The board ultimately decided to uphold the controversial decision to pay the remaining balance on the batting facility at a total of $37,671.06.
At the special session on Oct. 27, Rockmart High School submitted a request to the board to pay the remaining balance—approximately 1/3 of the total cost—on the facility. The motion carried 7-1, with member Tara O’Neal voting no.
At Tuesday’s meeting, however, the matter was placed on the budget for discussion once more due to a concern of parliamentary procedure regarding the last decision.
Following much discussion, the board voted 4-5 to resend the motion of payment—not enough to overturn the decision to pay the loan. Some parents and concerned taxpayers at the meeting were outraged, while others expressed relief at the decision.
At the Oct. 11, 2006 regular session of the Polk County Board of Education, former superintendent Darrell Sorrells recommended the board give permission for the Booster Club to proceed with the project. On that date, the Rockmart High School requested to build an indoor batting facility at the school and to proceed with plans for the project in order to start fundraising and design of the facility.
According to the approved minutes of that meeting, the Booster Club would finance all of the costs for the facility. Bettie Fay Lewis made a motion, seconded by at least 5 others, to approve the recommendation, and the motion carried unanimously.
According to several comments at Tuesday’s meeting, unnamed individuals allegedly took out personal loans to fund the construction of the facility, and have failed to raise the remaining money through fundraisers and the like.
Following the 7-1 decision to pay the remaining balance on Oct. 27, parents and taxpayers raised concerns regarding the decision, citing the legal implications of a school board paying a personal loan.
Is it legal?
According to the district’s lawyer, Mike York, the payment of a personal loan is not an acceptable use of SPLOST funds. Monies from Unbudgeted Funds may be used for such a purpose, but only because the payment will address an asset on the county’s property.
“We better be sure we’re swimming in the right water,” said board member Harold Wingfield. “When it comes to tax money, can a school board assume a private debt?”
Where will the money come from?
The money used to pay off the balance will be drawn from the Unbudgeted Funds account, a separate allotment of money that has yet to be assigned a purpose within the district. At the end of the fiscal year, the unspent money from this account rolls over into the school district’s General Fund, which is used to pay substitute teacher salaries and bus repairs, among other things. The General Fund is not a part of SPLOST.
“We have hit tough times and we will certainly need that $37,000 for other things before it’s all over,” said member Grady McCrickard. “Does the board have the money to pay for the facility? Yes. But are they going to need that money down the line? Yes.”
Why not SPLOST?
The Special Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, must be passed by a county commission and voted on by locals in a referendum. The school’s SPLOST projects must be approved, and the district is required to provide an independent accountant’s report on the way the funds are allocated. Because the RHS batting facility is not on the docket for this year’s SPLOST projects, the money cannot be used.
What will happen now?
Some members of the board expressed concern that, if not paid, the facility could become property of the bank, causing issue due to its location on Polk School District property. The facility will be completely owned, maintained and operated by the school district and Rockmart High School.
The board’s decision to pay the loan is far from fair, say some parents, board members and concerned Polk citizens.
“You don’t have money to compensate for furloughs, lack of raise or more textbooks,” asked Cedartown parent and special speaker Lori Parish. “But you do have money to spend on personal loans with taxpayer’s money for unapproved projects?”
Other parents attended the meeting to support the school board’s previous decision. Parents donned Rockmart baseball t-shirts, and the RHS Lady Yellow Jackets fast-pitch softball team was also in attendance. Parents often verbally agreed when members said that the district should be thankful for the efforts of Rockmart’s Booster Club.
Lewis asked, “Doesn’t every student deserve the same facilities? If there’s anyway we can make this happen we should do it. We owe it to Rockmart.”
Cedartown High School’s newly completed girl’s athletic field house also has an indoor batting cage for the baseball and softball teams. The new field house was built from a donation from the W.D. Trippe foundation, a charity that serves to assist ‘deserving services’ by matching funds, erecting structures and establishing programs to residents of Cedartown.
“Rockmart doesn’t have a W. D. Trippe,” said Lewis.
Member John Stone, after a failed motion to table the matter pending further research, suggested that the group pay back the Board, or at least match the board’s contribution.
“This is the second time we’ve bailed out a Rockmart group of parents who couldn’t raise the funds they promised. We have to keep this from happening again.”
“They could have gone through the proper channels and we could have voted on it as a SPLOST project,” said O’Neal. “But they chose to take out these loans and now they are asking us to pay for them. Some of our schools don’t have enough books for their kids.”
In response, member Charles Thaxton said, “Sports educate our children, too.”
“This is not a Rockmart versus Cedartown issue,” said O’Neal. “It’s a funds issue. With paycuts and furloughs, this money can be used for something else. ($37,000) is a Polk County teacher’s salary. It’s two ParaPros’ salaries.”
“I consider this a bargain for the school system,” said member Andy Fairel. “They have covered more than 2/3 of the cost of this facility.”
Member Tommy Sanders, Lewis, Stone, Fairel, and Thaxton voted not to resend the vote. Chair Jane Holbrooks, O’Neal, McCrickard, and Wingfield voted to resend.
The next Polk School District Board of Education special session meeting will be Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at the central office for the purpose of the superintendent’s evaluation, use of facility, and family medical leave request. The public is invited to attend.