State Official Will Oversee Funds
By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – The State Department of Education has ordered local School Officials to cease all expenditures after receiving an audit report that shows the District to be over $200,000 in the red.
At the same time, State Superintendent of Education John Jordan has named School Finance Officer Suzanne Carter as a financial advisor to the Water Valley School District. Among her duties, Carter will have the authority to approve or disapprove all expenditures of the district.
In a letter to Superintendent Sammy Higdon dated Oct. 23, Dr. Jordan wrote that his office had received the audit report for the 2007-2008 school year and it “reflects a negative fund balance in the General Fund in the amount of $217,076.”
“This constitutes a serious financial condition,” the letter continued. “I am officially notifying you to cease all expenditures.”
The letter came as a surprise to school officials. “I think communication regarding finances was not conveyed appropriately,” Higdon said.
The Superintendent added that he doesn’t blame anyone for the audit results. “I take full responsibility. I dropped my guard on that one. I am not going to point fingers at anybody.”
At the regular meeting of the School Board Monday night, the audit report was listed as an agenda item. Board President Ray Hawkins went over the items and said, “Six is on the agenda as an audit report, but I think we are going to get into some personnel discussion as well. So, we’ll take care of those in executive session.”
The board met for eight minutes in regular session before closing the meeting to the public to enter a two-hour executive session. Carter was called into the session soon after it began and remained for about an hour and a half. Also in the meeting was the District’s Business Manager Randy Goodwin.
Carter will remain as financial advisor until the District no longer has a deficit, according to Mississippi Department of Education Communications Director Pete Smith.
Currently four other districts out of the state’s 152 school districts have financial advisors. However, all four of the other districts are under a higher level of state control, with conservators appointed by the State Board of Education.
In a meeting with the Herald Tuesday following the Monday night School Board meeting, Higdon explained that Carter was surprised by what the District had already done regarding budget cuts. “And, there will be more cuts coming.”
I’m not going to shun my responsibility just because I have eight months left,” Higdon said. “I am going to make those cuts. I am going to make those decisions.”
The problem faced by the Superintendent is making cuts without interfering with student achievement.
“It needs to be done if this District is going to survive. I am not going to put anything else on the next guy and to be honest with you the next guy would be too late. We’ve got to do it now.”
“Last year was the hardest year I have ever had. This year is going to be harder.”