School system accountant ‘finds’ $5 million
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia County Board of Education members got a pleasant surprise during a two-hour workshop held just prior to the board’s July 31 meeting.
Chief Schools Financial Officer (CSFO) Rochelle Richardson, who replaced retiring CSFO Julie Madden last July, said she and Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) Shaun Goolsby were working on “budgets and stuff” when she learned that the system had more than $5 million that had been budgeted but never spent.
“In 2020, Escambia County was allocated $5.2 million in Public School and College Authority (PSCA) funds,” Richardson told the board, explaining that the money was originally budgeted for additions and renovations of classrooms, the cafeteria and the media center at Flomaton Elementary School (FES). “However, as of June 30, we have spent only $179,000 of that, so we have $5,037,129.24 left of that PSCA money.”
The system’s chief accountant said she asked if the money could be re-budgeted and was told it could. Apparently, a sizable chunk of those funds will go toward finally constructing a gym at Huxford Elementary School (HES).
“We talked about the portables (classrooms at FES), we talked about the Huxford gym, and we talked about some other things,” she said. “I’d like to make it clear, though, that we have to pay the money up front, then submit requests for reimbursement.”
Goolsby then discussed the renovation and repair projects that were completed over the summer, including those at Escambia County Middle School (ECMS), Rachel Patterson Elementary School, Escambia County High School, A.C. Moore Elementary, Huxford and the Atmore Central Office.
The talk then turned to construction of Huxford’s gym, an item that has been included in the system’s Capital Projects plan for two years and which has increased significantly in its projected cost since then.
“We have $3 million that was donated by Poarch (Band of Creek Indians), and for that job we’re looking at about $7-1/2 (million) to $8 million,” Goolsby reported. “That’s for the gym, six classrooms, two conference rooms in the library, as well as a storm shelter. That building is very old, and there’s nowhere for them to get when there’s a storm or bad weather.” (HES opened in 1928 and has never had a gymnasium.)
The new classrooms will allow for expansion of the school to include the 8th grade and will allow Huxford to field competitive athletic teams, including volleyball and archery.
Goolsby then suggested that the unexpected windfall be used to remove two projects, including that one, from the system’s to-do list.
“I suggest we use the PSCA money to pay for Flomaton (portable classrooms, an expected expenditure of ‘about $1 million’), and the rest to pay for Huxford,” he said. “With what we’re already getting, I don’t see why we don’t move forward with that project.”
District 5’s Loumeek White agreed, saying, “We’ve got money that’s donated; we need to go ahead …” before Goolsby interjected.
“They’re expecting us to use it,” the DDO said of the pledge by Poarch, which currently sends two buses of students to Flomaton schools. “The relationship that has been built there is nothing short of impressive. By us keeping our word and doing what we said we were going to do, that will go a long way with them, make our relationship that much stronger.”
The remainder of the workshop included discussion of grants received and grants pending, advances in technology across the county, including a radio system that will allow direct contact with bus drivers, and professional development tools for teachers.
Also, Assistant Superintendent George Brown announced that medical personnel have been secured for each county school’s home football game — varsity, junior varsity and middle school — this year, and District 6’s Sherry Digmon pointed out that the Drug Abuse Prevention Education (DARE) program would return to ECMS during the upcoming term.
Superintendent of Education Michele McClung said the system is providing the tools to help teachers and students enjoy school.
“We’re writing grants, and we don’t want to leave any ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief) money on the table,” McClung said. “We want teaching to be fun again; we want learning to be fun again. We want our teachers to really dive into what we are going to show them, but they have to let go of the old-school way. These programs take so much off their plates.”
District 7’s Coleman Wallace said the myriad of information presented during the workshop was staggering.
“This is an overwhelming amount of information,” he said shortly before the board ended the workshop and went into its regular meeting (see separate story, this edition).