Escrow account ‘never existed’

Published 8:56 am Friday, July 15, 2016

The Prince Edward County School Board’s recent confusion about the existence of an escrow account has delayed renovations to the high school’s athletic facilities.

According to school board member Darin Thomas, who represents the Prospect District, the board’s misunderstanding stems from an agreement made in 2008 between the school board and Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors that unused funds would go into a reserve account at the end of each fiscal year.

The school board voted during its June meeting to use the alleged reserve funds to improve the Prince Edward County High School restrooms and bleachers located on the football and baseball fields. School officials say the facilities do not comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Following the meeting, members were informed that such an account did not exist.

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During the July 6 school board meeting, Thomas stated that they all now know that the agreement “no longer holds true.”

“That account never existed,” County Administrator Wade Bartlett said. “All the money just stays in the general fund.”

Wade Bartlett

Wade Bartlett

“As we now understand it, each current board of supervisors cannot bind any future boards to any future agreements,” School Board Chairman and Farmville District representative Sherry Honeycutt said. “Because a previous (board) decided that in the best interest of the schools’ capital or facility projects, they would ‘set aside’ any funds not spent out of each year’s budget. We erroneously assumed that was a continuing policy.”

Sherry Honeycutt

Sherry Honeycutt

“What we thought was that any funds that returned at the end of the year would be put into a separate account, and at some point, the school board could make a withdrawal from that account, and we were trying to use the money that we thought was in that account,” said then-Buffalo District representative and Board Chairman Russell Dove.

According to Thomas, the board believed that there should be $300,000 in the reserve account.

“That was the number that our finance director (Cindy Wahrman) has been giving me for about a year-and-a-half,” said Thomas.

“The money doesn’t just disappear. It is maintained in the general fund, and … this is not a big secret,” said Bartlett.

According to Bartlett, the way the Code of Virginia is written, an appropriation from the board of supervisors is required for any money that is spent by anyone.

“So, (the schools) would have still had to come to the board of supervisors and ask for that reserve … so that they could spend it. Nothing has changed. There’s no change at all on the process that would have to happen,” Bartlett said.

According to Thomas, the lack of escrow account is “not going to stop us from … asking for the money to do the project.”

Thomas said during the July school board meeting that the board would need $237,900 to complete the renovations.

That total includes $16,800 for bleacher demolition, $116,000 for bleacher installation and $105,000 to remodel the restrooms.

During the school board meeting, Division Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson encouraged board members to wait until August to vote on the project. “We have to maintain our facilities,” she said. “We also have a roof that we need to replace.”

Johnson encouraged the board to compile a list of all improvements that are needed and to prioritize them.

“She wants to really get a feel for what our physical needs are and I don’t (fault) her for that,” said Thomas. “I think the board sees it as a priority because we’ve talked about it for over a year-and-a-half.”

“I look forward to working with the board of supervisors to hopefully get some of this done, if not all of it — if they see fit to allow us to have the money once we — once I make the proposal to them,” said Thomas.

“All they had to do was ask and then that will start the process,” Bartlett said. “I don’t know if it would pass or not pass. I don’t know. That’s up to the board of supervisors.”