Budget answers? Anyone?

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To put it plainly, the Wayne County Public Schools fiscal budget for 2020-21 is nothing less than a dumpster fire.

Too many questions.

And certainly not enough answers.

Where do we begin?

Cue the circus music, maestro.

It all started when WCPS officials tried to hide — yes, hide — a $5 million shortfall in the new budget.

The shocking news led to a sudden resignation from Michael Hayes, the county’s financial advisor, on May 26.

One week later, former Superintendent Dr. Michael Dunsmore stepped down and was replaced by “interim” retired super Dr. Jim Merrill from Wake County.

An investigation unraveled an extensive paper trail that revealed a myriad of questionable expenditures.

Most notable was a $3 million transfer “loan” made from the school’s food service fund to the county’s general fund in 2019. That transaction led to nearly a $4 million loss in the general fund for 2019.

The losses “blindsided” Dunsmore.

Really.

Since Merrill’s arrival, the Wayne County Board of Education has worked feverishly to rectify the damage.

Discussions have involved potential strategies for reducing the school district’s current deficit and how to address expected shortfalls in 2020-21.

Merrill wants to see the school district pay off debts and begin to rebuild the fund balance.

Here is a reduction “strategy” he announced:

  • Reduction of certified and classified positions across departments and schools to better align with available state and federal funding. Heavy reliance on adjustment of allocation formula to increase class sizes in grades 4-12, as well as through attrition. Estimated savings is $3,688,035.
  • Reduction of operational costs such as travel, printing and copiers, telephones, postage, instructional materials, vehicle purchases and possible facility lease. Estimated savings is $275,840.
  • Reduction of outside contracted services across many areas including district-wide training and service contracts. Estimated savings is $645,500.
  • Use of state and federal permissible budget flexibility to offset local expense through reassignments and repurposing, without supplanting. Estimated savings is $392,629.

Just this past week, county athletic directors learned they wouldn’t receive a paycheck for July when the new fiscal year began. They also have to purchase personal protective equipment out of their athletic budgets to test student-athletes and prevent the infection of COVID-19 — if and when the fall sports season begins.

But here’s one thing you probably haven’t noticed.

Merrill is receiving a “modest” salary for his work, yet there were no significant cuts at the Central Office. The Board has hired an “outside firm” to assist in its search for Merrill’s replacement.

Questions still remain.

Who knows what the answers will be.

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