Report eyes $3.4M in school savings for Currituck

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Linda Recio, president of Evergreen Solutions, gives her report about the finances and operations of the Currituck County Schools at the Currituck Cooperative Extension Center, Thursday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, February 10, 2018

BARCO — The head of a Florida-based educational consulting firm hired by Currituck County to review the county schools’ finances and operations unveiled a number of recommendations Thursday that she said could reduce county spending on the schools by $3.4 million over a five-year period.

“We think this is a very conservative estimate of what can be saved,” Linda Recio, president of Evergreen Solutions, said at a special commissioners meeting Thursday night at the Currituck Cooperative Extension Center in Barco.

The county employed Evergreen last year after commissioners asked County Manager Dan Scanlon to hire an auditor to review the school district’s finances. Commissioners, particularly Paul Beaumont, had cited frustration with the school district for not providing the county with specific information it was seeking about school funding, particularly its use of fund balance to pay for continuing operations.

Discussing her review’s findings, Recio said Thursday the school district could save as much as $500,000 starting next school year. She said her recommendations include reclassifying the school district’s two assistant superintendents as “directors” and reducing Superintendent Mark Stefanik’s number of direct reports — personnel who report directly to him.

Recio also said school administrators need to do more to identify students eligible for free and reduced-price meals to take greater advantage of federal funding. She also said athletics boosters and parents need to do more to help cover the costs of transportation to sporting events.

Commenting on her recommendations, Recio said the one recommending reclassification of the two assistant superintendent positions could be the most controversial for the school district. But she made clear her view that the reclassification is needed, particularly given the district has only 4,000 students.

She noted that one of the assistant superintendents is only responsible for two campuses: Currituck County High School and J.P. Knapp Early College.

She also noted the Currituck district likes to be compared to neighboring Dare County which has a larger school district but doesn’t employ assistant superintendents.

Recio also addressed her recommendations about the district’s superintendent position, noting there are currently 21 employees who answer directly to Stefanik. She said that’s too many direct reports for a chief executive officer of one of the county’s largest employers. She said directly supervising that many people takes away from his community responsibilities as the school district’s CEO.

Recio also predicted her recommendation about requiring boosters and parents to pay for transportation costs to sporting events would also be controversial. She said her review found the schools are charging a per-mile rate for all field trips except those related to athletics. She said athletics-related trips are instead being paid for from the district’s transportation budget.

She said if athletics boosters and athletes’ parents participated financially in athletics trips like they do in other types of field trips, the district could save at least $30,000 that currently comes out of operating expenditures. She also noted there’s not a policy in the school board manual to address the subject.

Recio also went into detail about the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, which she emphasized is important because it provides federal funds to the district based on its number of students from low-income households. She said the only way these students can be identified is through the application process.

According to Recio, the Currituck school district currently has identified only 37.5 percent of students as eligible for free or reduced-price meals. She said that means local funds are primarily being used to educate these at-risk students. She noted the statewide average for students eligible for free or reduced-cost meals is 52.5 percent.

She also noted the Currituck County Schools ranks 108th among the state’s 115 school districts in its ability to attract federal funds.

“So, there’s significant dollars there,” Recio said.

In fact, if only 10 more students applied and were identified as eligible for free or reduce-price meals next year, she said the district would draw an additional $20,000 in federal funding.

Recio commended the leadership of Currituck County Schools Finance Officer Laurie Trussell. She said the finance office under Trussell had made many improvements, among them a cross-trained workforce and a detailed, modern system for deterring potential embezzlement and ensuring purchases follow state guidelines.

Recio also made clear the district needs to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs. Even though school board policy directs the central office to regularly evaluate programs, she didn’t find evaluations to determine program effectiveness, she said.

Near the end of her presentation on Thursday, Recio told county commissioners and school board members in attendance that she had heard from both boards that there needs to be better communication between the two.

“We’re not communicating well enough,” Recio said, recommending both boards hold joint meetings every quarter.

Commissioners have asked school officials to respond to Recio’s report within 30 days, and that the two boards get together to discuss the report.

As of late last month, Recio’s work had cost the county more than $37,000.