Source: Sherman Publications

Cowan resigns after ‘discrepancies discovered’

by Susan Bromley

March 16, 2011

Brandon Twp.- The school board accepted a letter of resignation from former Executive Director of Fiscal Affairs Jamie Cowan on Monday, more than two months after she took an unexplained leave of absence from the district.

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon announced Cowan’s resignation at the March 14 board meeting. School Board Treasurer Greg Allar said that the finance committee “discovered discrepanices and called in additional resources confirming our suspicions.”

Cowan has been on leave since Jan. 10. The former Lewis & Knopf audit manager was hired by the district in 2008 to replace Gary Kelley, who retired. In 2008, the district managed a $413,000 surplus, with total revenue of $30,187,429 and total expenses of $29,773,780. The projected ending fund balance was a healthy $4,256,608, or 14 percent.

However, in 2009, the board faced a budget shortfall of $1.1 million and in 2010, saying the district was facing “a fall off the cliff,” Cowan formulated a budget plan approved by the board that included $3.5 million in cuts. The cuts were achieved by offering an early retirement incentive for various staffmembers, as well as lay-offs, reduction of secretary/media/clerk services, reduction of the technology and maintenance budgets, decreased curriculum purchases, and elimination of the police liaison officer position.

After an audit revealed a $500,000 surplus in August, some teachers and paraprofessionals were returned to classrooms.

The district has contracted with Steve Lenar, the assistant superintendent of administrative services for the Holly Area School District since 1997. The two districts are sharing his services and Lenar’s contract with Brandon calls for him to be paid $23,220 to act as finance director for the district until the end of June.

The school board approved an amended 2010-2011 budget with a deficit of $1,332,156. Cowan had originally projected a deficit of $606,543. The board will take the $1.3 million from the fund balance, taking the rainy day fund down to $2,444,960, or 7.85 percent of the total budget. Boardmembers and McMahon have previously said they would like to have a fund balance between 12-15 percent.

McMahon confirmed that Cowan’s resignation was due in part to inadequate projections of expenditures for the 2010-2011 school year. She said the board will make a decision on a permanent replacement as part of the budget process this spring.