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BCPS fund balance notes huge increase

WINDSOR – Ten months have passed since Gerrellene Walker said she nearly had a heart attack upon seeing the unrestricted fund balance within the Bertie County Public Schools budget.

Now, both Walker and the fund balance have recovered nicely.

On Monday, Walker, who owns the Tarboro auditing firm under contract by the Bertie Board of Education to inspect the school system’s finances, informed the board that the fund balance has grown from $25,000 to $957,000.

“Sacrifices were made to accomplish the financial goals set by the education administrators here in Bertie County,” Walker said. “Those good business decisions are reflective of where your fund balance is today.”

She continued, “This didn’t come without sacrifices, but you can see with proper management what can happen. The staff here within Bertie Public Schools needs to be commended for keeping the budget under control.”

BCPS Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, who joined the school system last year amid allegations of financial mismanagement, was pleased with Walker’s report.

“I personally thank the staff and the department heads for their attention to detail,” Dr. Collins-Hart said. “We all buckled down. It has been a difficult year, but we can now see how our hard work paid off.”

Bertie School Board Chairman Seaton Fairless, who is retiring next month, encouraged his colleagues to not let the fund balance deteriorate.

Additionally, Walker said her audit revealed no violations were found in the management of federal and state funds that come into the BCPS system.

As Dr. Collins-Hart was joining the Bertie system in June of 2005, an audit ordered by the Bertie County Commissioners scolded the county’s educational leaders for a sub-par job of handling their finances, internal programs and system-owned cell phones as well as mismanaging their fleet of county vehicles. There were also accusations of mis-use of credit cards by senior administrators, an allegation now being investigated by the SBI.

Walker and Dr. Collins-Hart immediately launched a plan to clean-up the system’s finances while the School Board began to implement new policies and procedures to prevent any future problems.

Among the immediate areas on which Dr. Collins-Hart focused her financial attention was ensuring that the system was not spending more than it was taking in to operate. She noted that the system’s operating budget had declined over the past five years, but its operational costs remained unchanged. She said that left the school board with no other alternatives than to tap into the fund balance to run the existing programs.

That fund balance, one which Walker said should remain in the $1.25 million range for a school system the size of Bertie’s, came tediously close to running completely dry before administrators were able to develop financial strategies that have now breathed new life into the ailing school system.