County school officials look to comply with 50-year-old law

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The Loudon County Board of Education took the first steps towards addressing the 2009-2010 school year’s budget by discussing a change in the way funds are distributed to individual schools.

For years the county school system has been written up yearly by state auditors for the way each school in the system is given money to buy supplies and to pay for other expenses such as phone systems. The policy has been in direct conflict with the state purchasing law of 1957 that mandates school system purchases be made through the county purchasing department. 

Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt told the board he and his staff have been looking at ways to change that and begin using the purchasing department. 

He said the schools and the county did not have the personnel to handle purchase orders but he had recent discussions with County Purchasing Agent Leo Bradshaw, Director of Accounts and Budgets Tracy Blair and Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp about the situation and Blair and Bradshaw had indicated they had hired additional staff. “They feel at this point they can handle the increase in requests we would make,” Honeycutt said. While the county offices are ready for the change, Honeycutt said the school system would need an additional employee to route purchasing requests from the schools to the county purchasing department. “We can’t do that with the staff we have now,” he said. 

Honeycutt recommended one new administrative assistant be added to the Central Office staff. He said this could be done without a budget increase because there was currently one special education teacher being paid from general funds whose salary and benefits could be moved to the special education budget. Since an administrative assistant’s salary is less than a special education teacher, Honeycutt said the system “could actually end up saving money.” 

The change in purchasing could be “difficult and cumbersome” for a while, Honeycutt told board members adding until the kinks were worked out of the system it would be important for principals to get their purchasing request in as early as possible.

Board member Bill Marcus reaffirmed all requests for purchases would be approved before any funds would be released. Honeycutt said they would and the new system would eliminate the problem of having funds released before the date of the official purchase order which has caused “audit problems” in the past. 

Honeycutt emphasized the change was not because there has been any misuse of funds but to get the county finally in line with state regulations. 

Board member Gary Ubben asked what kind of computer software was currently being used to track purchases. Outgoing Business Director Bennie Sims drew laughs when he described the current software as “MYOB — mind your own business” and so old that it was probably one of the first on the market. “There have been no funds to buy a better product,” Sims said. Ubben said this transition would be a good time to update the software and link it to the county purchasing department to streamline the new system.

Board member Van Shaver, who has long decried the system of giving each school a “bag of money” said the new system also “takes a load of liability off principals’ shoulders.” Honeycutt said principals would still be responsible for what’s bought for their schools but it would create a better paper trail to satisfy state auditors. 

“It’s worth a try,” Honeycutt said.