Sunday, July 12, 2015

Updated: New School Funding Plan Suddenly Emerges

Fairhope, Alabama.


Updated to include councilmember Brewer's remarks below.

Higbee Road site
Even some of the most-jaded city hall watchers were surprised by an item that appeared on Monday's regular council meeting agenda (without any prior public discusion or notice) that will establish a new government agency, the city's first Education Building Authority -- to facilitate future funding for the new Catholic school now under construction on Higbee Road east of town.

Agenda Item #7: 

"Resolution: To approve an application seeking permission to form and incorporate an Education Building Authority of the city of Fairhope and authorizing such incorporation."

Information is still sketchy at this point, but it appears the application being made by a Birmingham law firm representing the Archdiocese of Mobile under Chapter 17, Title 16 of the Alabama legal code to begin setting up the three person Authority and allow it to issue low-interest-rate bonds backed by the city up to the amount of $12,500,000 -- to be used for "ancillary projects" at the St. Michael Catholic High School school now under construction at 11732 Higbee Rd.

The funds could be used for a wide variety of additions ranging from sports facilites to more classroom space.

According to the statute, the governing body (city council) "must determine whether it is wise, expedient, necessary, or advisable that the Authority be formed."

If established, the council will appoint a three-person Board of Directors to govern the Authority, who will in turn elect officers as needed (chairman, co-charman, treaurer, etc); all must reside within city limits. (No names have been mentioned so far.)

According to initial interpretations provided to the Times, the city will not be obligated to pay any of the bond's principal and interest; but will assume overall liability for the loan.

The city could also provide additional funding (donations, gifts) upon request.

The school is to be owned by the issuer (the city's new Education Authority) and leased/used by a new tax-exempt Alabama non-profit corporation called the St. Michael Catholic High School Inc., which will make payments to satisfy the principal and interest on the bond when due.

Some concerns being expressed by the few citizens who realize what is being proposed are:

*The lack of any disclosure or prior public discussion/debate on the matter; ongoing concerns state open meeting laws are being routinely ignored by this city council.

* Past experience with the city's only other such entity -- the Airport Authority where taxpayers somehow became saddled with a $500K annual debt service payment.

*The appropriateness of city government directly linking itself with a religiously-based entity.

*The odd timing in conjunction with the public school funding crisis -- and efforts by the city's EAC to address it.

Mayor Kant at groundbreaking last March

Adding to citizens' apprehension, a newspaper legal notice has already been published using public funds (see current Courier legal ads) announcing the Authority's first meeting -- even though it has not even been officially formed yet.

The meeting is scheduled for July 28th at 9AM.


Updated: Council member Brewer commented after this was posted: 

Brewer: "We have had no prior discussion about this. At least none that I have been privy to. My understanding is that this educational building authority is necessary for the high school to pursue tax-free bonds issues. This will be discussed in greater detail during the agenda meeting (time permitting). If not then, there will certainly be discussion when it comes up for a vote."

The Times asked all elected officals for an explanation by e-mail, but only council President Burrell has replied so far:

Burrell: "It has nothing to do with EAC or Fairhope Schools. It has to do with a procedural matter for the new Catholic High School.  It subjects the city to no cost and no liability.  It's a complete non-issue.  It just happens to coincide with EAC discussions."

Subsequent inquiries about who originated the proposal and lack of prior public discussion have so-far gone unanswered.

Mayor Kant and councilman Ford are members of the Catholic Church; Ford is renown for his close ties with the Archdiocese of Mobile.

(Despite persistent rumors, the new school was not named after Ford --  as some have suggested.)

Anyone interested in commenting on an agenda item must sign up before the meeting for public participation.



Anonymous said...

I see nothing wrong with this. Teach the children morals fora change.

Anonymous said...

Or parents could actually take the time to teach morals to their kids, which by the way, comes at no cost to the taxpayer.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I agree with the person who said teach your kids morals not to mention manners at home!! It all starts at home. Kids learn by what they see their parents do! I had kids across the street from me that were horribly mannered and talked to adults by calling them names but then I looked at how the parents acted and that explained it ALL!!

Anonymous said...

The City would be responsible (liable) for the repayment of a loan backing a private religious school. No separation of church and state. Why should taxpayers be liable for the debts of a private educational concern? Would set a precedent for every other private school both secular and non secular to go the same route. A fast one is attempting to be pulled here!!

Anonymous said...

So, looks like the secret plan is to defund public education and shft to private relgious based?