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Clarifying Section 16 funds

Since there have been issues raised in a recent article in the Andalusia Star-News regarding, the status of the Section 16 land case, I feel that I must respond to statements made in the local newspapers regarding this issue

Covington County Schools has never intended to have this case tried in the newspapers but in our court system. The Covington County Board of Education has made it clear from the beginning that it does not want one dime of money that belongs to Opp City Schools or Andalusia City Schools. Covington County Schools filed a lawsuit in our court system with two basic requests: (1) to enjoin the Governor from diverting, money from local schools, and (2) to make a declaratory judgment as to how this money should be divided.

As we have stated before, this is a complicated issue. Covington County Schools, Opp City Schools and Andalusia City Schools cannot just decide among themselves how this money can be divided statewide. This is a class action lawsuit in which many other counties and cities are involved.

Covington County: at one time, had approximately 29 complete sixteenth sections Some of those sixteenth sections were located in what is now Andalusia and Opp. All of those sections have been sold. The residents of the townships that are now located in Andalusia and Opp received the benefit from the sale of their sixteenth sections at a time in the past: A few sixteenth sections located out in the county were missing from the township or lacked the same acreage as others. The United States made up for the deficiency by granting to these townships substitute or lieu lands from Federal tracts located in Tuscaloosa County. The land in Tuscaloosa County was granted in substitution for the land that was located out in the county, none of which is located in the city limits of Opp or Andalusia. Covington County Schools is fortunate that this portion of the Section 16 lands was not sold in the past and is now producing lease income.

This grant has never been changed. The Legislative Reference Service (which provides legal advice to the Legislature) concluded as recently as February of this year that the Alabama Legislature is powerless under the Constitution to change it. We believe that outlying residents in the county school districts are beneficiaries of this land for the benefit of county students Had the land been inside city limits, we believe the city superintendents would feel the same way. Although we believe our position is reasonable, we have been open to other legal interpretations. This is why we asked the court to advise us.

Covington County Schools strongly disagrees with the implication that it is responsible for any risk that Andalusia City Schools and Opp City Schools might have to release teachers in the coming year. If the Covington County Board of Education had not enjoined the State from diverting this money, it would be impossible for any of us to receive any benefits from Section 16 lands. How then can the lack of 16th Section land be responsible for the loss of teacher units or other cut-backs from the State?

Covington County Schools cannot just decide to give away money that belongs to its students just as Opp City Schools and Andalusia City Schools cannot give away extra income they receive because of help from their city governments or additional tax revenues in which the county students do not share We have not asked these systems to share their extra revenues with Covington County Schools.

I know that the school officials of Andalusia City Schools and Opp City Schools are honorable people and are looking out for their students just as we are trying to do what is best for the students of Covington County Schools. I suggest that we lower the rhetoric and accusations and work with the court to see if there is any legal basis for a settlement that would help all of our students.

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Ronnie Driver is the superintendent of the Covington County Board of Education.