By ASHLEY AMASON
Tempers reached their boiling point at the March 3 regular meeting of the Walton County School Board over a proposal made by member Darrell Barnhill to lower the purchase order limit from $25,000 to $10,000.
Currently, district employees are able to purchase equipment and services up to $25,000 without seeking the board’s approval. Anything over that amount must be brought to the board’s attention.
Board member Mark Davis commented, “When I’m talking about lay-offs and eliminating middle school sports, I want to know where every penny is going. I recommend we move it down to $5,000.”
Board member Mildred Wilkerson disagreed with Davis and Barnhill. “We are all in financial difficulty at this time, but I think that management is doing a very good job, and we do sit here each night [and review] Mr. McCall’s report on what is being spent. I can’t see us going down as long as we know things are being done correctly.”
However, board member Sharon Roberts agreed with Davis and Barnhill. “When we’re talking about the possibility of laying off 92 employees, at this point I want to know how many paper clips you are buying and I think $5,000 in these economic times is very lenient. If it were me recommending the amount, it’d be much less.”
Superintendent Anderson then addressed the board and Barnhill specifically, saying, “First of all, I really don’t understand your need to address this at this time. For four years, you’ve not had any significant audit criticism for purchasing, and you’ve never expressed any concerns to me or Mr. McCall for any spending of large purchases between $15,000 and $25,000. Last year, we had an 18-percent fund balance, which I don’t think represents poor management or reckless spending. In fact, this is fiscal management that you have not questioned in the past nor have you had reason to doubt, and the only reason I can imagine you would consider it from this point is not as a budget reduction or oversight stand-point, but rather putting more controls on management.”
Anderson continued to say, “I think lowering the spending limits would definitely delay our capital projects by delaying direct purchasing and reduce services to our schools by delaying immediate needs being met.”
She explained the purchase order limit of $25,000 was set in 2003 with food service orders in mind which range from $5,000-$24,000 per school monthly. Additionally, it would not save money to reduce the purchase order limit, instead costing money to call special meetings to approve purchasing (increasing travel for the board and those claiming the orders).
Anderson ended saying, “In previous discussion, this all seems to stem from one problem, from one contract for one individual. This contract, like all others – if I was going to consider that it be renewed, it would be brought to the board for your approval. So if this one contract for one individual is causing this bottlenecking of purchase orders, I would contend that this is unnecessary and potentially a costly venture.”
“My only comment was,” Barnhill replied, “Ms. Anderson, this, my proposal, has nothing to do with a contract. I’ve not mentioned anything about contracts or anything else and it’s no reflection. I’d be willing to go back to the $25,000 when we get through with this crisis. We worked under $5,000 for 20-something years. I want to say publicly it has nothing to do with a particular contract. So I don’t know who that was meant for but it wasn’t meant for me.”
Chairman Bill Laird weighed in on the issue, “To me, [it’s] micromanagement and, in my opinion and I think in the opinion of what a school board member’s statement of his duties are, to not try to micromanage the school district.”
Supervisor of Operations Wayne Miller, Coordinator of Technology and Information Dewayne Geoghagan, Supervisor of Instruction and Curriculum Marsha Pugh, and Coordinator of Exceptional Student Education and Psychology Services Rosemary Ragle all addressed the board asking the purchase order limit not be reduced, agreeing such micromanagement would delay immediate needs being met and conflict with deadlines.
In response to their request, Roberts’ stated, “I want to be able to tell [employees who are facing lay-offs] I know exactly what we’re spending our money on,” to which Chairman Laird asked, “My question there is, everything we do in the school district is public record…we can find out how every penny here is being spent.”
After listening to comments from the board and employees, Barnhill offered a compromise of keeping the purchase order at $25,000 with anything over $5,000 having to be bid. Complaints erupted from the room and Superintendent Anderson remarked, “That’s even worse.”
Barnhill then declared, “I will [motion] that we amend the policy from $25,000 to $10,000.” Roberts seconded the motion. The board voted to pass the motion 3-2, Wilkerson and Laird opposing.
In closing, the board set a budget workshop that was held Tuesday, March 10, in the Walton High School auditorium at 5 p.m. Additionally, a second workshop will be held on March 17 at 3 p.m., before the regular meeting.