Hallsville ISD owes state $7.3 million

Hallsville ISD owes state $7.3 million
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Friday, September 3, 2010 - 3:16am

AS REPORTED IN THE LONGVIEW NEWS JOURNAL

By Christina Lane clane@news-journal.com | 0 comments

HALLSVILLE — Hallsville ISD officials are blaming a former employee for failing to make required state payments, leaving the district on the hook for more than $12 million.

It was unclear Thursday where the money or the former employee were.

"I cannot begin to describe my disbelief that a professional educator could betray a community and its children in the way that we have been betrayed," Superintendent Greg Wright said in a prepared statement issued Thursday evening.

According to the district and the Texas Education Agency, Hallsville ISD failed to make all or part of its 2007-08 and 2008-09 Chapter 41 payments, leaving the district owing the state $8.4 million. In addition, the district said, the former employee did not report an overpayment from the state valued at $3.9 million.

"None of this information was ever provided by our former assistant superintendent of finance, who always reported the district was in stellar financial condition," Wright said in his prepared statement.

DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, confirmed Hallsville ISD had failed to make its Chapter 41 payments, adding the district would make payment in full Thursday.

Often referred to as the "Robin Hood" plan, Chapter 41 of the Texas Education Code requires property-wealthy school districts to send money back to the state to be shared with property-poor districts.

Wright said the total amount Hallsville ISD owed the agency was $12.4 million. The district already has paid more than $5 million to the state from its fund balance. It has secured a loan to pay the remaining more than $7.3 million, he said.

School board President Jason Petersen confirmed Hallsville intends to pay what it owes by Thursday.

"We had to take out a loan to pay it, and we are waiting to be funded from the bank," he said.

The district intends to repay the loan with money from maintenance tax revenue over the next 10 years, Wright said.

Money from the district's $96 million 2007 school bond issue is accounted for, he said, and construction will not be affected.

Tim Brittain, the district's former assistant superintendent of finance, resigned in February. At the time, little information was available about his departure.

On Thursday, Brittain could not be reached for comment.

In his statement, Wright said the district's outside independent auditors also failed to report inaccuracies in the payments. "The school board had no reason to question the integrity of Mr. Brittain's financial reports," he said.

On Tuesday, Hallsville ISD adopted a balanced 2010-11 budget with expenditures of about $44.4 million. Wright described it as a "lean" budget but said the district is committed to meeting the needs of students. District spokeswoman Carol Greer said the district is scrutinizing every request for expenditures.

"The district is committed to doing everything possible to get us on the road to financial stability," she said.

Hallsville ISD was a Texas Education Agency exemplary-rated school district for 2009-10. All campuses also were rated exemplary. And Wright himself earlier this year was named Region 7 Education Service Center's 2010 superintendent of year.

On Thursday, he said as the district's superintendent he was accepting full responsibility for what he called "serious financial challenges" and for correcting them.

The district's 2010 adopted tax rate remains $1.353 per $100 in taxable value. An average taxable home in Hallsville is $79,577 and would carry an annual tax bill of about $1,076.67.
 

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