Four mills in capital outlay could have funded a bus purchase, new band uniforms, building improvements or other projects in Southeast USD 247.
In 2013-14 they did, but a clerical error discovered Monday means the district will need to return those funds to taxpayers, and also cannot collect them for the 2014-2015 school year.
For Superintendent Glenn Fortmayer, this is a nightmare scenario.
“I have had an almost nightly nightmare that I have shared with so many so often that a simple mistake, a missed deadline, or some overlooked detail will cost us,” he said in a press release issued by USD 247. “My nightmares were prophetic.”
In Sept. 2012, board minutes show a resolution was approved authorizing the school district to renew its annual collection of four mills in capital improvement funds for the next five years. However, that resolution was not certified because of a clerical error.
The district press release says a former board clerk documented that the resolution to renew the four mills for five years was passed, but no signed resolution exists in board records from that time period, and the resolution was not published.
Fortmayer said the error made it through multiple checks and balances, including two independently contracted budget-financial services, as well as local officials.
“None of the seven board members saw it. I didn’t catch it. When it went to the county clerk’s office, they go by the budget. It got through that level and, of course, it was assessed,” he said. “We believed that the 2012 resolution had been submitted properly just like all other resolutions in the past.”
This year, the board proposed doubling the capital outlay portion of the mill levy from four to eight, and that budget is under protest.
In the process, a records request from a McCune patron resulted in the 2012 error being found, and Fortmayer took responsibility for it.
“The unfortunate aspect of being a superintendent is that you are responsible for every action or inaction that occurs under you in your district,” he said in the press release. “In this case I failed to ensure that this error could not happen. I did not have an effective enough checks and balances system to make sure all was done as required.”
Fortmayer reported that the district will be working with county clerks to provide a tax adjustment, although the method is not yet known.
"As far as the ‘13-14 school tax was assessed, the county clerk's going to have to get back to us and he will figure out the exact dollar amount that was overpaid by the taxpayers and he will work out whatever needs done,” Fortmayer said. “We don’t know what procedure will be used, but we have the funds to take care of it.”
Crawford County Clerk Don Pyle said clerks haven’t yet had the chance to look into the issue because of Tuesday’s elections, but will learn more in the days to come.
“I’m not sure what the remedy is for that,” Pyle said. “That’s something that we’ll have to have the attorneys look at. I’ll probably talk to the county counselor and I’m sure they’ll be talking to KASB - their legal aid. I’ll help them figure it out.”
The repayment will result in the district tightening its belt.
“Our biggest issue is, of course, we’re going to have to go without $300,000 and when you’re short like that, that’s pretty significant money for us,” he said. “It does require us to be a little more conservative as far as our expectations.”
Fortmayer said the district would not be able to purchase a bus this year and instead was planning to purchase two the following year. They also will not be able to complete Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant surfacing on playgrounds or make the planned replacement of the 20-year-old band uniforms.
“It will take some creativity, but it’s by far not a barrier,” Fortmayer said.