Monitor school spending, but stop the bullying


Sunday, August 27, 2017

We hope a new financial report on the Currituck County Schools puts to rest recent questions by Currituck commissioners about the school district’s financial transparency and stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

We also hope it leads commissioners to reverse their recent call for an expensive, unneeded outside audit of the school district’s finances, and ends some commissioners’ meddling in areas where they shouldn’t meddle: school personnel and programming. 

The financial report, presented to the Currituck Board of Education several weeks ago, shows the school district has saved about $6,800 in local dollars during the current fiscal year that began in June. It has done so, the report shows, even though the district faced a more-than-$357,000 gap between its projected expenses for the year and the number of local dollars county commissioners agreed to give the schools.

According to the report, Currituck commissioners agreed to give the schools $9,975,958 in local funds this year. While that’s an increase of $202,958 from last year, it’s less than what the schools requested and not enough to cover the district’s $560,000 in additional expenses this year.

The schools managed the shortfall, though. Through a combination of position cuts — including two assistant principal jobs — and savings on items like insurance and garage costs, the district found $363,975 to offset its increased expenses. If you add that to the additional $202,958 commissioners allocated, you come up with the $6,796 in savings the district is now reporting. Those funds apparently will go into the district’s fund balance to be used when needed. 

Paul Beaumont, the school district’s most vocal critic on the Currituck Board of Commissioners, seemed pleased with the report, but told Daily Advance Staff Writer Reggie Ponder last week it’s still not the detailed report on school finances he says commissioners are seeking. He also gave no indication the report will change commissioners’ minds about ordering a county-funded special audit of the school district’s finances — a review that could cost county taxpayers as much as $50,000. 

Beaumont has been critical of Currituck school officials’ handling of a number of matters, some financially related, some not. For example, while questioning how the school district had spent millions of dollars from its fund balance in recent years, he also questioned a district decision not to fill a physical education teacher position. From his comments at that commissioners meeting in July, it appeared Beaumont thought the position should be filled. 

The expenditure of taxpayer funds by any county entity is and should be a continuing matter of interest for county commissioners, and Beaumont’s not wrong to raise questions about how school funds are spent. County boards of commissioners are, after all, the elected entity in our state charged with the responsibility for raising property taxes to pay for, among other things, school needs. Therefore, they need to know taxpayer funds are being spent wisely before they agree to any tax increase.

That said, county commissioners are not elected to decide how school districts choose to fill school positions. That’s a matter  that’s supposed to be within the purview of an elected school board and its appointed officials. Beaumont should not be weighing in on school personnel matters. It’s OK for him to hold an opinion on school hiring as a private citizen, but as a county commissioner he should refrain from expressing it publicly. By doing so, he seems to be bullying school officials.

Also concerning was Beaumont’s recent decision to ask fellow Currituck commissioners to visit Veritas Collegiate Academy, a private Christian school in Chesapeake, Va. Explaining to Staff Writer Bill West the reasons for the trip, Beaumont was quick to point out it wasn’t an attempt to impose his religious views on the Currituck school district. He didn’t deny, however, that the excursion was an effort to affect how Currituck students are educated in the classroom. Indeed, he said the purpose of the tour was “categorically, absolutely” that. Veritas offers students what Beaumont describes as a “classical education,” and he apparently believes the Currituck schools could benefit from some of its practices. 

While there’s nothing wrong with public officials visiting a private school to see up close its educational methods — only Beaumont and one other commissioner made the trip — it is wrong when the official scheduling the trip isn’t a school official but instead someone who exercises control over a key part of the schools’ financing. That, too, seems like bullying to us.

As we said earlier, it’s unclear if the report on the $6,800 the Currituck schools saved this year will have much effect on Beaumont and other commissioners’ criticism of how the schools spend local dollars. We would think, however, that commissioners would at least give up their call for a costly independent audit of the district. Such audits usually are only conducted when there’s a real suspicion of malfeasance or misappropriation. No such allegations have been raised. Which makes us wonder whether the call for an audit isn’t just another bullying tactic. If it is, it needs to stop. 

Besides, there is a better option available to commissioners who want to know how the schools are spending money: they can resign their current seats and run for the school board next year.