Letter – IWCS debacle was predictable
Published 4:07 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Editor, The Smithfield Times:
If you go to the budget section of the Isle of Wight County Schools website you will find the “Final Budget Books” for the past four years. Is it surprising that the “Final Budget Book” with the least amount of information and that still has “Proposed Budget” in the footer is the 2022-23 budget book?
It is clear to anyone who follows the school system that the 2022-23 school budget is a completely predictable disaster. The school system had no less than four people assigned duties as CFO from March 2022 to March 2023. At least two of those people, as well as the current and former superintendents, have lobbed public accusations of incompetence regarding IWCS accounting during the time in question.
As much as people like to throw around corruption accusations, I don’t think that is the case here. Incompetence (in its objective form, not as an insult) is pretty clear and basically has been admitted by Superintendent Dr. Theo Cramer and others. Good, well-intentioned people can still do a terrible job at something, especially when they lack specific experience in something as complicated as government accounting. Mistakes happen; they can and should be forgiven, especially given the level of turnover.
In reality, this is a transparency issue masquerading as a budget issue. The fact this shortfall has been known since February but not made public until there was no choice is unacceptable. This is yet another example of devaluing the public’s interest in transparency just like the Dr. Jim Thornton/Career Technical Education building naming fiasco and the Andrew Henson/Sebastian Sebastian humiliations. In all of these cases, the school system’s extraordinary efforts to obscure the initial events are far more embarrassing and self-inflicting than the original sin.
The current board is much better than its predecessors at transparency, but considering two previous boards literally set a criminally low standard (three FOIA lawsuits in three years), there is still much more work to be done. The school board must enforce transparency on this issue and demand a culture of public transparency from the IWCS staff going forward.