Adult Education central to discussion as board approves annual budget

The Ennis School Board approved this year’s budget at Monday night’s meeting after tabling the decision two weeks ago over questions of how much money to tax district residents for the adult education program.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the budget. Again, board member Lisa Frye was the loan dissenting vote on passing the budget.

Her concern with the budget wasn’t just the taxes being levied for adult education, but what she saw as a misuse of tax dollars both out of the transportation and adult education funds.

State law says that the transportation fund must only be used to get students to and from school, Frye said. Yet the district continues to spend transportation money on the operation and maintenance of activity busses.

In 2006, the school district bought a house with transportation funds, she said. The house is currently being rented to teachers, Frye said after the meeting.

“That was six years ago,” board member Jim McNally told Frye.

Still, she doesn’t feel her questions have been answered about how money is being spent out of the budget and she would like more clarification about expenditures, before she approved a budget, Frye said.

“Which ones are you unsure of?” McNally asked Frye.

“A lot of them,” she responded.

It just didn’t make sense to approve an overall budget without seeing a detailed plan of where the funds were going to be used, Frye said.

“I have not a doubt in my mind that we have been paying claims out of those funds (transportation and adult education) that are not appropriate,” she said after the meeting.

This year’s budget for the Ennis School District represents about a $1.2 million decrease from last year’s budget, Walsh said. Over the past two years, the district’s budget has dropped by about $2.3 million.

However, the $250,000 for adult education that caused the school board members concern at the meeting two weeks ago remained in the budget.

The $250,000 represents this year’s tax burden to district residents and will boost the adult education funds for the district to about $3 million.

The funds are needed to continue to expand the program as the new school building is completed and the district can house a more expansive adult education program, Walsh said.

The district plans on spending about $200,000 to $400,000 this school year on the program, he said.

“What we’re attempting to do is build up reserves,” said board chairman Marc Glines after the meeting. “I don’t expect to be asking the public for more adult education funds. Our game plan is to not ask for any more adult education funds in the future.”

When the budget was opened for public comment, people again voiced their frustrations with the school district.

“I don’t see why you don’t have a description there of what’s getting paid out of which fund,” said Jim Frey.

Ed Totten voiced his concern with what he saw as a lack of preparation by the school board.

“Please do your homework,” Totten said. “You should come armed to the teeth to prove to us you are spending our money properly.”

Kelly Robinson echoed Totten.

“Here we are at this critical moment and to me the board still doesn’t seem like they have enough information or have done their homework to see where we are really at … as a taxpayer that’s really frustrating,” Robinson said.

However, the complaints against the school board at the meeting seemed to represent some of the comments that have been swirling around the community, said teacher Colleen McNally, whose husband Jim is a school board member.

“There’s been so many misrepresentations – the stuff that’s been out in this community has been so far out of line,” McNally said. “This school is for those kids. It’s not for some of you people who don’t have much to do.”

After the meeting, Glines commented about the contentious meeting.

The school board and Walsh have continued to take the high road during the last year of controversy, he said.

“One facet is ready to move forward, the other facet is sour grapes,” Glines said. “We’ve always tried to do what’s best for the community and best for our students.”

He also said the school board needed to make a better effort to get more information out to the public.

“We need to make sure as a school district they get their questions answered,” he said. “We have not been giving the public all the information they obviously want.”

However, continuing on with business as usual including not addressing concerns people have with the budget and keeping Walsh as superintendent isn’t the way to address the division within the community, Frye said after the meeting.

“They talk about healing in the newspaper and I don’t see that happening,” she said.

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