County must be frugal

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 13, 2003

When the incoming superintendent of the Pike County Board of Education vowed to be &uot;frugal&uot; with the county funds, it’s likely he wasn’t just giving lip service to the concept.

Dr. Mark Bazzell, who was sworn into office last week, inherits a school system under scrutiny.

In 2002, the last year of retiring Superintendent Dr. John Key’s more than 20-year tenure, the system’s maintenance supervisor was charged with more than 50 counts of theft in connection with an apparently long-term theft of air conditioning units from the district.

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Police have said the theft apparently took place over several years, and more than 50 units and condensers are suspected to have been ordered through the school system and resold through the maintenance supervisor’s personal contracting business.

And as the story of the theft spread, the same questions echoed throughout the county: &uot;How could this happen?&uot;

It’s not been an easy question to answer.

And in a state whose education efforts are overshadowed by the constant threat – and reality – of proration and funding shortfalls, the thought of thousands of dollars in maintenance funds being redirected for personal gain is galling.

Now, Bazzell inherits that mark on the district’s fiscal credibility, and he comes into the superintendent’s post during a time when county funds are lacking and the state Legislature is projecting a $500 million shortfall in state revenues this year.

Frugality is going to be a necessary trait.

Dr. Bazzell faces an uphill challenge, just as Dr. Key did and as their counterpart, Dr. Hank Jones in the Troy City Schools, faces.

Running a public education system in Alabama in the 21st Century requires a person to be well-versed the lessons of frugality. He must know how to maximize earmarked funds; how to juggle other funds to stretch them as far as possible; how to cut corners without cutting credibility.

It’s a tall challenge, and one we don’t envy.