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Jeff Moss has bankrupted our school system...in more ways than one


while the school board and county commissioners fiddle while Rome burns


December 16, 2008
Editorial note: This article was written before the Lee County Board of Education voted to offer Moss the superintendency there. We continue with it here in the hopes that it will help our school board and county commissioners learn something from this tragedy.

Beaufort County and the Beaufort County Schools are in serious financial trouble. The County because of the school system. Here's the situation in an oversimplified nutshell:

Jeff Moss has overspent and exhausted our reserves and now that hard times are here we have no way to respond without it hurting to the quick. And he does not have the leadership to set an example.
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Six years ago the school system had a study done to determine what its facilities needs were. The "Rouse Study" determined that the total costs were, roughly, $33 million. The voters approved a bond issue for that amount and Jeff Moss came to town. Over the next three years he spent not $33 million but $39.4 million to build, on a per pupil basis, some of the most expensive schools ever built in this state. Click here to review an earlier story documenting how Moss overbuilt the bond projects and wasted $13 million.

To cover the $6.4 million over-run he patched together a "rob Peter to pay Paul" plan that left the Capital Outlay Fund depleted. He did so in part by using money that should have been paid by the School Food Service Fund (indirect costs) to the Capital Outlay Fund or Current Expense Fund to the tune of at least $200,000 per year. He had to do that to cover the astronomical losses in the SFS Fund which had, before his arrival, accumulated over a million dollars in fund balance (i.e., rainy-day fund).

In the largest of the funds he has the most discretion over (local Current Expense) he depleted the fund balance even as revenue increased as a result of a deal he struck with the County Commissioners in which he took nearly a million dollars a year in return for agreeing not to sue the county again.

And it must be remembered that in 2006 when he did sue the county, contending that the county had not appropriated enough money to operate the schools, that he was hiding a million dollars in fund balance that could have been used to cover his mythical shortfall. Now he really does have a shortfall.

Simply stated, he has spent all of his reserves. Now he is being hit with a recession and declining tax revenues at both the state and local levels. He has already raised the meal prices past the point of diminishing return and has very little "pricing power" left there.

So the state mandated a less than 1% reversion, with more likely to come. He has no reserves to cover the reversion.

With reserves depleted Moss had to cut. So he cuts where it hurts the most: The classroom. In proposing to cut $282,450 he cut teaching positions and instructional supplies. Not one dime did he propose to cut in this first round from the central office.

He did propose a hiring freeze, except for positions he doesn't want to freeze, anticipating future reversions to the state (given that the Governor has already signaled those are likely). But he refused to make even symbolic cuts in things like travel, conferences, workshops, meals, etc. He delays implementing conservation efforts, assuming apparently that the economy is going to magically turn around in the next few weeks. He ignores the obvious fact that County revenues will suffer as sales taxes and real estate values decline.

We would still be in a bind even if Jeff Moss had managed our money wisely. But we are in a much worse bind simply because he has mis-managed our money worse than I have ever seen anyone other than George Bush and Jim Hunt do so. Folks, we are in a serious position.

The economy is going to get worse before it gets better. To think that state reversions will be limited to .6% is simply wishful thinking. To ignore the fact that the County is not going to be hit just like everyone else is simply foolish thinking. But to have overspent in virtually every area where he could have built up reserves for such times is nothing but incompetence and malfeasance.

Jeff Moss has bankrupted our school system and he shows no signs of even realizing it. In fact, he got into a mini-debate with his Finance Officer at the last meeting when he told the school board they could "use fund balance" to reduce the hit on the classroom even as his Finance Officer said three times "I don't have any more fund balance I can legally appropriate." That one little discussion perfectly illustrates his ignorance of financial management. He has allowed current expense fund balance to drop to less than .2% when it should be at least 5% in times like these and maybe even more (if more reversions are mandated). He has completely exhausted Capital Outlay fund balance and if a roof goes bad or a boiler goes down he has no emergency repair fund to use. He has already stripped maintenance to below the "keep stable" level much less preventive maintenance. And things are going to get worse before they get better.

But if Jeff Moss' incompetent fiscal management were not bad enough, what we are seeing that is even more devastating to our future is the total lack of leadership. If he possessed the kind of leadership he should he would have instinctively realized that you don't cut the classroom as a first resort. It is true that most of the money goes to the classroom and cuts there may be necessary, but a good leader would know...would not even have to think about it...that you cut the classroom only as a last resort, even if for no other than for symbolic reasons. That is the kind of leadership we have lacked.

And if he were any kind of leader at all he would have realized that you don't put a board of education in a position of searching through budget line items to try to find places to cut. A good superintendent would have asked the board for conceptual principles to apply and then used those principles to devise a list of options available for the board to weigh. And ideally, they would weigh each cut against the principles they agreed upon before they ever looked at the first number.

Jeff Moss has cost Beaufort County more than $13 million in four years and is still costing us more than it would cost to buy out his contract.
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Had Moss used such leadership Robert Belcher, Teressa Banks, Cindy Winstead and maybe Etha Booth would have prevent the debacle we saw Monday night. They would have stood up for the kids in the classrooms first and the result would have been different. We hope Mike Isbell joins that cadre soon. And William Warren would never have gotten a second to his motion to stifle debate on how to protect the classroom.

At a time when he should be setting the tone and creating a sense of urgency and sacrifice Jeff Moss continues to spend like a drunken sailor. But worse still, he fails to set an example. He proposed all the cuts come from the classroom and nothing from the central office. And not one dime from HIS budget.

He should have proposed that HIS perks be cut back or even completely cut out as an example of the necessity to conserve and protect the classroom. If he were an automobile CEO he would be flying around in a private jet.

The school board should have also set an example. They ought to set the example of sacrifice and eliminate ALL of their perks, including symbolically that of feeding themselves at their meetings and eliminating their junkets for a little while. And they ought to seriously slash their legal expenses which have been, since Jeff Moss arrived here, in a word: exorbitant. And those expenses have been so out of line simply because of his incompetence and malfeasance as much as anything, except perhaps some favoritism he has played with.

Jeff Moss has cost Beaufort County more than $13 million in four years and is still costing us more than it would cost to buy out his contract.

How much more of this is our school board and county commissioners going to allow to go on?

It should be noted that this year's reversions may be duplicated or multiplied in next year's state budget. If revenue projections are where it looks now like they will be then the continuation budget will have to be reduced, meaning that the reversions will become "permanent." So "another $282,450 will have to be "found" again next year (or whatever larger amount is ultimately cut from the continuation budget). And the schools are locked in to the Chickengate Agreement with the county which limits how much of a bailout the county can provide, even if it has the money.
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  1. reply print email
    Now we know
    December 17, 2008 | 10:22 AM

    why he was waiting to show where Food Service stands at this point. You got to know when to hold, know when to fold, and you got to know when to walk away.
    Can we sue him to recover damages?

    Homer Simpson
  2. reply print email
    Not even a "Homer Simpson" fan and I agree with this.
    December 17, 2008 | 01:44 PM

    I don't even care for the program Homer Simpson and I agree with the above statement. Beaufort County and Board of Education SHOULD sue Jeff Moss for the damages he has caused to our school system. He constantly hit our schools below the belt and it's my opinion both parties should reciprocate.

    Clifton
  3. reply print email
    I agree with Homer
    December 17, 2008 | 04:06 PM

    The Beaufort County Commissioners and The Board of Education should sue Jeff Moss for damages he has done to our County and our schools.

    Clifton
  4. reply print email
    Good points
    December 18, 2008 | 09:05 AM

    all one has to do is compare the WDN to the Observer's reports to see why we need the Observer. I don't agree with Mr. Richardson very often but he is correct about Moss and Moss would still be here thanks to people like William Warran were it not for the Observer. Thank you for exposing Moss.

    BCS teacher and parent
  5. reply print email
    employee of lee county schools
    March 03, 2011 | 12:53 PM

    Old habits die hard...doing the same thing here!

    t sharpe
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