of budget via bums rush. The new fiscal year started last week. With no budget Superintendent Ladner does not have the statutory authority to spend a nickle in public funds.

  8. They voted to approve it last night 3 to 2. She skimmed by. I am assuming she can start issuing warrants and doesn’t have to wait until the minutes are approved next month.
    Wonder if she paid any last Friday. There was an increase in her and some other travel
    presented last night over what was presented just last week. Her worst moment was the removal of her “public relations” firm being removed from the contract approval list. Some educational company contracts are being tabled for further investigation as well.
    The big question, that was not posed last night, was how do the Superintendent and Curriculum Director justify these expenditures with the abismal ACT scores if 17.8 average this past year?!
    So, with no “fluff public relations” this year at our expense, I guess the only alternative to ward off all the “negative” publicity ( better known as the “truth”), they’ll have to actually perform.
    Imagine that!

  9. Is anyone curious about the results of the survey that the district paid $6k to conduct? Have they used the results to improve anything? Was that money and big waste?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *