By DAVID GREEN
Morenci’s board of education has a new proposal for saving cash as the district slides into deficit: transfer the business office operations to the Lenawee ISD.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Osborne said it’s something he’s looked at for several months and he offered the proposal to board members last week during a committee meeting.
Osborne said he has explored a cooperative venture with Adrian and with the LISD, but he’s no longer considering Adrian because of staffing changes at that district.
Tecumseh is the only other county school district using the LISD for its business office, but he knows of other districts that have cooperative ventures for payroll.
Osborne listed several reasons to make the move, starting with expected cost savings. An initial look at a proposal offered by the LISD shows substantial savings, he said, but there are many tasks currently covered by Morenci’s finance director Erica Metcalf that wouldn’t be handled by the county office.
The other tasks, ranging from grant writing to handling bond proposals to ordering supplies, would need to be covered by someone other than the LISD.
“If it’s best for the school, I have no problem with it,” Metcalf told the board. “It’s just how you cover the other aspects.”
Osborne noted that many duties other than finances have been added to the finance director job over the years.
“I think it’s an almost impossible position that we’ve created,” he said.
“We really need to go through the business office’s current duties,” said board member Laura Spencer, to be certain a savings will be realized.
Osborne said the change to the LISD would address criticism that auditor Philip Rubley has pointed out for years—criticism that was repeated in the recent audit by another firm.
The district is said to have a problem with “internal control” in that a single person handles all of the financial issues. The City of Morenci also hears that complaint from auditors. Audit reports for both the city and school always point to excellent accounting procedures, but fault a lack of distribution of duties.
Finally, Osborne said, switching to the LISD should help build confidence in the school’s financial reporting—something that should be established before negotiations begin in the spring.
Osborne had one more suggestion to make, although it’s an idea that’s been discussed even before he was hired. The board of education office on Page Street would be closed and offices would be moved to vacant space at the high school.
There would be savings in utility costs, he said, but he also favors the idea because it would make him more accessible if he wasn’t located in a separate building.
“We’ve got to have a balanced budget. That’s all there is to it,” said board president Scott Merillat, lending support to the business office change. “We’ve adopted a budget on a deficit of $360,000 and we have only $250,000 left. Insurance is going up, retirement is going up. We can’t just continue to cut salaries to make that up.”
Moving the business office would change the way some things are done, Osborne said later, adding that it’s not always possible to remain the same. Besides, he pointed out, the rules from Lansing are not the same as they were in the past.
If appropriate actions aren’t taken, Osborne said, the financial situation will only worsen. Significant changes are needed to preserve the district.
“My goal remains to make the district as efficient as possible and as good as possible,” he said.