By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Pike Road school system obviously believes strongly in finders keepers.
Nearly a year after the system was notified by the Alabama State Department of Education that it was mistakenly sent more than $1.4 million that should have gone to Montgomery Public Schools, Pike Road still hasn’t repaid the money. And it’s now apparently using the repayment of that money to sweeten a deal the system is trying to work to purchase a school building from MPS.
“You have to hand it to Pike Road, they’re really something,” said an MPS board member. “Although this offer is better than their original offer – to repay us just $500,000 (of the $1.4 million). And yes, they really tried that to begin with.”
There’s no doubt that PRS owes the money to MPS.
Last December, ALSDE officials told APR, which first reported this story, that the $1.4 million was mistakenly sent to PRS after an ALSDE worker miscalculated per-pupil allotments. An MPS official noticed the issue in November 2016 and alerted the state.
But by that time, it was too late to get the money back. Then state superintendent Michael Sentance ordered PRS to repay the money, but the system made it clear that it didn’t have it.
So, this October, when the new fiscal year begins, was to be the hard deadline. Except it’s not.
PRS is attempting to work out a deal now with MPS to buy the old Georgia Washington school building – a deal that has angered many Montgomery residents because of the school building’s historical value – and include repayment of the money in that deal. The catch: it would be doled out over 10 years.
That deal was initially approved by the MPS board, but several board members have now indicated that they plan to change their votes and kill it, responding to public outcry.
What happens to the $1.4 million at that point, no one knows.
MPS board members also aren’t sure why the state won’t step in and simply correct this mistake. Board member Melissa Snowden said they had several meetings with Sentance in which the issue was brought up. Each time, he refused to get personally involved.
“He had no interest at all in becoming involved,” Snowden said. “I don’t know why it can’t be corrected in this year’s allocations, but that’s just me.”
Board members say they’ve only touched on the topic once with new interim superintendent Ed Richardson, but they’re not optimistic about the outcome since Richardson worked extensively with PRS and the Town of Pike Road.
“I think we’re screwed – again,” another board member said.