Possible changes to teacher contract policies scheduled for next Sumter School District meeting

The most important portion of Monday’s work session of the Sumter School District Board of Trustees could be what happens behind closed doors, although the agenda for the meeting indicates there could be further revelations into the district’s continuing financial crisis.

During Monday’s meeting, trustees have scheduled an executive session to discuss a “negotiations incident to proposed contractual arrangements and possible receipt of legal advice relating to potential claims relating to the district’s financial condition of the district disclosed in the FY2016 audit.”

According to the agenda, when trustees return from executive session, they are scheduled to potentially act on this, as well as consider a change to the district’s current contracts and compensation policy.

Originally adopted when Sumter School Districts 2 and 17 consolidated, the current compensation policy establishes broad guidelines and time frames for teacher salary levels, when teacher contracts are offered, when those contracts should be confirmed, and how the district handles contracts with employees employed through the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive Program – or TERI – program. A full list of the “Policy GCB Professional Staff Contracts and Compensation” under consideration for change can be found by following this link.

All of this will come after the superintendent’s report, during which Dr. Frank Baker is scheduled to present the results of the district’s procurement audit, as well as the district’s regularly-scheduled quarterly capital projects report.

A procurement audit conducted by the Georgetown-based  accountant firm Harper, Poston & Moree in December revealed a series of purchasing policy violations by district administration, including failing to maintain a list of sole-source procurements, inappropriately using the district’s emergency procurement procedures for purchases that should have not been considered emergencies, failing to consistently require purchase orders for small purchases, failing to attach bid documentation with purchase orders requiring bids, and failing to combine orders for multiple schools and requiring a bid for these purchases be bid upon by providers.

Trustees are still in the process of formulating their full response to respond to their current financial crisis, prompted by the December revelations that the district experienced a $6.2 million shortfall during the 2015-16 school year.   During their meeting earlier this month at Wilder Elementary School, Scott Allan, the financial consultant hired by trustees to examine the financial shortcomings of the district, revealed publicly that a large portion of the financial shortfall could be attributed to the hiring of 37 unbudgeted employees.

Back in January, trustees made adjustments to the current budget to help cope with the deficit, including the mid-year elimination of 47 positions within the district. None of the positions eliminated were among the unbudgeted employees currently working in the district, prompting speculation that more personnel terminations could be possible.

During the early stages of his investigation, Allan also informed the trustees he expected the district would need to take out a $20 to $22 million loan before June 30 in order to maintain a positive cash flow.  Since then, Allan has slightly modified his projection, saying the district might not need quite that large a loan, and might be able to delay the loan until after June, possibly making the district eligible to participate in the same Tax Anticipation Note – or TAN – program used by other districts throughout the state.

Prompted by the financial crisis, recent board meetings have drawn large crowds of concerned parents and citizens, with some calling for changes to the district’s leadership, including Baker.  The superintendent himself addressed the situation during a Sumter NAACP meeting last month, saying he was aware that a group of local clergymen were trying to have him removed from office.

The board of trustees work session is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the district headquarter offices on Wilson Hall Road.  Unlike at their monthly board meetings, the agendas for the trustees’ official work sessions (also held monthly) do not provide time for public comment.  The meeting is, however, open to the public.

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