Source: Sherman Publications

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Audit finds extra $500K in district books, staff added

by Susan Bromley

September 22, 2010

Brandon Twp.- "Found" money is a pleasant surprise to many— whether it's a $5 bill tucked in a jacket pocket or maybe $20 crumpled at the bottom of a wallet.

School district officials recently were quite happy to experience "found" money— just over $500,000, discovered in a budget audit.

Representatives from Lewis & Knopf, the district's auditing firm, presented results from the 2010 audit to the finance committee on Sept. 20, showing a surplus of roughly $507,000 in the budget.

"The budget variance this year is $500,000 instead of $1 million," said Jamie Cowan, executive director of fiscal affairs for the district. "We are under 1 percent of the budget. I'm very proud of that."

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon explained that out of a budget of $32 million, the district managed to spend $500,000 less than anticipated due to conservative efforts in lean economic times.

"It's not really that much, and it didn't cure a problem by any means, but it will help us put some staffing back in," she said.

When McMahon first learned in mid-August that the district would have a surplus and could restore some of the cuts made to the budget, she and boardmembers allocated $325,000 to staffing Kindergarten through sixth grades. The addition of teachers alleviated class sizes that had more than 30 students. Now, the largest class has 28 students.

On Monday night, McMahon presented a restoration plan for the remainder of the $507,000 surplus, which includes decreasing class sizes at the middle school and high school, adding back hours for paraprofessionals, and reinstatement of in-school suspension.

Finance committee members agreed to recommend to the board adding a full-time math teacher for two trimesters at the middle school at a cost of $42,000; additional music instruction at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School to cover an unexpected increase in music students at a cost of $11,555; two sections of physical science for two trimesters at the high school, taught by existing teachers (who will use their conference hour) at a cost of $9,600; a section of U.S. history as well as ELA at the high school for two trimesters at a cost of $7,272 each.

The new classes will be added after Thanksgiving in order to avoid a disruption in the current trimester. Officials were also conscious of MEAP testing, which takes place next month, in making their decision.

The committee also supports replacing four hours of non-instructional paraprofessional support daily in cafeterias and assisting students on and off buses for example, at a cost of $54,200; and restoring in-school suspension at the middle school and high school at a cost of $25,000.

The restoration plan had eight items listed in order of importance and was determined by McMahon, school principals, and Curriculum Director Joanna McKinney. The final four items, an increase in custodial hours, department heads, Saturday school, and assistant coaches, were not discussed in detail at the finance committee meeting due to a lack of funds. The third item on the list, the school liaison officer, was discussed at a cost of $90,000, but passed over in favor of adding back in-school suspension, a less expensive option.

McMahon said that after easing class sizes, restoring paraprofessional time and reinstating in-school suspension, only about $20,000 remains. She is still seeking options on getting the school liaison officer position back, including sharing the position and cost with Oxford Schools, or using 31A funds, a state grant for at-risk students. That money is already allocated, however, for literacy support, after school programs, social workers, and alternative education programs.

"We would like to have him back," said McMahon. "We've had no serious incidents so far, but he adds a lot of emotional support and he knows and keeps track of the kids. He's a very positive influence in the school buildings. We're not as comfortable because we don't have that immediate support."

Anita Abrol, certified public accountant with Lewis & Knopf, said the audit was "clean" and the district has adequate checks and balances. Audit results will be presented at the next school board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m., Oct. 11, at the Instructional Technology Exploration and Collaboration Center (I-TEC), located adjacent to the Brandon Middle School, 609 S. Ortonville Road.