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Previous evaluations praised Ballowe’s financial management

POSTED: June 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A year ago, Steven Ballowe received a glowing evaluation from the Gainesville board of education. The report was heavy in praise for Ballowe’s innovations and how the system has drawn acclaim across the state for its educational practices.

He was even praised for his management of the system’s finances.

"Dr. Ballowe has been a good steward of our taxpayers’ resources," states Ballowe’s 2006-07 evaluation report. "There has not been a millage rate increase from the Gainesville City Board of Education in the six years that Dr. Ballowe has been the superintendent."

How things can change.

As the board prepares its 2008 evaluation of the superintendent, the system is wrestling with a $6.5 million deficit that has gone largely unexplained. Ballowe initially called for a 21 percent property tax increase, but last week scaled that back to a 14 percent increase.

Ballowe also proposed about $4.5 million in spending cuts to help offset the deficit. It will take at least two years to pay off the debt, officials have said.

Board members are currently completing written evaluations of the superintendent, which are due to chairman Willie Mitchell on Wednesday. The board will hold a retreat Saturday, where they likely will complete the evaluation.

At the end of the evaluation process, the board will determine Ballowe’s future. They could keep him on board, or they could fire him. The two sides could also negotiate a settlement by which Ballowe would leave the system. There has been public outcry calling for Ballowe’s dismissal.

Just after the start of this fiscal year, Ballowe was given a three-year contract with a guarantee of payment of salary and all benefits for the remainder of the contract if he is dismissed without cause.

Ballowe can only be terminated for reasons contained in the Fair Dismissal Act of Georgia, a state law that applies to all public school educators.

Under that code section, educators can be terminated for acts including incompetency, insubordination, willful neglect of duties, immorality and "any other good and sufficient cause."

If Ballowe were to resign, the contract stipulates that he would have to reimburse the board for the service credit it purchases from the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia at a cost of $12,872.

The contract was approved on a 3-2 vote in July 2007 with board members David Syfan and Frank Harben voting against it. Current board members Mitchell and Kelvin Simmons joined former board member Lee Highsmith in voting for the package. Highsmith’s term ended in December. She was replaced by Maria Calkins.

Board member Sammy Smith, who took office in January replacing Harben, has clashed with Ballowe, even before his election.

Most observers see Mitchell and Simmons as loyal to Ballowe, while Smith and Syfan are not. Calkins could be the swing vote in deciding the superintendent’s future.

In last year’s evaluation of Ballowe, there was a hint of financial problems. The board gave passing notice to financial reporting problems noted in a state audit, asking for "improvements in the reporting from the both the finance and personnel departments."

In another document called "Results/Expectations and Operational Plans for 2007-2008," Ballowe writes that "the Board will hold the Superintendent accountable along with the leadership teams and measure performance utilizing the following goals."

Among the goals are improvements in financial reporting.

The original goal was to review all existing school and district financial procedures and provide recommendations for accountability and efficiency, after evaluating with an independent auditor by Jan. 1.

Ballowe sent a memorandum on Oct. 17, 2007, recommending changes including monthly reports showing all expenditures more than $2,500, and a requirement that the superintendent and chief financial officer sign and approve all invoices for more than $2,500.

He also suggested training for board members on how to use the accounting software to review all accounts and hiring of an outside auditor or consultant to review finances and prepare reports for the board finance committee which would begin meeting monthly.

The goal document says that the issue is being addressed.

Should Ballowe remain superintendent, he and the board would have to work on repairing their fractured relationship.

In a May memorandum to board members, Ballowe questioned whether the board had violated his civil rights by discussing his work outside his presence. The memo is an indication of the adverse situation that exists between the board and their top employee.

Ballowe’s previous contract set the severance at either 1.5 times the remaining salary or a year’s worth, whichever is less. In July 2007, Ballowe was making $170,331 a year. His current deal has a base salary of $185,000 before benefits worth an additional $37,000. His three-year contract, without cost of living or other increases, would be worth $666,000.



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