LITTLE ROCK – When the Dumas School District took in the Gould School District last year, it took on a hefty financial burden, according to an audit released Wednesday.
The tiny Gould district was operating with a $322,873 deficit when Dumas was forced to combine its operations with Gould, according to the June 30, 2004, audit report.
Sympathetic lawmakers on Wednesday heard from Thomas Cox, the Dumas superintendent, and Ronald Laurent, the former Gould superintendent who is now assistant superintendent at Dumas.
“We are dealing with it,” Cox told the legislative audit committee. “We’re going to move on.”
Cox last year had opposed the merger, saying that it would create a greater racial imbalance in his district. Before the consolidation, Cox told the state Board of Education last May that the 99 percent black Gould district would increase the percentage of black Dumas students from 64 percent to 68 percent.
Cox said after Wednesday’s meeting that he still doesn’t know the extent of financial problems he inherited, and Laurent said he didn’t know if he had inherited accurate accounting balances when he joined the Gould district in 2003.
Gould was forced to consolidate with Dumas after the Legislature last year approved a law forcing the consolidations of districts with fewer than 350 students.
Cox also told the committee that despite extra state money that flows with students based on poverty levels, his district will benefit little because of rapidly declining enrollment. State funding goes to districts on a per-student basis. The districts combined, he said, had lost 44 students this year, which he said translates to $288,000 in state aid.
The district plans to move all Gould students in grades 7-12 to Dumas in the fall, and is considering doing the same for the elementary grades, Cox said.
The audit report included other financial problems in Gould, such as overpayments to teachers and unallowable uses of federal funds.
Lawmakers on the audit panel suggested that audits may be required ahead any future consolidations so that the receiving districts can know what financial burdens await.