The A+ Coalition is an initiative of the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce to advance education in Natchitoches Parish. They prepared questions and sent them to all school board candidates. Here are the candidate responses to the first question, below. A full review of all answers can be found at
The intent was to provide the public with relevant information to help inform their vote in time for early voting, and on Election Day, Nov. 6.
QUESTION 1. What experience do you have with complicated budgets? When you are given a very lengthy budget for the district, what will be your process to determine if it is a good budget for the system?
Rhonda Guidroz: Even though I have business experience, my experience in dealing with really complicated budgets like that of the school board has come in the past 2+ years I have been on the board. The chief administrative officer (Superintendent) has the responsibility of preparing and proposing the annual budget to the board. After carefully reviewing and comparing it to prior budgets, questions and concerns are directed to the Superintendent, Director of Finance, Finance Committee Chairman and other board members. The submitted budget must be made available to the School Board and the public for inspection 15 days prior to the date of adoption. The budget is reviewed again by the Director of Finance at the committee meeting prior to presentation for approval at the regularly scheduled board meeting. Budgets that result in no deficit spending, are properly formatted, meet mandated state allocations of MFP requirements, contain adequate reserves, meet guidelines for weighted funding, and federal funding and expenditures, and “good” budgets meet the needs of the district.
Katrina Demars: Experience – At least 15 years. Process to determine if a good budget – Funds are used to encourage and ensure that each dollar spent is to better educate, influence higher test scores, graduation rate improvement, less C, D, and F schools, along with more dual enrollment credit and District ACT scores 21 or higher.
Dorothy McGaskey: In reference to complicated budgets, my experience lends itself to previous work experience or past employment through – Support Enforcement and the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in which I am a member. I served on the executive board of the chapter where budgets were discussed. Having worked for a government agency, it is the responsibility of the institution to provide certified, trained specialists and or accountants to oversee the budgets. There is a hierarchy of personnel in the finance department that reports to the business director or finance leader who ultimately reports to the superintendent and to the Board. It is the responsibility of the district, in this case, to maintain accurate financial records according to financial income and out-go relating to all budgets as determined by official State government budgetary laws and regulations. This process filters down to the local district’s policies and procedures regarding finance. My process for determining if it’s a good budget for the system is to research State and local financial governing policies and procedures – to become knowledgeable according to those procedures and policies which are in place. Additionally, via the Needs Assessments analysis that’s established and presented by local administrative personnel, I will be informed and make an informed decision regarding the budget. All information is publicly provided via the Department of Education (DOE) and the local district’s budgets. Additionally, as a Board member, it will be my responsibility to ask questions regarding finances, to ask for additional audits if necessary and for those findings are citings to be presented in terminologies that are easily understood by the Board.
Billy Benefield Jr.: I retired from Weyerhaeuser Company after almost 30-years of service. The last 24 years as a Human Resources Manager. I supported two Weyerhaeuser facilities in two different cities the last ten years of employment. In a dual role at Weyerhaeuser, at the Natchitoches facility, I was the HR Manager and also the Purchasing Manager. I served the facility as Purchasing Manager for 15-years. During this time, I managed the maintenance department budget and spending as well as other departments. I served on the Natchitoches Parish School Board for two terms many years ago. I believe in term limits and during my second term in office, I announced I would not seek re-election. While on the board, I served as Finance Committee Chairperson for several years. We faced many of the same issues the board faces today. We put in a detailed plan to balance the budget without closing schools. I have vast experience with complicated and lengthy budgets both professionally and in service on the school board. When faced with a lengthy budget you must look at the overall spend. This will allow you to immediately know how you must adjust. The General Fund of the Natchitoches Parish School Board is over 86% personnel costs. You must establish a firm staffing formula for the district based on available funds to provide for the education of the children of Natchitoches Parish. A good accurate budget has to have a solid foundation at the ground level. I have managed these type budgets.
Phil Brown: Experience: I have had occasion to create and defend budget requests for projects and organizations where I had direct responsibility, e.g. a. United States Air Force i. at Hill AFB, Utah: I was the commander of the Bioenvironmental Engineer’s Office. I worked to identify a significant number of personnel needed to meet requirements placed on the Office. I was successful in increasing the number of personnel within the unit; ii. at the Air Force Logistics Command Headquarters, Ohio: I created and obtained a five-million-dollar program approved by Congress for developing what became the Command Core Occupational Health Data System. The system maintained occupational medicine and industrial hygiene data on both military and civilian workers. After I left the Air Force the Data System was modified and expanded across the whole Air Force; b. Eastman Kodak: Assembled and helped defend the Health, Safety and Environment Organization budget. It exceeded thirty million dollars annually. Additionally, while working at Kodak I created, defended, and had approved a business case for creating an electronic medical record system for maintaining the medical records of Rochester, New York Kodak employees. The business case reduced the number of employees being used to maintain the medical record system by 25 personnel while causing no one to be fired. B. Lengthy Budget: Generally, I will approach the budget from the perspective of a zero-based budget. In using this method, one assumes there is no justification for any fund request until needs have been identified and justified. I will work to understand a defined requirement for inclusion of any item in the budget, the rationale and calculation of the quantification of the requirement, identification of alternatives for meeting the need, the rationale for exclusion of alternatives and the selection of the preferred alternative. Items for inclusion in a budget are generally categorized as required (legal mandated or by regulation) or optional (best practice, quality improvement or other). Are the expenses recurring or one time? Any program must include any associated expenses, e.g. training, equipment, memberships or other fees. When requested funds exceed available resources, a prioritization process is used to define a cut-off point, i.e. expected expenditures will not exceed expected resources. I would expect the school board to execute the prioritization process. If a proposed budget after scrubbing and prioritization exceeds expected available resources, I would expect the school board to identify any additional funding needs and look for resources. Generally, the last resort is the Natchitoches community. This would require the board to define the additional requirement and propose, defend and argue the need before the Natchitoches Parish community.
Reba Phelps: I have personally served on several non profit boards who faced severe budget deficits that possibly affected programs and services offered to children in our parish and surrounding areas. My process for determining if it is a good budget for the system will include analyzing how each and every line item will directly affect the children in classrooms and their ability to continue their education and excel.
Eugean Garner: Over the past 25 years, I have dealt with budgets for the water systems for Goldonna and Chi-Chi Bay. During that time, there have been many shortfalls concerning budget. Each time I have worked to balance the budgets and maintain the water system within a balanced budget. I will attend the Natchitoches School Board’s Budget Committee meetings and actively participate in discussions so that I am more knowledgeable of the expenses outlined and our current standing as a district. I will work with all stakeholders to maintain a balanced budget, while meeting the needs of our school system.
Kendria Sanders: I feel the school finance coursework that I completed during my Master’s program, to earn Educational Administration certification prepared me to work with the budget principles of a school system. I used these principles I learned to create the annual school budget during my tenure as principal of a Pre-K through 8th grade school. Given that the budget for the entire school system is lengthy and encompasses all the schools as well as transportation, salaries, tax revenues, government mandates at the expense of the school system and so much more I would address it as any budget. I would study the amount taken in by our school system, projected revenues and shortfalls and prioritize the monies going out by necessary operating costs, review and rank the currently funded programs by cost-effectiveness while making student centered decisions and discontinuing programs that aren’t achieving their objectives or that are not cost effective. However, with any budget, many of the expenses of concern are not flexible since they may be mandated or have funding restrictions placed on them that are out of the control of the local system. My commitment to the public would be transparency by informing the public of revenues and expenditures with an explanation or reasoning behind the balancing of the annual district budget. I would also like to see partnerships formed with the community to allow input for creative solutions and prioritizing local needs.
Tom Collier: I have had a number of times on NPPJ in 20 years there. Again, I must have a time to go into it from the beginning back to bottom line. I have Collier’s & Sons budget for 34 years and still here.
Steven Harris: My partner and I started a multi-million-dollar business (*C&H Sales & rentals). I spent 6 years with eh Council on Aging, where we dealt with multi-million-dollar budgets. Lastly, I’ve been a pastor for the last 20-plus years dealing with budgets. What determines a good budget in a public school system is this: Personnel are the largest cost for our school districts. Hence, an understanding of a District’s cost structure must start with understanding staffing patterns and allocations. The biggest bulk of our budget is made up of salaries, benefits, contractual services, equipment and supplies. Also, having an understanding of our MFP or Minimum Foundation Program and what the forecast is will give us an understanding of our budgeting in the district. It has also been very beneficial to have a sister-in-law who deals with Fortune t00 companies as an accountant and a cousin who handles the City of Ruston’s budget to answer questions.
Beverly Broadway:After serving as the executive director of the Women’s Resource Center for over four years, I became very familiar with larger, intricate budgets. This included not only the operating budget, but I was also responsible for creating and overseeing the budgets for various grants. When examining a budget to determine if it is a good fit, there are a few questions I look to answer: a. Is it balanced? b. When was the last time this budget was audited by an independent agency? c. Are there sufficient funds for competitive salaries, raises, trainings, etc.? d. Does it leave sufficient funds for upkeep, repairs/maintenance, and emergencies? e. Is this a budget that allows for growth? f. What checks have been established to ensure accountability in spending?
Carroll Daniels: As a high school principal and board member for the past 30+ years, I’ve worked with school budgets and received many audit reports to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect public funds. As a school principal, my number one priority was to provide much needed instructional funding for teachers working with our students. In addition, a large part of our NPSB agenda each month is to receive regular financial reports from teh financial director, Mr. Richard Foshee. I’ve also worked to see that the BRE funds in my district are available to make much needed capital improvements at Marthaville Elem./Jr. High School. Visit the school and see how that money is being spent. While serving on the board,I advocated for the formation of a physical facilities committee to oversee the safe operation and physical condition of our schools.
Shelby Borders: Over the last 30 years I’ve worked with multi-million-dollar budgets by distributing the proper amount of funds into the accounts where they are needed most and where they would be more beneficial. My determination in a good budget will be to make sure it’s not wasted in places where it is not needed and to utilize the funds to the most useful needs
Jed Cain: I am one of five current owners of the law firm of Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC based in New Orleans. Our firm, like most businesses, operates on a budget that includes a variety of revenue sources and expenditures that vary from case to case or year to year. We routinely discuss, debate and ultimately decide upon budgets for a given case and/or fiscal year. During that process we gather necessary information from outside sources, review information from our internal accounting department, consult with our outside accounting firm, and question the data provided. Compromises and tough choices have to be made with a disciplined focus on our firm’s values and business objectives. If elected to the school board, I will utilize a similar approach in working through the school system’s budget. Ultimately, we need a budget that advances our objectives, within our means, while adhering to our community values.
Emile Metoyer: I have been a school board member for 16 years. During the 16 years, I have had to read and analyze the budget to make decisions on what and where the money should be spent. The first 12 years on the board, we had a budget surplus due to the balanced budget so we extra funds that was used for supplement pay for staff and supplies for the classrooms. During the four years I was not on the board, money was taken from the surplus to balance the budget. When given a lengthy budget for the system, the first thing is to read it carefully paying close attention to the line items, proposed spending and determining whether the spending is necessary at the time. A good budget is a balanced budget not taken from the surplus.