School systems continue to try to resolve owed money

Published 8:50 pm Saturday, April 9, 2016

Administrators from the Dallas County School System and Selma City School System are still trying to find middle ground on a funding issue that has been ongoing for almost four years.

The issue centers on a half-cent sales tax the Dallas County Commission created in September 2012 to help the county school system meet a federal law concerning financial reserves. Auditors discovered in 2014 that the tax should’ve been split between the city and county school system. By that point, the county had collected $2 million, meaning the city was owed around $1 million.

Officials from the county and city had a discussion within the last several weeks about the fairest and best way to settle it. Selma City Schools Superintendent Angela Mangum said several plans were proposed. One of them was a five-year repayment plan.

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“There were some repayment plans that were discussed but Dallas County is going to go back and look at our proposal, look at their budget and what they can afford to do and come back with a recommendation and then continue with their discussion,” Mangum said.

Dallas County Superintendent Don Willingham said it’s not that simple.

“The money was budgeted, spent, repairs were being done, so it’s not like that money was put aside with the thought of ever having to pay it back,” Willingham said.

A proposed bill in the Alabama Legislature last year would’ve created a new tax and would’ve rewarded 90 percent of the half-cent sales tax to the county, but it didn’t gain any traction.

“The reason the tax was passed in the first place was because of our lack of local revenue,” Willingham said. “We’ve worked this hard this long to get up to the point where a total payback would bankrupt us. It would get us back to almost zero.”

Willingham said in recent years the Dallas County School System has worked on its reserve fund, but it has come at the cost of other needed repairs. He said right now the school system needs roof and plumbing work completed.

“It’s come at a cost and some of the repairs and some of the services we provide to the school aren’t being done because we are trying to meet that one month reserve that is required by the state,” Willingham said.

Mangum said the Selma City School System could use the money too.

“Our funds have been cut and reduced over the last few years and we have a lot of needs with facility needs, resources for our students as well,” Mangum said. “We are dealing with a similar situation as Dallas County that we are on a tight budget.”

Mangum said Dallas County is expected to come back with a proposal that fits within its budget, but no meeting has been scheduled yet.

“From our perspective, we are trying to reach an amicable agreement … and I’m hoping it will be as soon as possible,” Mangum said. “This issue has been long standing.”