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Ringgold school board member, business manager clash over budget

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 1:16 a.m.

A discussion over Ringgold's 2013-2014 budget erupted into a shouting match between a school board member and the district's business manager during a Wednesday informational meeting.

The squabble stemmed from board member Larry Mauro's objection to a $172,280 increase between the tentative budget proposed last month and the final version being presented to the board.

Business Manager Randy Skrinjorich defended the change as legal and a common practice.

The tentative budget unveiled May 15 for public viewing showed a balance of $39,477,474, while the proposed final budget, expected to be approved at the board's June 19 meeting, lists $39,649,754.

There is no property tax increase tied to either version.

Mauro took exception to budget changes made without board review and the fact the budget posted for public review differed from the final version. Mauro later claimed the final budget included a 3 percent increase for administrators' salaries.

Tempers rising with each exchange between him and Skrinjorich, Mauro leaped from his seat, strode over to the seated business manager and stuck a finger in his face.

“I'm really tired, as a board member, of you mouthing off to me as an employee!” Mauro shouted. “Do you understand?”

“And I'm tired of you yelling!” Skrinjorich shouted back.

“We are the people in charge here! I ask questions. I want answers!” Mauro yelled. “We have five different budget forms, and I want to know why!”

Board President Mariann Bulko rose from her seat and admonished Mauro.

“Sit down!” Bulko yelled. “You are out of control!”

“I'm not talking to you!” Mauro said.

“Well, I'm talking to you!” Bulko replied.

“We (on the school board) are responsible for every penny of taxpayer money spent in the school district, not the employees!” Mauro stated before storming out of the room after recess was called.

After the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla said changes to the final budget occurred after discovering the district would receive more federal Title I funds than anticipated, as well as an additional teacher retirement. Title I positions provide supplementary education for remedial math and reading.

“In the original budget, we thought we were going to have to cut two Title I teachers and use them to replace one of the other teachers that retired,” Polkabla said. “But we were able to add one back once we knew we had the extra money.”

Changes to the budget included a $137,550 increase in salary for regular teachers and a nearly $240,000 increase in business education expenditures. When questioned by board member Charles Smith about the latter change, Skrinjorich said that resulted from reclassification of computer teachers to business teachers.

After the meeting, Mauro accused members of the administration of operating in secrecy.

“I'm not saying anyone is doing anything wrong or illegal, but the responsibility lies on the nine board members to control and oversee the funds, not the administrators who work for the board,” he said.

“I try asking a question of a person making nearly $120,000, and I get attacked for it. The nine of us make nothing, and we're doing a public service.”

Mauro said that while the budget alterations may be legal, they are unfair to taxpayers.

“It's my impression the public has a right to see where the money is going,” Mauro said. “There's a major difference in the budget that was given to us the day before the election and the one two days after the election, and immediately, I see a 3 percent increase for administrators in there.”

“The public has a right to know where this money is going, and every week, there's something different in there.”

A copy of the final proposal was posted to the district website 8:01 p.m. Wednesday, about halfway through the meeting.

Polkabla said changes in proposed budgets submitted for 30-day public review and the final renditions are not unique for school boards and municipalities.

“A proposed budget is giving a rough idea of what you believe (the numbers) are going to be. But you have the ability to make changes when you get additional information,” she said.

“When we didn't have good numbers on Title I, we couldn't make a good decision on what we were going to do. When we got the good numbers, we were able to make a better decision.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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