$1.4 million in state funds returned to Montgomery Public Schools

$1.4 million in state funds returned to Montgomery Public Schools
Monday, the AEA announced a check in the amount the system was due had been given to MPS. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
AEA displayed a blownup version of the check during a Monday afternoon news conference. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
AEA displayed a blownup version of the check during a Monday afternoon news conference. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The cash-strapped Montgomery Public School System has been repaid the nearly $1.4 million it should have received from the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama Education Association confirmed Monday.

MPS was entitled to the money, but the ALSDE accidentally sent the funds to Pike Road Schools in 2016.

Monday, MPS Interim Supt. Ann Roy Moore obtained the check in the amount of $1,399,638, the AEA said. The money has already been deposited into the system's bank accounts.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, AEA officials showed off a blown-up version of the check, which was written out to MPS by ALSDE, not Pike Road, according to the AEA.

AEA Associate Executive Director Theron Stokes said the money was returned as part of mediation, but it was unclear if Pike Road turned over the money to the state, which then gave it to MPS, or if the money came directly from the state without Pike Road's involvement.

ALSDE spokesman Michael Sibley clarified the money in a statement:

"Earlier today (Monday) we (ALSDE) reimbursed MPS the $1.4 million that was inadvertently sent to the Pike Road. Dr. Richardson has said since the beginning that he wants to correct that error. MPS was entitled to that money – no one has ever disputed that. When Dr. Richardson came back on board the MPS Board had just approved the sale of Georgia Washington so the money was going to be repaid through that route. The MPS Board changed course, decided not to sell, and eventually ended up in litigation. The judge over the mediation (Judge Price) suggested that ALSDE pay back MPS to keep the two issues separate and we complied. Pike Road will reimburse ALSDE."

AEA said in a news release about the payment that "It is uncertain if, when, or how PRS will reimburse SDE for the funds they improperly received."

The AEA claimed credit for the return with Stokes saying "It was AEA, and AEA alone, that secured this victory for Montgomery's children."

AEA is currently involved in a lawsuit against ALSDE, including Interim State Supt. Dr. Ed Richardson. The suit challenges Richardson's authority to close four MPS schools and sell one of the facilities, Georgia Washington Middle School, to nearby Pike Road, and accuses him of having conflicts of interest in the matter due to previous consulting work he did for PRS.

AEA called the $1.4 million payment "tangible results" from its lawsuit. The suit won't be heard by a judge until at least March 29. Meanwhile, Pike Road has filed emergency motions with the Alabama Supreme Court for an immediate stay of the proceedings. As of the close of business Monday, no ruling has been handed down.

The state intervened in the Montgomery school system in 2017 and Richardson deemed it necessary, due to financial reasons, to close the schools and sell Georgia Washington Middle School. Without the sale, he contends the system will have no other option but to lay off more than 200 teachers and staff members.

Stokes accused Richardson and ALSDE's intervention team of "consistently touted budget shortfalls as one of the reasons for intervention, but they have admitted during this litigation that they made no effort to retrieve these funds from PRS."

Richardson's intervention plan, released in February, included the sale of the school to Pike Road for $9.75 million in one lump sum, plus payment of the $1.4 million owed to MPS.

The $1.4 million equates to a little more than half of one percent of MPS' $220 million annual budget.

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