Board votes on fund transfer, discusses TRS findings at special meeting

The Ennis School Board voted last week to split their excess general reserve fund money between two other funds within their budget.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, the board voted to put $300,000 of the general fund excess in the flexibility fund and the remaining general fund excess balance into the building reserve fund.

The exact amount to go into the building reserve fund won’t be known until later in July when property taxes come through, said Ennis School Superintendent Doug Walsh.

However, he expects the remainder to be between $250,000 and $300,000.

“Really we can’t come up with exact figures as far as what goes into building reserves, because we don’t get all our final payments until the end the July,” Walsh said.

Moving the excess general reserve funds became important after the 2011 legislative session, when new legislation authorized the state to take excess general funds from schools that had it.

The legislation gave school districts with an excess general fund balance, like Ennis, until June 30 to transfer the money into other funds within their budget.

And though Ennis doesn’t know how much money it will transfer into the building reserve fund, the Montana Office of Public Instruction informed the school board that all it needed to do was to pass a motion to transfer the balance of the money, once the numbers were final, to comply with the new law, Walsh said.

“They allowed us to do that,” he said. “We just have to fill in the numbers.”

Part of the money in the school board put into the flexibility fund will be used to provide health insurance relief for teachers. As part of the recently negotiated contract, teachers in Ennis will receive $3,000 a year for either a health savings account or Montana savings account to help them offset high deductible costs, Walsh said.

The total cost of this benefit to the district will be $180,000 over the next two years.

The board took almost two months to determine how to deal with the excess general fund money, which was intentional, said Marc Glines, chairman of the Ennis School Board.

“We as a board are being very conscientious about every move we make,” Glines said. “We want to ensure that the public knows every step we’re taking.”

The school district is fortunate to have excess general funds to deal with, he said.

“We’re very fortunate indeed,” Glines said. “Many schools are not as fortunate as we are thanks in no small part to the generous community we live in.”

Also part of Tuesday’s meeting was a discussion about the recent preliminary findings from the Montana Teachers Retirement system that Walsh shouldn’t have been considered retired back in 2001 and as such shouldn’t have received retirement benefits from the TRS for the past 10 years. The preliminary findings claim possible fraud and negligent misconduct by both the school board and Walsh along with possible violations of the Montana False Claims Act. The TRS’s findings were issued with a request for a response from both Walsh and the school board before they became final.

The school board’s attorney Elizabeth Kaleva was at the meeting to discuss the findings, said school board chairman Marc Glines.

The TRS is giving the school board and Walsh 30 days to respond to the findings, which were issued with a letter written on June 9.

Walsh is being represented in the matter by his own private attorney and wouldn’t comment on the situation.

Glines declined to comment as well, but did say Kaleva was preparing a response on the board’s behalf.

A phone call to Kaleva wasn’t returned by press time.

The next regular Ennis School Board meeting will be July 11 at the Ennis High School.

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