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CMSD will not form budget advisory committee


Jason Spears, left, and Philip Hickman

Jason Spears, left, and Philip Hickman



Angel Coker



Columbus Municipal School District's board of trustees has opted not to create a budget advisory committee. 


Instead, the board decided during its agenda review meeting on Jan. 4 to shift the duties of the proposed committee -- listed in a charter Trustee Jason Spears presented to board in December -- to the existing long-term debt committee that was established late last year. 


"We as a board are looking to expand the scope and responsibilities of the current long-term debt committee and allow that to serve as a dual-purpose committee," Spears told The Dispatch on Monday. 


Spears told The Dispatch in December he wanted to create a separate budget advisory committee in addition to the long-term debt committee in an effort to improve communication and information sharing among CMSD administration, the board and taxpayers. 


The charter Spears drew up for the budget advisory committee included paying each trustee-appointed member.  


The board chose to table the decision to create the budget advisory committee at its last regular meeting to seek an attorney general's opinion about whether paying committee members was legal. 


Board attorney David Dunn said a trustee-appointed committee would also be required to be operated like a board meeting with minutes kept, an attorney present and the open meetings act applied, among other red tape issues that would make its creation more difficult, or at least lengthy. 


Spears said on Tuesday that CMSD had not heard back from an AG and had opted to expand the long-term debt committee to include the duties of the proposed budget advisory committee in an effort to move forward with proceedings. 




Long-term debt committee 


The long-term debt committee was established in November 2016 to look at ways to move forward with paying debts the school district currently owes. 


Spears said the district has a total remaining debt nearing $18 million.  


Superintendent Philip Hickman said the long-term debt committee will continue its duties of looking at the budget on the debt side, but it will also begin to give more focus to the operations side for fiscal year 2017-18. 


"We haven't had any problem with our operational budget. The problem was with the debt," Hickman said. "Under my administration, we haven't had any shortfalls. We've had a balanced budget each time. There was no problem with the debt, except the payments are due." 


It is the responsibility of the superintendent and CMSD staff to formulate a budget for the school district and present it to the board for approval.  


The committee acts in an advisory position only and has not yet reported to the board, which should begin holding budget hearings in July. 


There are currently four members on the debt committee, and at least five more are needed. Applications are posted on the CMSD website. 




Budget advisory committee 


Under Spears' proposed charter for a budget advisory committee, appointed members would have been expected to identify and evaluate local, state and federal revenues for the 2017-18 budget. 


It would have also identified revenue trends for the past two budget cycles and common budget expenditure trends for the past two budgets. 


The committee would have identified one-time budget expenditures for 2015-16/2016-17 and sole-source purchases for 2015-16/2016-17, as well as major increases in spending, major decreases in revenues and opportunities for cost reduction and increasing revenue within CMSD. 


These duties will shift to the debt committee.




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