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.
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government