Wise school official suggests joint committee

Stephen Igo • Apr 5, 2007 at 11:24 AM

WISE - The Wise County school division's chief finance officer on Thursday urged the Board of Supervisors to join with the school system to create a fiscal review committee so the two boards can maintain an open flow of information, particularly during annual budget deliberations, and perhaps reduce friction between them.

Schools Finance Director Ron Vicars made the proposal during Thursday's Board of Supervisors workshop session.

On tap was a public hearing on a proposed ordinance supervisors are considering to require more detailed information from the Wise County School Board about how county tax dollars are spread across the school division's eight expenditure categories.

Vicars did not address the proposed ordinance issue directly. Instead, he thanked the supervisors for historically joining the school division in a "partnership" to ensure adequate funding for the county's public schools.

Vicars said the county's $14 million helps provide salary increases, adequate staffing, aides, technology equipment, instructional materials, facility improvements, safe transportation, and special education resources.

"There are still a lot of needs," he said, including facilities upgrades "excluding the high schools," and added that teachers' salaries "are still way below the state average."

As partners, Vicars said, the school division and the county can "go forward."

He recommended two supervisors join a committee to discuss all school financial matters on an ongoing basis, but especially during the annual budget review process.

Two school board members and administrative staff from the county and school division would fill out the proposed committee, which would meet regularly in public sessions.

Vicars said the committee should help create "a better working relationship" between the two boards, because "only with the cooperation of the two boards can (challenges) be overcome."

Marlene Bush of Exeter, a supporter of Appalachia High School and an opponent of school consolidation, asked the board if the proposed category spending ordinance was a means to withhold funds from the school system. She said supervisors "should not hold the children ransom."

County Attorney Karen Mullins told Bush the proposed ordinance has nothing to do with withholding funds, but stipulates an expectation of more detailed financial information from the school division.

Bush also said county taxpayers should not have to foot travel expenses for a trip, apparently on Wednesday, to Letcher County, Ky., by Supervisor Robert Adkins and Wise County Administrator Glen "Skip" Skinner to check out a brand-new consolidated high school facility.

Adkins responded to Bush at the conclusion of Thursday's session during the supervisor comment period. He said if he knew the county was paying for the trip, he wouldn't have forked the money for gas out of his own wallet. Otherwise, Adkins said the visit to the new consolidated high school facility in Letcher County was "very informative, very educational, and a delight to see what you can purchase for ‘X' dollars."

Adkins said he recommended anyone to visit the new Kentucky high school.

"Those people are very proud of it," he said, "and they got a lot for their money."

During the earlier public comment period, Bush and her husband, Larry Bush, scolded the board for appearing to second-guess the school board about renovating the county's six high schools.

The school board voted for a renovations plan, and delivered the goods, which is what supervisors demanded in a resolution last year, Marlene Bush said. That plan was unveiled on Feb. 27 with a $109.5 million price tag.

If supervisors refuse to support the funding needed for renovations, she said coal-producing communities like Appalachia should keep their coal severance taxes themselves, or else get signatures to force a referendum on the renovations/consolidation issue. Currently the county collects coal severance taxes.

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