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Audit: Gainesville schools deficit is officially put to rest
Report means the school board will no longer be under state supervision
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The long wait is over. Gainesville City Schools Board officially no longer has a budget deficit.

The school system had a $6.5 million deficit three years ago, but auditors Monday night told the board the school district is no longer in the red.

The discovery of the deficit led to then-Superintendent Steve Ballowe being fired from the system. The deficit shrunk during the 2009 fiscal year to $5.6 million, and a discovery of a city tax bill error further reduced the deficit.

Being out of deficit means the school board is no longer under state supervision, but Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she plans to continue the detailed monitoring of school board spending to keep it from happening again.

Tommy Harp, the board's audit supervisor, told the board at its meeting Monday there were three repeat issues found in the 2011 audit report — bank statements, employee compensation and the resolved deficit.

"That's the best report you've ever given," board member Maria Calkins said.

Harp suggested the board resolve the employee compensation issue by creating a clear separation between departments that calculate and process payroll.

"You have an HR (human resources) department that could do the calculations. It's just a matter of working with them to take on those duties and get them comfortable with those duties," Harp said. "The payroll department doesn't have anything to do with what comes up on that sheet. So someone in payroll doesn't have the ability, if they've got a buddy or an uncle or something, to go in and bump their pay up. Not saying anyone would do that, but the opportunity is there."

The board also heard results from its technology audit.

"The key statement in there was technicians were operating in firefighting mode. That was very true," said Keith Palmer, technology director for Gainesville City Schools.

Palmer said the technology department was able to hire more technicians with more customer service experience. The department also implemented a work order system that gives system employees a chance to comment and respond about the service they received.

"They are overwhelmingly positive," Palmer said. "The technician at the high school has been called Superman."

Principals at Gainesville City schools also provided brief outlines of their strategic plans for school improvement at the meeting. These included plans for more collaboration between subject areas and targeting subgroups — such as English Language Learners and white students — that might have underperformed on standardized tests.

The only moment of controversy at the meeting came when board members decided to table the approval of school fundraisers for 2011 to 2012.

"We are trying to make a better approach and better systemwide effort toward nutrition and balance and healthiness. There are lots of instances on these lists which countermand that mission," board member Sammy Smith said.

Board member Delores Diaz agreed with Smith, saying she wanted school principals to present more information about fundraisers so the board would be better informed when making a vote.

"In the fall (at Gainesville High School) we have 31 different groups requesting permission to sell things," Diaz said. "Is there a system in place to prevent simultaneous sales going on? ... In a sense the larger groups could be taking away from some of the smaller groups that rely on one fundraiser."

Calkins expressed concern that asking schools to alter fundraising requests to meet healthier sales, such as selling fruits versus candy bars and soft drinks, might put Parent-Teacher Organizations and clubs under financial strain.

"I understand the health implications, but when you're telling a PTA on one day they can raise $3,000 to $5,000 on doughnuts ... and then ask them to come up with something else to supply those funds, that might take a year," she said. "Give them a directive and suggestion to embrace this but don't press them to lose that money this year."

The board also struck discussions on its intergovernmental and facilities transfer and maintenance agreements with Gainesville City Parks & Recreation.

Positive news continued to flow at the board meeting as Dyer revealed Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy received its summer standardized re-test scores and would receive Adequate Yearly Progress when final AYP results come out in September. Though six Wood's Mill graduates returned to make higher scores on the Georgia High School Graduation Test — Georgia requires students to make a 500 to graduate, but AYP requires a 516 — the school did not achieve AYP. It needed eight students to make 516.

Dyer said it was heartwarming these students returned to take the test, and expressed hope that Gainesville High School will also make AYP in September.

As board members prepared to adjourn, Diaz interrupted to share her final thoughts on the meeting.

"I was very pleased to hear all the good news," she said. "School improvement plans are amazing. You had very specific things to work on this year and that's wonderful. Technology department, oh my gosh, what tremendous strides you have made. As a board member, I wanted to say thank you, and say how much I appreciate that."