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Money Talk Makes for Tense Bridgehampton School Board Meeting

Posted on 14 January 2009

By Marianna Levine

 

School finances were at the forefront of often tense discussions during Monday night’s Bridgehampton School Board meeting. Concerns over closing the school’s 2008 books, especially considering the lack of a business manager, carried over from a January 5 school board meeting with the school’s auditing committee. Phyllis Davis, of the auditing committee, worried about two management letters from the external auditor in September that suggested there needed to be some sort of corrective action taken in order to insure there is enough separation of duties in the business office so that the books may be closed properly for 2008. However she stated “there was no corrective action plan for that and it was supposed to go back to the superintendent for that” in this past week.

Superintendent Dianne Youngblood answered, “We’ve been trying to be very responsive to the audit committee’s concerns. I met with our accountant this week and I feel we’ll be able to successfully close our books.” The superintendent said she would also add a two-page letter specifically addressing the external auditor’s concerns about the school’s internal controls within the business office in the morning. Superintendent Youngblood added that the auditing committee had requested this two-page letter. Previously the committee felt the need for corrective action had been hidden within the extension request. The superintendent reassured, “we want to be entirely transparent.” The board was satisfied with this correction.

Shortly thereafter there was yet another report by Katherine Degroot and Jenice Delano concerning the district’s cost per student for out of district students. They had a slight modification from the last report since they realized they had neglected to add an approximately $800 cost per student for school lunches throughout the academic year. With this addition, out of district students cost the school about $2000 per pupil to educate. Board member Joe Berhalter took exception to this stating, “If the point of this report is that additional students cost only $2,000 per student then I don’t think the report’s assumption is correct. The assumption being that we’re expecting the taxpayers to cover the base cost of any additional students who are not contributing to the community. Saying it costs only $2000 to bring in extra students is not fair and not correct.”

Board member Elizabeth Kotz pointed out, “We have an out of district tuition policy in place now. It’s $11,500 for K-8, and $15,000 for the high school. You’re referring to an old tradition that had been in place for many, many years of keeping kids in district after their families had moved.” Kotz pointed out this wasn’t about any new students being brought in but rather a discussion of the cost of a few out of district students who had been admitted and then allowed to remain at the school prior to the creation of a tuition policy.

Berhalter caused a bit of an uproar when he added, “at the meeting this afternoon we were discussing doing additional studies.” All the board members wanted to know what meeting he was talking about and who the “we” was in his statement. Jenice Delano explained that the newly named, financial analysis committee had been talking about the cost of closing the high school. The subcommittee thought looking at the incremental cost per student in the high school was perhaps the next step in this process, and that by including 7th and 8th grade students the board may finally have a complete picture of all their per-student costs. Rick Delano re-phrased it, saying it was perhaps about the re-structuring of the high school. Ms. Kotz added, “I think we do have to put this on the table.”

However, the tensions didn’t end with this discussion. Superintendent Youngblood requested the transfer of about $30,000 from an account that was meant for wages into one for material supplies in order to buy new computers for the school. The school’s computers are currently about four or five years old and their technology plan is due to expire in 2011. Although the money had been budgeted for new computers at the end of next year, Dr. Youngblood wanted to purchase them now while there are was money available in the current budget. After the board voted this request down, Ms. Kotz said, “I’m a little upset about this because I don’t feel clear about the transfer. I’m saying ‘nay’ because I want to know why it’s going into material supplies and not into equipment.” Berhalter pointed out there wasn’t any money in the equipment fund, but others noted it could have been transferred into that fund now. Board President James Walker said the board needed at least a day or two to look the request over prior to approving it. The only board members to approve the transfer were Carol Kalish and Sue Hiscock.

They were also they only two board members who didn’t approve of a motion to rescind the resolution that authorized the approval of budget transfers of up to $10,000 by the superintendent. Dr Youngblood wanted to know why the board wanted to do this, because she told them it was customary for superintendents to have this authorization. Walker said there was some concern about the actual amount authorized.

Towards the end of the meeting there was confusion about the wording of a resolution concerning the application of a grant enabling the 12 Suffolk county school districts to buy supplies together. The resolution was to give Hampton Bays Superintendent Joanne Lowenthal authority to take the lead on this initiative, but the wording of the statement made it seem as if the Bridgehampton School district would have to pay to get some sort of grant. The district’s lawyer said he would work on the re-wording of the resolution that night.

In other news, school principal Jack Pryor invited the community to come watch the Inauguration with Bridgehampton students on Tuesday morning.

 

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