Solution needed for school funding

Published 10:57 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A few weeks ago we provided an update on an ongoing funding dispute between the Dallas County School System and the Selma City School System. The systems are trying to reach an agreement on how an unintentional funding mistake should be rectified and so far they haven’t made much progress.

In September 2012, the Dallas County Commission approved a half-cent sales tax to help the county system meet a state law requiring a minimum reserve. The state requires a school system to have one month’s operating revenue in savings and Dallas County was nowhere near the allotted number. At the time the tax was developed, Dallas County had only $100,000 in reserve. The system was required to have about $2.2 million.

In 2014 — after about $2 million had been collected — auditors discovered the tax should have been split evenly between both schools systems based on the number of students. Both school systems have a similar student population —between 3,300 and 3,700 — so the funding should’ve been split close to 50/50.

At that point, Selma City had not received any money from the tax, so Dallas County owed Selma City Schools about $1 million.

System leaders met a few weeks ago to discuss how to solve the problem. It’s an encouraging sign that there was a face-to-face meeting, although there was little progress made.

Our hope is that this funding issue gets resolved in a timely manner. Selma City Schools has a new superintendent of just a year in Dr. Angela Mangum and the Dallas County School System is about to have a new superintendent in Hattie Shelton, who will replace Don Willingham officially on May 1. It’d be unfortunate for this issue to continue on through the first few months of Shelton’s tenure.

We understand that both school systems have the best in mind for the children who attend their schools. A lot can be done with $1 million, so it’s easy to see why Selma City Schools wants the money it’s due.

However, the Dallas County School System needs that money just to meet state regulations. When the tax was created, it was not intended for any of the funding to go to the city system, and we think that should matter in the final solution.

Down the road, the Legislature may be able to help resolve this problem and could maybe even restore the tax to its original intent. Last year, a bill died in the Legislature that would’ve replaced the original sales tax with a similar bill, except 90 percent of the tax would’ve gone to the county and the remaining 10 percent to the city system.

If that’s not an option, we hope the two school systems can work this out in a timely manner. There’s got to be a solution where Selma City Schools can receive the money its due without crippling the Dallas County School System.

We understand it may not be a popular or easy decision to take funding away from the Selma City School System, but the city system was never intended to receive any of the funding. When it was discovered the city would be receiving an extra $1 million, it was an unexpected windfall for the system.

One thing is for sure — putting off any kind of real discussion isn’t accomplishing anything. In the best interest of both systems, we hope to see progress made and a solution established in the near future.