School board opposes changes in new county finance program

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

The new financial management plan for Carter County has met with opposition. The county school board has made an official statement against any changes that would result in the movement of its' finance employees or a reduction in their benefits.
   Richard Winters, chairman of the Carter County School Board, read a prepared statement to County Finance Director, Jason Cody during the board's scheduled meeting Tuesday evening. "The Carter County Board of Education hereby goes on record as opposing the transfer or reduction in benefits of employees of the board who are now being considered for transfer and/or benefit reduction," Winters said.
   Board members reached the consensus of opinion during a workshop Tuesday afternoon. During the workshop members discussed the pros and cons of the new county financial plan and its potential impact on the education system.
   The consolidation of the school system's finance department with the county's finance department could lead to some changes for employees. The education system's five finance employees will be effected by centralization of the financial offices. The county finance director has met privately with the employees to discuss changes that may effect them.
   During this week's workshop, school board members primarily questioned the need to physically move finance employees from the school system's central office to the main courthouse.
   "The 1981 Act is geared toward centralized accounting and part of that is to have its people physically in the same location because they are able to share knowledge more easily. They can share work loads and share best practices," Cody said. "When employees are in different buildings information does not transfer as easily."
   Cody added that having all finance employees in the same location eliminates bias within county government. He said that a centralized office increases finance employees' objectivity, and decreases loyalties to one department over another.
   "They are all really county employees, and by having them in one location it removes any political connotations. If they are in a different building they will have a connection to that one department," Cody said.
   The finance director also said he sees potential monetary savings resulting from having all county employees in the same office. He said purchases could be bundled together, and ordering could be coordinated better in order to save the county money in the long run.
   School board members have also voiced concerns related to a potential change in the employees benefit programs. In the department consolidations, the finance employees from the education department may be asked to switch over to another benefits program. The county finance committee has highlighted employee benefits and vacation packages as one of the key issues to be dealt with while instituting the financial management program.
   "The thing about the benefits plan is that not everybody in the county is on the same benefit plan which makes it complicated because you are bringing together people to work side by side that are on different benefit structures. That is the main crux of the problem," Cody said. "Benefits is a very sensitive issue and we are going to work through that to make sure we address everybody's concerns."
   Superintendent of county schools, Dallas Williams is in a delicate position when dealing with the consolidation of the education system's finance department. He is a member of both the county's newly formed Financial Management Committee, and the Board of Education.
   "I want to be a team player on the committee, but I have to look out for the concerns of the board as well," Williams said. "Right now the financial committee has not really made any final decisions on the employees of the school system. It is still discussing the issues," Williams said.
   The finance committee is still ironing out the implementation of the County Financial Management Act of 1981 that was adopted by the full commission earlier this year. The education department will be the last to be brought in under the new program that was designed to centralize all accounting and financing functions within Carter County.
   "The heart of the 1981 Act is for the good of the county. What we are doing right now in the county is really decentralized," Cody said.