The municipal government is six months in arrears in transferring collected tax dollars to the school district.
School officials said the city is late in paying $20 million to the district. The city collects $41.5 million from property owners on behalf of the school district.
“They are six months behind, but we still have to pay our bills,” said school board vice president Nakima Redmon. “It’s not fair to us. We still have to operate as a business to pay our bills on time. We’re suffering.”
Business administrator Richard Matthews said the city’s lack of payments has created cashflow problems for the district. Matthews said he met with municipal business administrator Vaughn McKoy and finance director Marge Cherone in late February to find a solution to the perennial problem.
The city gave him a six months payment plan, said Matthews. He said the plan was for the city to pay three months in March, but the district only received one month’s payment.
Matthews said a second meeting is scheduled for Mar. 22.
The municipal government has always been late in paying the school district. For example, in Mar. 2018, the city was six months late in paying the school district.
“That’s just straight irresponsible to be six months behind in payment. And frankly unacceptable,” said school board member Manny Martinez.
“We need our money. Right now, we’re operating in the red,” said Redmon.
“Can we charge them interest on that money that they owe us? Because if I were behind on paying my sewer bill, they’re going to charge me interest on that,” said school board member Joel Ramirez.
“We haven’t charged interest, but we can charge them interest,” replied Matthews.
“Something needs to happen. We need to do something and make them respect us,” said Ramirez.
Municipal officials said it’s less about respect and more about the city’s own fiscal problems. For example, the city is waiting on the state government to provide $33 million to balance its own budget.
The city is nine months into the fiscal year.
Mayor Andre Sayegh said the city is getting its transitional aid. Once it receives the funds it will make payments to the school district.
Municipal officials have told Matthews the city will become up-to-date on payments in May.
“Are we paying all our bills on time?” asked longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges.
“Yes. By law we have to pay within 60 days,” replied Matthews.
Hodges cautioned the district in going after the municipal government.
“You want to be circumspect when you go after the city. We’re in the same boat that they are,” said Hodges. “Money to help close their budget comes from the state and they don’t get their money on time.”