LAKELAND -- Lanier County Board of Education Chairman Phillip Connell rebutted allegations recently made regarding the halting of business due to budgeting woes.

Thursday, Lanier County School System Superintendent Eloise Sorrell said she had been advised by Georgia Department of Education officials to discontinue operations following the Lanier County Board of Education's failure to adopt an approved spending plan prior to Friday. Legally, it cannot continue to operate without an annual budget or spending resolution in place.

"In order to continue operating when the school board cannot adopt a budget prior to July 1, it must adopt a spending resolution, which authorizes the superintendent to spend funds in the new fiscal year until the budget is adopted," according to State Board rule 160-5-2-.20.

Connell said it was not the desire of the majority of the Lanier County Board of Education to adopt a budget or a spending resolution. He said he informed Sorrell of this in advance.

The Lanier County Board of Education was scheduled to adopt its 2005-06 budget or a spending resolution during a 6 p.m. June 29 called meeting. With Randy Sirmans, District 4, and Erlish Locklear, District 1, being the only members in attendance, the meeting was adjourned about a half hour later due to a lack of quorum, according to minutes that are unofficial until approved by the board at its next meeting.

A tentative 2005-06 budget was unanimously approved by the Lanier County Board of Education on June 14, following a motion to do so by Sirmans, and advertised in The Lanier County News. According to the unofficial minutes, Connell was not present during that meeting.

Friday, Connell said the tentative adoption was the first time the Lanier County Board of Education had seen the budget. Later, he said each of the five board members participates in the process of developing the annual spending plan. He followed that by saying the superintendent was in charge of putting together the budget and presenting it to the board for action.

Additional Lanier County Board of Education budget work sessions were held on June 21 and June 28. Sorrell and Connell confirmed that all board members were present at each of these meetings.

"(Sorrell) thought the board would just rubber-stamp this budget," Connell said.

Connell said 2005-06 expenditures are about $1 million higher than those of the previous year. He said Sorrell was unable to sufficiently explain the increase. But he did not provide specific examples of areas in question.

"There is a waste of money in the budget that the majority of the school board has asked to be eliminated so that expenditures will not exceed revenue," he added. "At this time, the board has been unsuccessful in gaining cooperation from the school superintendent in these matters."

The Lanier County School System's proposed 2005-06 budget includes $13 million in revenue and $13.2 million in expenditures and requires a little more than $200,000 from its fund equity, a type of savings account, to balance it.

Connell also questioned the accuracy of Sorrell's statement regarding the Lanier County School System being shut down due to not having an approved spending plan in place. He said "the school system is already closed on Friday during the summer and was also to be closed next week at the superintendent's request for vacation. School has not been shut down. We are on summer break. Every employee has been paid and every employee will be paid. School will reopen as originally scheduled."

When asked, Connell did not indicate when the Central Office would reopen.

Thursday, Sorrell said she had told her staff to remain at home until further notice, acting on recommendations she said she received from state officials.

Connell described the situation as "embarrassing to the school and to me as well." He said that certain decisions are "necessary and never popular" and that he will never support spending more than the school system has.

"I asked (Sorrell) not to talk to the media and make the school board look bad," he said. "I would not talk to the media myself. This issue should have been resolved by us."

"I will continue to focus on taking care of our children as elected, but I also have responsibilities to taxpayers to see that their tax dollars are being spent wisely," Connell continued. "This is necessary to ensure the proper education of our children."

The Lanier County Board of Education is not scheduled to meet again until Monday, July 18. However, its members can call a special meeting before then.

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