Concerns about how much the Murray County Board of Education knows about purchase order spending came up at Monday’s BOE meeting.
Board member Sparky Roberts voiced his concern that board members should see purchase orders starting at $5,000, rather than $10,000 as is the current policy.
“We see everything from $10,000 to $25,000 and we approve those over $25,000,” he said. He added that he was concerned that the current climate and having to furlough teachers should mean more oversight in the spending.
He cited an example of one purchase order where Murray County High School spent $7,600 for removing unwanted vegetation and placing river rock under all the downspouts.
He said the amount seemed high and the work could have been easily done by maintenance or the summer workers.
Superintendent Steve Loughridge said contracting the job out versus using school employees did come up, but in the end, it was decided the maintenance workers were needed more to move furniture into the schools for the upcoming school year. The school year starts September 8.
“We had three quotes and this one was the lesser. We have to move all the furniture into Gladden and that takes time,” said Loughridge.
But that wasn’t the only example Roberts questioned. “I’ve been told we are paying the cell phone bill of a retired employee.”
Loughridge said he approved paying for the cell phone for July and August, which comes to roughly $80.
“That employee knows a lot about the schools being worked on and we agreed to pay it so if we had questions, he would be available to answer them,” said Loughridge, adding it was not uncommon to pay retired employees a certain amount to help with transitions after their retirement date.
Roberts said he was concerned about how many small purchase orders contained expenses that could be better used.
“We’re asking our most valuable employees, our teachers, to take a furlough, and that seems not right,” said Roberts. “How many of these are there?”
“There are always second guesses on the decision,” said Loughridge. “Could we have done it cheaper? We could have not done it all. But you do have to have your schools presentable.”
Loughridge said he stood by the decision to approve those purchase orders. Amounts under $25,000 have to be signed by both the superintendent and the finance director. Loughridge has been playing both roles for several months.
Roberts said he wasn’t asking to change the policy, only allow the board to see purchase orders starting at $5,000 instead of $10,000.
At first Renda Baggett and Kelli Reed indicated that it might be a good idea, as long as it didn’t hold up work for the schools. It would create delays, Loughridge said, because with open purchase orders, they have to wait for it to be approved.
Baggett asked if they could form a committee to review it instead, but the idea was dismissed by Loughridge who said the previous board had tried that, only to dismantle the committees after disagreeing with them.
“Every purchase order made isn’t ridiculous, but I think a lot of them are,” Roberts said.
“What do you believe is ridiculous when we came in under budget last year?” Loughridge asked.
“If you think that is a reasonable expense on that work, we’ll have to disagree,” Roberts said. “Our summer workers could have done it. We don’t even see the purchase orders that are under $10,000, so we don’t know how many others are out there.”
Loughridge said it was always possible to find some purchase orders that could be done cheaper in a budget of $62 million.
“If you went through a thousand (purchase orders) you’ll find something, but I stand by these purchases,” said Louhridge.
“If we go through a hundred and find thirty, I’d be concerned,” Roberts said.
“If you are pissed about this purchase order, I’ll take the blame for it, but if we’re doing a $62 million budget, is everything exactly as it should be? Probably not. Are there areas we can save money? Probably. Are there areas we could spend more? Probably,” said Loughridge. “But I think we’ve been proficient in using the taxpayers’ money.”
In the end, the board decided not to lower the amount.
In other BOE news:
- The board voted to approved amending the fiscal year 2021 budget by $217,345, bringing the total to $62,747,974. The change came from decreasing the furlough days for paraprofessionals from 10 to four, in line with the teachers, another $50,000 was added for additional custodial supplies related to COVID 19, and increasing the budget for virtual learning. Read previous story here.
- Approved the capital outlay application for Northwest Elementary School in order to cover the renovations not covered by the insurance claim, including the HVAC system.
- Approved the Leonard Brothers contract for the remaining amount of insurance proceeds.
- Loughridge said students at Northwest Elementary, which was heavily damaged in April’s tornadoes and Gladden Middle School, which underwent extensive renovations, will be ready in time for the Sept. 8 start date, although some trailers may be used while work is wrapping up.