Schools recognized for finance reporting

JONESBORO — Clayton County school finance officials were recognized recently for meeting national financial reporting standards.

Clayton County Public Schools was recently awarded the Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Association of School Business Officials International for the fifth consecutive year.

Lonita Collier is the district’s director of Business Services. She said the district underwent an extensive review by certified public accountants and practicing school business officials to be eligible.

“We’re elated to be awarded this great recognition again,” said Collier. “We hope that this will give the taxpayers an understanding that we are being financially responsible with their money.”

The recognition came to the district Feb. 13 despite the revolving door of chief financial officers during the past few years of school board dysfunction and scrutiny from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Lonita has been with business services for the past five years and has assisted four different chief financial officers in that time. They included Theresa McDugal, Roger Reese, Denise Stevens and Chief Financial Officer Ken Thompson.

“I reported to them all,” said Collier. “We’ve had a lot of changes in our leadership but our support staff — we’ve been kind of stable. The leadership changes but the work pretty much stays the same.”

The school finance support staff is about 20 people who serve across departments. She said it has had to account for declining local revenues in shrinking budgets since 2007.

Collier said the general funds budget was $335 million this year, down $4 million from last year. The staff had to figure a way to make up for it.

She pointed to the district’s new grant writer, Lonnie Smith, who has been with the school district for nearly two years. His position was created under the direction of former Superintendent Dr. Edmond Heatley to help fill gaps in school funding.

Smith has earned the district more than $2 million in grant awards to date.

Collier said that Smith applied for 154 grants during the 2011-12 school year and was awarded 62 of them, totaling $1.4 million. So far this year, the district has been approved for 27 grants worth a combined $724,000.

The grants allow the district to reallocate budgeted funds to its reserve balance, which could be used in the future to offset budget shortfalls.