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.

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