IWCS pledges transparency, asks for patience in resolving deficit

Published 1:29 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

Isle of Wight County Schools has released a statement pledging transparency and urging patience as officials work to understand and resolve a $600,000-plus deficit.

The School Board had allocated $67.9 million last year to its general fund, which accounts for the vast majority of the 2022-23 school year’s $78.1 million budget. Superintendent Theo Cramer, on Aug. 10, informed the School Board that IWCS ended up spending $68.5 million, leaving the school division $603,163 in the red.

County supervisors agreed to fund a fraction of the overage but also pressed Cramer and School Board Chairman John Collick for details. Supervisor Dick Grice, at an Aug. 17 meeting, told Cramer he had “no confidence” in the accuracy of the deficit amount nor in Cramer’s explanation of how the overspending occurred.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Transparency is important for all governing bodies, and Isle of Wight County Schools will be completely transparent regarding the deficit matter,” reads Isle of Wight County Schools’ Aug. 24 statement. “At this point, school officials have shared the most current information available, but staff continue to review the budget from 2022-2023 and make adjustments as revenues and expenses are finalized.”

Grice and Cramer’s predecessor as superintendent, Jim Thornton, have each disputed Cramer’s assertion that the school division was able to absorb $540,000 of what was originally a $2.2 million deficit by deferring the purchase of four school buses.

Grice and Thornton, at the Aug. 17 meeting, contended the half-million-dollar bus purchase wasn’t included in the adopted 2022-23 budget, therefore couldn’t have been cut. A line-by-line breakdown of a May 12, 2022, budget draft had left blank lines for capital replacement of vehicles and capitalized lease payments.

“We understand there are lingering questions concerning the deficit,” the school division’s statement reads. “Our plan is to provide an update regarding the situation at the regular School Board meeting on September 14. We appreciate your patience until additional information is forthcoming.”

Cramer, on Aug. 10, attributed the deficit to an alleged lack of an identified funding source for bus driver raises the School Board approved in 2021, as well as insufficient funds budgeted for substitute teachers. He blamed both on former Chief Financial Officer Steve Kepnes, who, when contacted by The Smithfield Times, denied the claims and said he’s being made a scapegoat.

The two issues Cramer attributed to Kepnes, according to the superintendent, account for $1.3 million of the original $2.2 million deficit. The third cause Cramer identified was a nearly $945,000 decrease in state funding that he said resulted from Isle of Wight’s 5,460-student enrollment being 2% lower than the state had forecast.