Tension grows between IOW supervisors, school board

Published 8:11 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Miscommunication and disagreements about procedure continue to fuel tension between the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and the county school board.

“I don’t want to get into a battle with the Board of Supervisors,” said school board Chairman David Goodrich, “(but) it’s really discouraging when the school board gets chastised by the Board of Supervisors.”

Goodrich’s dissatisfaction stems from what he deemed misinterpretation of a May 5 letter he sent to supervisors on behalf of the school board.

The letter requested that the Board of Supervisors not revert to a categorical allocation of funds for the school division’s fiscal 2010 budget. When a budget is approved categorically instead of by lump sum, the school superintendent must get approval from both the school board and the Board of Supervisors for every transfer between categories. The categorical method was last employed in fiscal 2006.

According to Goodrich’s letter, categorical funding results in two stages of delay and additional, time-consuming work for the finance department, while lump-sum funding allows the superintendent to transfer funds and requires that he provide a report at the next school board meeting.

The letter was openly criticized at the May 7 Board of Supervisors meeting by Vice Chairman Phillip Bradshaw, who said Monday that the letter seemed to indicate that the school board had given up all responsibility for the school budget and handed it to the superintendent to do “as he pleases.”

The letter was “very instrumental” in Bradshaw’s decision to endorse categorical funding during budget discussions.

“If they’re offended, they need to be offended,” Bradshaw said Monday. “The only thing we’re trying to do is (ensure) fiscal responsibility.”

Goodrich said that the intent of the letter was to explain why the school board does not support categorical funding and in no way indicated that the board was handing over responsibility to the superintendent.

“That’s what (Bradshaw) wants to read into it. That is absolutely incorrect,” said Goodrich. “I’m really offended by that. Mr. Bradshaw knows better than that.”

Ultimately, Bradshaw did not make a motion during the May 7 meeting to switch to categorical funding. Opening that discussion would have postponed the budget approval to another meeting, which would have delayed contract approvals for school employees, he said.

“I didn’t want to jeopardize that due to political actions between the two boards,” Bradshaw said. “If we continued delaying the budget …, it puts everyone in a situation of uncertainty, and we did not want to do that.”

Bradshaw also denied Goodrich’s assertion that the Board of Supervisors had refused to meet with the school board.

While Bradshaw said he knew of a request by Superintendent Michael McPherson to meet with the county finance director, he said he had not heard directly from any school board member in the last year.

“No one has ever called me directly,” Bradshaw said.

Goodrich said he wrote to the Board of Supervisors on April 10 “outlining what our (budget) concerns were.” A request for a meeting was denied, he said.

The superintendent got a call from the county administrator’s office communicating that Supervisors Bradshaw and Stan Clark said there was “no need” to meet.

Although the reason given was that Supervisor Thomas Wright would be out of town on the proposed meeting dates, Goodrich said he was still skeptical, adding that Wright’s absence from a public hearing on the budget did not prevent that from going forward.