Thursday, March 05, 2015
Is Joplin R-8 in trouble financially? C. J. Huff says no
Asked if the Joplin R-8 School District was in trouble financially, Huff said, "No, not at all," and repeated that he and the Board of Education have always predicted that the fund balance would drop to eight percent before things got better.
That would have been the time to hit the superintendent with a follow-up question. If we knew that the fund balance was going to drop that low was it necessary to do everything possible to make sure it happens?
For instance, how about that eight million dollars in might-as-well spending? Was it really ncessary to have artificial turf and lighting for practice fields. Was it necessary to add four tennis courts at a time when we had no idea when (or if) we would receive the full amount of money we were anticipating from FEMA and SEMA? Did we really need a new track at the high school right now when we still have a serviceable one?
Or was it prudent to spend $3 million (and not track how it was spent) in what turned out to be an unsuccessful effort to get Joplin High School opened on time in August. Certainly, we would have been forced to pay more rent for temporary facilities for a few months, but that would not have added up to $3 million.
Was it really necessary to spend $1 million for travel over a three-year period when you were already predicting that the fund balance would be in single digits?
The state audit showed that the school district had a balance of $16 million three years ago and will be down to $4.5 million later this year. If you add up eight million dollars in might as well spending, $3 million for the rush job on the high school and $1 million for travel, that's $12 million. Of course, you would have been spending some money for rent and a reduced amount for travel, but for the most part this school district's fund balance would have been in the same condition it was in three years ago.
It is called a rainy day fund for a reason. Hopefully, we will never be forced to deal with anything like the tornado again, but there are hundreds of variables that could occur that could make us wish the taxpayers' money had been handled more prudently.
During the KZRG interview, Huff also repeated his claim that the state audit wasn't that bad because nearly every school that is audited receives a "poor" (lowest ranking) or "fair" (next-to-lowest ranking).
What Huff failed to mention is that while the Missouri state auditor's office audits all state government agencies and counties on a regular basis, the only times school districts are audited are when there is a petition or when the school district itself asks for the audit.
When either of those things happen that is a good sign that the districts have problems, so naturally, most of them are going to receive the lowest rankings.
Pure spin, and again, no one is challenging Huff on this point.
When Huff told Morning News Watch, "We felt pretty confident we were going to come up with a 'fair' grade," that means he was expecting that the audit would not be a good one, not that everything was okay.
He also said, "Overall, we were pleased with the outcome."
That says a lot about his management of the Joplin R-8 School District.