'Misinformation' cited in funding talks

Feb. 01, 2014 @ 03:58 PM

Union County Public Schools Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck released a letter Friday addressing comments made by members of the Union County Board of County Commissioners and recent e-mails to parents upset by potential redistricting. 

Yercheck wrote the letter to address comments he called misleading. 

"The issue of redistricting students from one school zone to another is always difficult, especially in a rapidly growing county," Yercheck wrote. "It does not help when misleading financial information is injected into the discussion. Recent comments by and e-mails from some Union County Commissioners have been cited by some parents who have been told that the Union County Public Schools has ample funds available to address school facility needs without redistricting. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Union County Public Schools welcomes an opportunity to set the matter straight." 

Yercheck addressed a claim that the school system has about $18 million to use as it pleases. 

"At least one Commissioner has stated that the school system had $18 million in fund balance according to its last audit, with the suggestion that this amount is available for the Board of Education to use it as it pleases," Yercheck wrote. "Others are quoted as suggesting the school system has money that could be used for school expansion. Neither assertion is true. In fact, only $745,771 of the school fund balance is unrestricted and not already assigned for other purposes, less than 0.3 percent of the overall school system budget."

County Commissioners Chairman Frank Aikmus said in an interview that he appreciated the note and finds some of it a little interesting. 

"Mr. Yercheck starts out by stating...it does not help when misleading information is injected into discussions. I certainly agree with that," Aikmus said. 

He said there has been "no shortage of misinformation" since the onset of the trial. 

Aikmus said he found it curious when Yercheck referred to the $9.5 million the commissioners are considering for roofing repairs. He said he did not think there were any terms or conditions applied to the funding and said he was not sure where Yercheck thought that was a point of discussion. 

"In my opinion, it's the school's money now to fix the roofs," Aikmus said. 

Aikmus is referring to a part in the letter where Yercheck wrote, "If the Commissioners decide to appropriate the additional $9.5 million for roofs without imposing unacceptable terms and conditions, the Board of Education will be obligated to spend those funds for their designated purpose: repairing or replacing specifically identified portions of roofs."

In a letter from Aikmus dated Jan. 21, the commissioners offered to appropriate about $9.5 million for roofing repairs.

The letter stated that the proposed appropriation should not be seen as a settle to appeal the jury's verdict rendered last year. It said that regardless of the outcome of the county's appeal, the roughly $5.4 million appropriated by the county in October of last year will be credited to pay the balance of the school's 2013-2014 capita outlay budget request. 

The letter said that the county would immediately appropriate the rought $9.5 million to be used solely for those roofing projects identified in the spreadsheet attached to a letter form the school board from January, along with the emerging roofing project at Parkwood High School. The district would use its best efforts to expedite the repair and/or replacement of the roofs prior to the end of the current fiscal year. 

The  letter said that if the county's appeal fails, the school system would credit about $15 million against the jury's verdict, which would include the $9.5 million and about $5.3 million from last year. It states that if the county's appeal prevails and the school district is not entitled to a retrial,  the roughly $5.4 million appropriation would be credited against the 2013-2014 capital outlay request. If the county wins the appeal and there is a retrial, the letter requests that the roughly $15 million be credited against any future verdicts. 

Aikmus said he gets two or three e-mails a week about the potential redistricting and hears about it from neighbors or constituents when he is at events. 

"The school board has a big job on their plate to figure this out," Aikmus said. "Far be it for me to weigh in on how they handle it." 

He said that is basically what he tells people when they discuss potential redistricting with him. 

Yercheck explained in his letter that the $18 million cited is the sum of four separate funds, as dictated by law. 

"The first fund, the General Fund (or Local Current Expense Fund), had a fund balance on June 30, 2013, of $5,561,607, of which $1,935,199 is restricted by law from any expenditure whatsoever. Of the remaining $3,626,408 in funds not restricted by law, $2,880,637 was already assigned (designated) for expenditures contained in the Board of Education’s 2013-14 budget. This leaves only $745,771 of unassigned fund balance available for expenditures not yet identified. Sound budgeting practices dictate that the Board of Education retain some available fund balance for liquidity purposes and for emergencies," Yercheck wrote.

He added that $745,771 is a very small amount for a district of their size, about less than 1 percent of their budget. 

Aikmus said he agrees with Yercheck about sound budgeting practices and the need to keep a fund balance for liquidities. He said that the county does and noted that they were even criticized for it during the trial.

Yercheck said in his letter that suggestions that the school's fund balance would have any impact on the current situation is unhelpful. 

"Both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education are well aware that neither the school system’s fund balance nor the additional capital outlay funding provided in October, nor the $9.5 million presently being considered by the Board of Commissioners would have any impact whatsoever on school expansions or redistricting. To suggest otherwise is not helpful to an informed public," Yercheck wrote.

Aikmus said in an interview that he has requested a joint meeting between the two boards, as former Chairman Jerry Simpson did in the past. He said that to continue to use the media and press releases to communicate is "non-productive." He said the citizens deserve better. 

"If ever there was a time for us to sit down and start discussing things...it's now," Aikmus said. "I truly believe that's the only way we're going to move this forward. There's a lot of bitterness, I think, between our boards and I think a lot of it is perceived rather than actual." 

"I really believe that as two elected bodies, we need to sit down and work through this," Aikmus said. "We serve the same constituency and we owe it to them to work together to fix the issues at hand instead of just pointing fingers." 

He said he was not just talking about on the school board's side, but finger-pointing ont he commissioner's side as well. 

"Finger-pointing and name-calling accomplishes nothing...we've got to sit down and iron things out," Aikmus said. 

The full text of Yercheck's letter is available online at the school district's website or on enquirerjournal.com.