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City school board contracts new auditor

By Staff
Kim West
The Russellville City Schools Board of Education unanimously approved the selection of a new accounting firm at its meeting Thursday afternoon.
The board chose Watkins Johnsey Professional Group PC of Florence to replace Marmann, Irons &Associates. The Sheffield-based accounting firm had performed the RCS system's past 16 financial audits, which are mandated by the state board of education.
Board officials said the change was made due to "the loss of key personnel with our previous accountants." Lisa Witt, chief financial officer for RCS, said a background in conducting public school audits was the main criteria for choosing a new firm.
"We were looking at firms with experience auditing public schools," Witt said.
Don Cox, who was approved as interim superintendent effective Jan. 5 due to the retirement of Dr. Wayne Ray, said Witt was instrumental during the auditor selection process.
"I want to thank Lisa Witt for doing this," Cox said. "She works closely with (the auditors), and we narrowed it down to one."
During his superintendent report, he recognized the system's child nutrition program for earning national recognition.
"I want to say our child nutrition program was recognized in a national magazine for its breakfast, and we're proud of any national recognition our schools receive," he said.
In the face of steadily rising utility bills, Cox asked school administrators to continue doing everything they can to keep costs down. The cost for providing electricity, water, gas and sewer service for the four schools in the system last month was $70,115.69, compared to $39,934.81 in December 2007.
"We're up $30,000 over last year at this time, and that's an 75.58 percent increase from last year," he said. "We need to do everything we can to save, and I know (the principals) are already doing that."
The Alabama Association of School Boards District 8 dinner meeting is 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26 at the Shoals Marriott Conference Center in Florence. The main topic will be school finances, which have been affected this year by deep budget cuts statewide due to proration.
School system budgets are also expected to be in proration during the 2009-10 school year, which would restrict the number of non-tenured teachers and staff members retained during the re-hiring period in May.
"Every effort will be made to save as many jobs as possible," Cox said. "We know that we have very good teachers here, and we want to save as many of them as possible."
Cox was appreciative of the support from the Central Office staff and board members as he awaits the board's decision to hire a permanent superintendent. He attributed the system's success to Ray, who will be honored at the Russellville Board of Education Building today with a retirement reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
"Being interim superintendent is challenging, but I've enjoyed it," Cox said. "The support of the staff and board members has been tremendous, and I'm grateful for the way they have supported me during the first three weeks …
"Dr. Ray has been a great institution for Russellville, and he is leaving a great legacy behind."
In other business, the board: