published Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Boyd proposes eliminating school administration posts


by Dan Whisenhunt

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd says he can cut $7 million out of the county school system’s budget, partly by getting rid of several top-level positions.

Boyd’s plan calls for eliminating the jobs of the public information officer, now held by Danielle Clark, and the vacant chief financial officer’s position previously held by Tommy Kranz.

The plan proposes substantial cuts to the central office, transportation services and employee benefits. It claims savings of $400,000 by consolidating paper and printing costs and suggests outsourcing information technology services.

Superintendent Jim Scales said via email that any cuts were a school board decision.

“The Board of Education will make the final decision on what reductions need to be made to balance the budget,” Scales said.

The school board is looking for ways to make up a $14.3 million revenue shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Boyd said Friday that school officials must convince him that his plan is unworkable.

“I want them to see my outline and step up and convince me as a taxpayer that they’ve really got to have all these people,” Boyd said.

In recent months, county commissioners have unleashed a series of questions and criticisms regarding school system spending. They recently seized control of several million dollars in payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, funds that previously went directly to the schools.

Some of Boyd’s proposed cuts are similar to ideas floated by school board officials, though his central office cuts are greater.

The school has proposed reorganizing the central office to save $710,731. Boyd’s plan would cut $3.4 million.

The board’s plan does not detail specific cuts to the central office. It says savings would come from “administrative reorganization,” eliminating out-of-state travel, reducing supplies and centralizing use of printers. It puts cuts to transportation in a separate category.

Boyd’s plan details a lengthy list of cuts and calls for eliminating dozens of positions and downgrading others.

It says schools could save $671,000 in transportation costs by contracting all bus drivers and cutting other employees. The system has proposed eliminating medical benefits for contract drivers or contracting all driver positions to save $490,000.

Commissioner Chester Bankston, who was a school board member before being elected to the commission last year, said “about half” of Boyd’s ideas are valid.

“I think the best way to get the cuts is in the central office,” Bankston said. “Turn it upside-down.”

He said the school system cannot cut its risk management costs as Boyd proposes. He also doesn’t think Boyd can squeeze as much out of transportation as he’s claiming.

Boyd said he’s willing to accept that some of his ideas may not be feasible.

“If they prove to me they’ve got to have all these people, I’ve got no choice but to live with it,” he said.

In a note attached to the plan, Boyd said that the way the school system funds its post-employment benefits will hurt the county’s AAA bond rating, according to county finance officials.

If this were accurate, it would hurt the county’s ability to borrow money to build schools.

But it’s wrong, school and county officials said.

The county and school board fund post-employment benefits differently, Clark said. The county pays for its benefits out of a trust fund, while the school system has adopted a “pay-as-you-go plan,” she said.

County Finance Administrator Louis Wright and County Auditor Bill McGriff said the school system’s method would not hurt the county’s ability to borrow money for school construction.

“I just don’t know how we would let that get to the point where it would affect our bond rating,” McGriff said.

When he was told of Wright’s and McGriff’s opinions, Boyd said, “Great. I’m glad it’s not.”

Boyd said county commissioners are “paranoid” about the county’s losing its coveted bond rating. He said he worried that lending companies would be concerned about the school system’s liability for post-employment benefits.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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