Education News

School District has $56.5 million in unrestricted reserves

February 27, 2012

The Escambia County Public School District has accumulated $56.5 million in unrestricted reserves, or 21.1 percent of total General Fund expenditures, according to the 2011 Superintendent’s Annual Financial Report.

Supt. Malcolm Thomas and his school board have more than doubled these reserves since he took office in 2008 ( see CAFR_ECSC_2010Print-02), despite the state cutting its funding twice. How did they do it? It appears the district has accomplished this by under-spending on instruction — $9.94 million in 2009, $16.2 million in 2010.

Escambia County’s unrestricted reserves are significantly greater than those of Santa Rosa ($21 million) and Okaloosa ($8.4 million)—both of which are higher ranked school districts than Escambia.

In fact, Escambia County has more unrestricted General Fund reserves than any of the top 10 school districts in Florida. The closest is the #1 School District – St. John’s County (St. Augustine area) with $32.2 million, or 15% percent of total General Fund expenditures.

Each year in his budget statement, the Superintendent says that he will need a portion of the unreserved fund balance to cover planned expenditures but he anticipates that the fund balance will be replenished. Thomas has done more than replenish.

In the 2009 CAFR, he planned to use $7.3 million in 2009-10 fiscal year, instead he grew, by June 30, 2010, the unrestricted fund balance by nearly $8.5 million.

In the 2010 CAFR, he planned to use $10.3 million in 2010-11 fiscal year, instead he grew, by June 30, 2011, the unrestricted fund balance by nearly $23.6 million.

This year Supt. Thomas, with the school board’s approval, says he will use “46.3 million of unreserved fund balance to cover planned expenditures during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The District anticipates that a portion of the reserves will be replenished at year-end through unspent appropriations and actual property tax revenue receipts in excess of budgeted amounts.” Can we trust his projections considering how he not only replenished them in 2010 and 2011, but significantly built them up?

I have shown these figures to several leaders in the community. The best observation has been: “Malcolm and the school board have been very efficient at delivering a substandard project.”

What bothers me about Thomas and Friends (school board) hoarding money and not spending the funds on the children:

1) Supt. Thomas insisted that Friendship Missionary Baptist Church had to pay at least $1 million for the dilapidated Brownsville Middle School because he desperately needed the funds of his “cash-strapped” school district. Now we know that he could have given away the closed school.

2) The Escambia County Teachers Union has to be the worse union in the state for not getting bonuses and raises for its members, while the district added $32 million to its unrestricted reserves. It’s a real slap in the faces of the teachers who supported Thomas so heavily in 2008.

3) Whoever runs against Thomas and board members Bill Slayton and Patty Hightower will have about $20 million to immediately turnaround the school district if they are elected.

You Might Also Like

  • George Hawthorne February 27, 2012 at 7:04 pm


    I would add three more items to your list of what bothers me about the school district hoarding funds:

    4) The superintendent is trying to close A.A.Dixon based upon their budget shortfalls charter school after “bleeding” them dry with renting buses has cost A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence $150,000 a year on transportation. Also, one of the big justifications for closing A.A. Dixon Charter School is that it had nearly $100,000 operating deficit in its first school year, 2010-2011. Yet however, the School District failed to give A.A. Dixon $70,000 in Title I funds to which the school was entitled because of the high enrollment of economically disadvantage student. I think the School District still hasn’t been paid those funds.

    5) Escambia County has 8 out of 50 schools that met Annual Yearly Progress requirements last year–no high schools did. The only middle school that did is the magnet school Brown Barge. Why not spend some money on tutors and afterschool programs?

    6) Out of the 67 counties in Florida, Escambia County ranked 44th, placing it in the bottom third of the state-even though it got a B grade. Thirty-five percent of the district’s students read below Level 3 (out of 5), 32% below Level 3 for Math and 52% below Level 3 for Science. Thirty-nine percent showed no improvements in reading last year; 34% in math. Why not create some remedial programs and teaching specialist?

  • Dale Parker February 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I do not see what the problem is here. The School Board is looking forward to leaner years. The Governor has already put everyone on notice that there are more severe budget cuts along the way. The Federal Government is broke and bankrupt.

    As for an education, I have a kid in a top college who graduated from a Public School in Escambia County. In fact, lots of kids graduate and move on to college or their careers and do well.

    I am a bit dismayed as to why Rick Outzen continues to blast Malcolm Thomas. He has done a good job. Closed schools that were not cost effective. Provided education to several thousand student.

    What I have not seen is Rick holding parents accountable. Parents that do not support their kids education. Parents that are largely absent from their children’s lives giving them NO direction. Parents who themselves lack discipline, therefore cannot hold their children accountable. You cannot blame a school system for the lack of parental involvement or direction. Every day teachers deal with students that refuse to their homework or disrupt their classes, I ask how is Malcolm Thomas to blame for this? They have policies and procedures available to address discipline issues, however, what about those that just do not care. How does a teacher take a student who comes from a background where generations of family members did not find education important.

    Taking this a step further, what do you do with a child who’s home is so disruptive that he / she cannot concentrate? Drug deals going on in the living room at all hours of the day and night and if he/she even knows their dad or mother, it si quite possible that several generations are either locked up in prison or have been.

    What I am looking for Mr Outzen, what is your solution? Malcolm Thomas has spent a lifetime in the effort to save as many children as possible. I want to know, what would YOU do differently? If we gave you all 52 million dollars what would you do with it tomorrow? Give it to the teachers? That is a novel idea, but you will not change a thing because all the students that have problems at home will continue to have them. All those parents that do not get involved in their child’s education will still remain absent.

    I would like for you to become part of the solution. We know what our challenges are in the Escambia County School System… I challenge you to help figure out how to fix the core issues.

  • What a way to run a school system February 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    The school board accumulates reserves while the school system continues its downward spiral while the school board properties add more eyesores in the community.

    Based on this information, what logical reason could there be for not turning a building into a productive building which May offered instead of continuing to watch it fall apart and become a hazard? Malcolm was far from honest in those negotiations.

    The school board has certainly taken care of themselves and good ol Malcolm.

    No cuts to their salary or benefits for a few meetings per year. If the board is so cash strapped go to volunteer board members concerned about education instead of politicians looking for lucrative part time jobs while doing very little to advance education.

    The taxpayers need a tax break, ad valorem taxes are down and the school board seems to be advertising that they have more money and little gray matter to manage it.

  • Wayne February 27, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Rick, what about the City. Barker has close to 100 million in cash at local banks that grows each year.But everyone says that the city is broke.Your manpower for services in the city have been cut and this money keeps growing.O and Barker quit putting this amount in his CAFR report and I do not think that the auditor asked why it disappeared from the report.

  • observer February 27, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Interestingly, Escambia County Schools do a good job on special programs. Brown-Barge Middle School and West Florida High School are both excellent programs. We should be encouraging the board to think out of the box and assist with creating new innovative programs and funding those programs that do work. Why isn’t the Board considering increasing the enrollment at West Florida and Brown-Barge? At least in the case of Brown-Barge, they have been decreasing enrollment in a program that works.

  • Leroy Carter February 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    This Superintendent is like many we have had over the past 20+ years. I am very thankful I do not have a child or grandchildren in this system. My daughter graduated in 1993. I for one resent paying school taxes only to see them wasted by the superintendent and board. They like so many in the past cater to poor teachers and continue to hide their heads in the sand. We need a board that is made up of business people that can make good decisions. Thomas nor my board member will get my vote.

  • observer February 27, 2012 at 10:31 am

    We have schools selling all sorts of things to go on curricular field trips, and the district is building up a surplus in the time of cuts.

  • Keith February 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

    GASP! A government entity actually put some money back. It’s the end of civilization! Get over it. Good God.

    • Rick Outzen February 27, 2012 at 11:26 am

      No, Keith. It’s more like your children are starving and you double your stock portfolio instead of feeding them.

  • observer February 27, 2012 at 8:55 am


  • 1 2