At the May 11, meeting of the Bay St. Louis – Waveland School Board, Jason Chinche, the City Engineer for Bay St. Louis representing the Mayor made a funding request of the School Board of $50,000 in “start-up” money for an infrastructure project on the extension of Carroll Ave. north of Highway 90 for approximately 900 ft. of sidewalk for a total cost of some $200,000.
Before the conversation started between the Engineer and the Board, Superintendent Rebecca Ladner, spoke up and said that she could not be on record endorsing school district funds for this project because it is on city property, not school district property. Her statement apparently fell on deaf ears because the Board and their attorney agreed to investigate how the funding could be arranged. Mind you, this item was on the Action Agenda of the School Board meeting. Had the Superintendent not spoken up, the Board may have issued the funds right there.
In a conversation with the State Department of Education on May 12, the Finance Office told me that Superintendent Ladner was correct, and that school districts cannot donate money, only services and facilities. Both city governing bodies have been advised by the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government of this with Miss. Code and Attorney General’s Opinions provided by the State Department of Education. Unfortunately the Bay St. Louis Mayor and School Board Attorney are currently attempting an interlocal agreement between the two entities, the School Board and the City of Bay St. Louis, for this $50,000 in school district funds to be transferred to Bay St. Louis city accounts.
Since the Bay St. Louis Mayor and School Board attorney ( and some School Board members) decided to pay no attention to the Superintendent and the State Department of Education, the Alliance for Good Government approached the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the State Auditor for opinions.
Their opinions, based on what they referred to as a similar case in New Albany, Miss. where the city requested funding from the local school board for an infrastructure project, is as follows:
“A municipality has the power to exercise full jurisdiction in the matter of streets, sidewalks, sewers, and parks; to open and lay out and construct the same; and to repair, maintain, pave, sprinkle, adorn and light the same. Miss. Code Ann. Section 21-37-3. Section 21-27-23 authorizes municipalities to establish and operate a water system. There is specific authority for a city to improve its infrastructure and therefore to enter into an interlocal agreement with another entity authorized to do the same. See MS AG Op., Shaw (August 14, 1998; MS AG Op., Meadows (August 20, 2004).
As discussed above, a School District does Not have authority to help pay for infrastructure improvements. A local government unit may Not do anything by way of an interlocal agreement that it would not otherwise have the authority to do. MS AG Op., Gardner (January 10, 1996). Therefore, the city may not enter into an interlocal agreement with a School District for the School District to help pay for infrastructure improvements. ( end of Attorney General’s Opinion–issued by Jim Hood, Attorney General of the state of Mississippi by Kathy S. Boteler, dated April 4, 2008.
OFFICE OF THE STATE AUDITOR:
“Based on the information provided and the opinion cited by the Attorney General’s Office, a school district does not have the authority to enter into an interlocal agreement requiring the district to help pay for infrastructure improvements. Greg Higginbotham–Technical Assistance–Miss. Office of the State Auditor.
This could not be clearer, and I would strongly encourage any and all public officials in the city of Bay St. Louis and on the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School Board to vote accordingly to protect our local education tax dollars and themselves.
The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government endorses all projects that afford safety for students and the general public, but insist that they be appropriately and legally funded.
In closing, I would remind the Mayor of Bay St. Louis that the citizens of Waveland also financially support the school district with their property taxes, and do not feel inclined to have our education taxes finance street improvements in Bay St. Louis. We want our school taxes spent according to the state law–on education.
Lana Noonan, Chairman
Hancock County Alliance for Good Government
Promoting Excellence in Education–Integrity in Spending–Openness in Governing