VAIDEN -- Financial advisor Bo Surrell gave clear reason on why he was appointed by the state to overlook finances in the Carroll County School District during last Thursday's regular meeting of the Carroll County School District.
Surrell's message was clear, the school district's financial situation is one that needs help and is not where it should be.
"I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture here," Surrell said. "The district has financial issues."
Surrell, who is only in his first week as financial advisor to the district, was asked by board president Laura Davis to give a presentation on his reasons for being sent into the district. The retired business manager for the Grenada School District for nearly 30 years, Surrell told an audience of approximately 100 people that he would be working in the district for three months.
"I've only been here for a few days," Surrell said. "But when I'm finished, I'll have a number of recommendations for the school district."
Surrell informed the audience that a negative balance of $35,463 in 16th Section principal funds caught the eye of the state and led to him being appointed by the Mississippi Department of Education.
As advisor, Surrell will approve or disapprove all expenditures and all financial obligations of the district.
According to the Mississippi Board of Education, aside from regulating all expenditures by the school district, Surrell will also ensure compliance with statutes and the state's rules and regulations concerning those expenditures.
"With 16th Section, you borrow money that you already have," Surrell said. "The school district has been borrowing this money since 2000."
According to Surrell, when the audit was completed by Joel Cunningham, a Belzoni certified public accountant, it showed that the district was at fault.
The audit stated that a material weakness of the district was a cash transfer of $35,463 between the district maintenance fund and other governmental funds that was not properly recorded causing the cash balance to be overstated. The overstatement was corrected by an audit adjustment. Business manager Mimi Alldread stated the transfer was the problem.
Dissecting the finances
In his first week, Surrell told the board that he had looked into the payroll, as many times staffing is an issue with districts.
"In many cases, payroll and benefits in general represent 75 percent of budgets," Surrell said. "I wanted to see if there are any wild savings."
Surrell said he looked at Marshall Elementary first but had not looked into George Middle School and J.Z. George High.
"There's one teacher for every 22 students and one teacher for every 27 students, with an assistant at the elementary school," Surrell said. "There are no excess units at the elementary school, and you're doing exactly what's required."
Surrell compared the Carroll County School District to 13 other school districts in Mississippi, while analyzing its revenue and expenditures. Surrell compared the CCSD with similar districts in Winona, Montgomery County, Oktibbeha County, Enterprise, Aberdeen, Attala County, Leland, Perry County, West Tallahatchie, East Jasper, Amite County, Kemper County and South Delta.
He based those comparisons on enrollment, assessed valuation and operating millage rates. Surrell said in the millage rate, the school district was "dead last," and it was seventh in enrollment and assessed valuation. Although last in comparison rankings, at around $64,000, the Carroll County mill is more than the compared counties.
Still Surrell said it is too early for any assumptions, and he will work diligently to help the district with their issues. He said the district faces challenges ahead of them, and it will take a combination of increased revenue and decreased expenses.
"It's premature to offer suggestions and recommendations," Surrell said. "I will be here until late May or June and before I leave, I will."
Harges named new principal
Fletcher Harges was hired as principal of Marshall Elementary.
Superintendent Billy Joe Ferguson said he had worked with several Marshall Elementary teachers before selecting a new principal, and Harges, an assistant superintendent in the Leflore County School District was chosen.
Beat Five Trustee Rubye Miller made the motion while Davis seconded it. The vote passed 3-1-1 with Beat One Trustee Kenneth Deloach voting against the motion and Beat Two Trustee Donnie Wiltshire abstaining. Beat Three Trustee Daniel Vest voted for the hire.