School board files lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 29, 2002

According to a report from the Associated Press, Covington County Circuit Judge M. Ashley McKathan has ordered that state officials not spend approximately $38 million from the sale and lease of local school funds, as called for by a new state law aimed at easing school budgets.

The legislature had passed a bill in April allowing Gov. Don Siegelman to use the money from school land sales and another $46.1 million from three other sources to help offset sagging revenues in education.

The Covington County School Board filed a suit on Aug. 21, claiming the money does not belong to the state, and the state constitution bars officials from spending the funds.

The board claims a bond sale to repay the $38 million to local boards, which the Legislature included in the bill, might never happen because spending the school lands money is illegal.

The suit also alleges that the new law was intended

to prevent budget cuts just before the Nov. 5 election.

McKathan's temporary order

is good until a preliminary hearing to be held Tuesday, Sept. 3. At this hearing, McKathan could order the money to remain frozen until the matter comes to trial.

The suit names, Siegelman, Finance Director Henry Mabry, State Treasurer Lucy Baxley, State Comptroller Robert Childree and state schools Superintendent Ed Richardson as defendants.

Richardson was named as one of the defendants as he is a member of the authority which would issue the bonds to repay the money.

The $38 million in question, which has been held in an account, was raised over the years through sales, leases, timber-cutting and mineral income on land designated for local schools.

Susan Salter, a spokesperson for the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the constitution

prevents the state from spending the money, despite the bill passed in April.

Out of the $38 million, about $8.2 million is owed by the state to the Covington County School System at the city school systems of Andalusia and Opp, according to a 2001 study by the state Examiners of Public Accounts.

The suit asks the court to determine what share of the $8.2 million each school system should receive.