WHERE did it go?

A bond referendum authorized the Spotsylvania County School Board to borrow money for various school-related capital projects. One project was the installation of synthetic turf football fields at each of the county’s five high schools.

The cost of each field was estimated to be $800,000 or a total of $4 million for all five. Then the cost of installation for one field rose to $1.2 million.

The Board of Supervisors expected the School Board to hold public hearings prior to procuring and installing the turf fields to hear citizens’ concerns about the potential hazards and costs. But the School Board decided not to involve the public.

The first turf field has been installed at Courtland High School. It is a blue-lined turf field, for which the School Board required special permission from Boise State to install this trademarked premium field.

Last month, the school superintendent authorized a $600,000+ payment to the vendor as a partial payment on the $1.2 million turf field. But it now appears that this was a fraudulent claim, and that the money was wired to a fraudulent recipient.

The Board of Supervisors was informed a month after the fraudulent payment was made.

While an investigation is ongoing, this incident is troubling. It follows an earlier $500,000 settlement to a different company for breach of a cleaning contract.

Over $1.1 million taxpayer dollars were wasted on these two incidents alone.

This is what happens when there is a lack of supervision and oversight. This latest incident raises serious questions about the lack of fiduciary responsibility exercised by the School Board and the superintendent.

These incidents come on the heels of years of politicization of the school budget by the School Board and the Spotsylvania Education Association. The School Board regularly acts in concert with the teachers’ association in accusing the BOS of cutting school funding. Their mantra has been that the school budget is “cut to the bone,” and there is no funding for teacher raises or needed supplies.

Here are some facts: The Spotsylvania School Board has received record funding every year—and it has increased every year. For FY2020, the School Board’s proposed budget was $320 million, which is more than the budget of Stafford County Public Schools, with 5,000 more students enrolled.

This year’s record $320 million budget was passed by the School Board with no changes, no cuts, and no adjustments. Teacher pay is comparable in both counties, so where does the money go?

Once the BOS transfers the funds to the School Board, the BOS no longer has any say or input as to how those funds are spent. However, the BOS has requested many times to have an independent auditor review the books—only to have the School Board refuse us every time.

Resistance to accountability has been a hallmark of the Spotsylvania schools budget. In fact, the School Board has still not published its FY2020 approved budget on its website .

It appears that Superintendent Scott Baker, the Spotsylvania School Board, and the SEA have coordinated during the upcoming election cycle to run candidates who will vote to give the School Board a blank check and continue to rubber-stamp the superintendent’s budget. This year, the SEA is endorsing a sitting principal and a former School Board member who was publicly censured by her own board for unacceptable behavior.

At the end of FY2018, the schools had a carryover balance of $4 million that could have been spent to buy the turf fields with cash instead of borrowing money and paying interest over the next 20 years. Or they could have procured new band uniforms that the parents have been requesting, or the needed classroom supplies that they insist they are short on.

These are decisions that are made by the School Board and the superintendent. But this is not the School Board’s money, or the superintendent’s money. It’s the taxpayers’ money, and it should be spent wisely.

We all have a fiduciary responsibility to oversee county expenditures. If we don’t, then no one does.

And if there is one thing this turf field scandal shows us, it’s that more accountability is needed, not less.

Tim McLaughlin represents the Chancellor District on the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors.

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