Jason Spears

BY BRIAN JONES

brian.jones@packet-media.com

COLUMBUS – At its Dec. 12 meeting, the Columbus Municipal School Board discussed a proposed budget advisory committee and the current fund balance.

At a previous meeting Trustee Jason Spears asked that the district establish a budget advisory committee to work with the board as it goes through the yearly budget process. He presented a committee charter to the board Monday night. Spears’ plan called for the committee, which had no voting or enforcement power, to meet once a month. Each trustee would appoint one member, and each member would be paid $20 per hour, not to exceed $40 per month. The committee would receive current budget information and would evaluate past budget trends, and then “offer recommendations, insights and factual findings to the CMSD for consideration.”

Meetings would be held monthly between February and May. Budget hearings are typically held in the last summer.

Board Attorney David Dunn said that he had reviewed Spears’ proposal and had some concerns with some items, especially the compensation.

“I have found no authority in attorney general’s opinions or statutory opinions for payment to an advisory committee,” he said. “I would recommend that you allow me to request an AG’s opinion on that to see if compensation can be paid. There is an opinion or two that indicates that expenses can be covered, but there is no clear statute on the compensation issue.”

Dunn also brought forth a 1997 attorney general’s opinion that the open meetings laws do apply to trustee-appointed committees.

“There is no question about the Open Meetings Act applying,” he said. “There is a case that has now been appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court that the Open Records Act also applies. So it’s going to have to be conducted the same as your meetings. You would be very ill advised for these committees to meet without an attorney present.”

Minutes would have to be kept, and documents made available for the public, and there “are a lot of moving parts,” Dunn said.

Dunn said that he would ask for an AG’s opinion and report back.

No action was taken.

Business Officer Tammie Holmes gave the board an update on the current fund balance.

“You will see that our district maintenance fund currently is $6.1 million,” she said. “Do be mindful that that does not include the $1.2 million transfer we will bring before the board next month, and there are some expenditures from the $642,000 that the board approved for instructional needs and facility repairs (last month) that have not come out yet. With the repairs and the transfer we are looking at roughly $4.3-$4.4 million.”

There was also $81,424 in cash left in a fund established to pay for athletic renovations, which are now all complete.

“Essentially that entire fund is a cash balance,” she said. “There are no encumbrances or any liabilities against that fund. That is left from the $2 million or so that was set aside for athletic facility renovations.”

“Now that all the facility renovations and projects are paid for, will this be an item brought back to us in January to return to district maintenance?” Spears asked.

Holmes said that it would.

“Didn’t we discuss buying buses at one time?” asked Trustee Fredrick Sparks.

“A bus was $87,000, and then we can purchase an extended warranty for an additional 10 years, and that comes up to about $92,000,” said Deputy Superintendent Crag Shannon.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said President Angela Verdell.