Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock told the city’s school board he and the city council want accountability for funds the school system has received for new construction and reiterated the administration is losing patience because of what it said is a lack of communication.
The city has been funding its school system with a 1-cent sales tax since 1991, when plans for a new elementary school were developed. In addition, the city passed a 1-cent sales tax increase for the Elmore County portion of the city last year split evenly between the city and the school system. The school system gets $1.4 million in funding from the sales taxes each year.
“From the get-go, the council passed this tax for the board of education,” Hammock said at the July 16 school board meeting. “After the tax was passed, between the city council and the board of education, there has been a lot of disconnect.”
After a report from police chief Matt Higgins and fire chief Travis Jones last winter was critical of safety and security concerns at Tallassee High School, Hammock told the council a new school was needed but the school board instead presented a plan for a new performing arts center which the council feels is a low priority compared to the listed safety concerns. Since then, there has been no communication between the council and the school board.
“We tried to get another meeting but there was no communication,” Hammock said. “We saw a plan that you brought before us with a performing arts center and parking lot.”
Hammock told the school board some councilmembers are losing patience with the pre-construction process and are considering redirecting the latest sales tax funding to recreation for some much-needed upgrades.
“I’m trying to get information to take back to the council,” Hammock said. “Some of them are getting frustrated. I assume a lot of this back and forth and stuff in the paper could have been avoided if we had communicated.”
Hammock also requested more specifics about construction of a new high school and what the sales tax revenue has been spent on since the elementary school was completed more than 10 years ago.
“Scope of work, timeline, how much money will be needed, where has the 1-cent sales tax been going?” Hammock asked.
School board member Don Bryant explained the board has been working to fulfill the council's request for improved correspondence and pointed out a presentation by McKee and Associates at the meeting is proof progress is being made.
“You asked us to go back and sharpen our pencils,” Bryant said. “We have been doing a lot of pencil sharpening in the meantime. Part of what I am saying is folks who have been coming to meetings, they will realize this is progress.”
Councilman Bill Godwin told the school board timing is essential to locking in the best rates for any bonds needed to complete the new school project.
“We don't want the interest rates to start going up,” he said. “We try to have everything ready.”
School superintendent Wade Shipman said the school board has been hard at work behind the scenes sorting out the project details.
“I do want to go back a little bit where we have been at for the past five or six months,” Shipman said. “We weren't set exactly on what we were going to come back with as a board. We have looked at this and I don't think there is much excess in this. In the meantime, we decided to push the parking lot. We were pushing that along as we worked out these details.”
Before Hammock addressed the school board, McKee and Associates presented plans for the proposed new school.
“I think this a very good plan for us,” Shipman said. “It is a partnership. We all know that and we thank you for that. Without the city's help, these things would not be possible.”