Board at odds over finance office position

Published 9:46 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

WINDSOR – During their regular meeting here Tuesday night, members of the Bertie County Board of Education clashed over a proposal to add a staff member.

School board members were at odds over a proposal from Interim Superintendent Dr. Will Crawford to replace a position in the Finance Office he had originally hoped to leave vacant.

Dr. Crawford began his presentation by sharing information with the board about the number of students, staff and finance positions that were currently in Bertie County Schools, Hertford County Public Schools, Martin County Schools, Northampton County Schools, Roanoke Rapids City Schools and Warren County Schools.

In all cases, other districts had more personnel (five in each district, for except the eight in Martin County) whether or not they had less personnel and students than Bertie.

Dr. Crawford said each of the counts included the district’s Finance Officer.

“We are asking you to look at the finance staffing,” he said. “Our staffing is inconsistent with staffing for a system our size.”

Board member Pamela Chamblee asked if the other systems had a secretary that was included in the head count of financial staffers.

Dr. Crawford said no secretaries were included, simply people who worked in the finance office.

“We wanted to make sure we were comparing apples to apples,” he said.

The interim superintendent said the staffing situation was partially his own decision as he had not recommended replacing a staff person that retired.

“It’s partially my fault,” he said. “The reason I never came back to you to replace that position was to save funds, particularly in light of the fund balance being very bad. The fund balance now is much better.”

Dr. Crawford then turned his attention to the supporting documentation, which showed work that is lagging because of the lack of staffing.

According to the information provided to the board, the school district has not been reconciling the hospitalization account monthly, resulting in a situation where approximately $24,000 is due to employees and $24,000 due to Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

In addition, the retirement withholding has not been reconciled, salary audit exception are not being cleared as they occurr, individual school audit procedures are being neglected, budget amendments are not reported properly and there are numerous audit findings dealing with inadequate internal control and separation of functions.

“There are a number of things that have not been properly handled because the staff has not had the time,” he said. “The current staff is working overtime regularly to get in line from the situations in the past, but they must have help.”

Chamblee asked if the board had not already hired a new person for finance when they created an Assistant Finance Officer position.

Dr. Crawford said that action did not create a new position, but simply took an individual and reclassified her job. He added that the audit had noted many exceptions because of the separation of jobs and that another person was needed to handle that task.

“What if you hire someone and you are still short,” Chamblee asked. “Are we going to eight?”

The interim superintendent said he believed five would be sufficient.

Chamblee then asked if he was going to advertise the position outside the district and Dr. Crawford answered that because of staff cutbacks, all positions were being advertised internally only.

Board Chair Gloria Lee asked how long the finance office had been dealing with issues as they are now and if that coincided with the retirement Dr. Crawford mentioned.

“It dates before that,” he said. “We have been trying to get the staff in order and clean up what was done before.”

He added that if the new position eliminated all of the errors, it would actually be a cost-saving measure.

Chamblee then asked the superintendent if the position was to be properly advertised and interviewed for or if it has been “promised to somebody.”

Board member Emma Johnson said the addition of a person in finance didn’t sit well with her and questioned the need.

Dr. Crawford referred her back to the information and said it was important to have the help.

Chamblee then asked if the board could discuss the matter in closed session and Board Attorney Rod Malone said components of it could, including the job performance of the current staff.

Dr. Crawford reminded the board of the audit.

“We have a letter that Mrs. Lee will have to sign saying how we intend to provide the separation of services,” he said. “My recommendation is to add this person and get things in order.

“You shouldn’t punish individuals in the Finance Office because I was trying to be conservative with funds,” he added.

Board member Alton Parker asked if Finance Officer Lynn Harrold wanted to add anything to the conversation.

Harrold said the issues the department was facing were in place before she came aboard and again noted the audit exceptions from the previous year.

She added that she would train the person unless there was a candidate who had many years of financial experience.

“Have you started searching,” Chamblee asked.

“No ma’am, I can’t look for a position until it has been approved by the school board,” Harrold replied. “It is my desire to have things cleared up as soon as possible because it reflects on me and on the school system.”

The board then voted to table the matter until after closed session.

Upon returning from that closed session, Parker made a motion to approve the request to add the person to the finance staff. Upon voting, the measure carried by a 3-2 vote with Johnson and board member Rickey Freeman voting in favor. Lee and Chamblee voted against the measure.

Chamblee asked if a timetable was to be set.

“We voted to give them the (additional) staff to catch up from the mess that was dumped in their laps,” Parker said. “Until the person is on board, you can’t set a timetable.”