Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says city will help school system with budget woes, board member questions prior land deals

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. —  Mayor Tommy Battle said the city is committed to helping the Huntsville City Schools “work through” its current financial woes, including an estimated $5 million budget shortfall.

Monday, school board member Michelle Watkins announced she’d sent an audit request to Alabama State School Superintendent Eric Mackey, asking for help and insight into the school system’s financial problems.

Battle spoke to WHNT News 19 recently about the school system and the financial troubles.

The mayor said the system is filled with quality teachers and administrators doing outstanding work, but the problems have to be addressed.

“The most recent announcement about the budget snafus is serious,” he said. “It’s something to be looked at. It’s something we’ve got to keep our eye on. The fact that we won’t have a month of reserves at the end of the year.”

The same night the Huntsville City Board of Education was informed about the budget shortfall, it voted to name interim Superintendent Christie Finley the system’s next superintendent. Battle says he knows Finley is inheriting a major problem.

“It is what it is, and it’s been put in the lap of Dr. Finley as superintendent. And now she’s got to work out of it.”

Still, Battle says he can recall an even deeper budget hole the school system faced.

“The news is much better than when I came into office 10 years ago and we heard we were $20 million upside down,” he said. “We were spending $20 million more dollars than we had. And we had to bring in state intervention. I think this will be a case of we will work our way out of it.”

Battle said Huntsville will do what it can to assist the school system.

“It’s a team effort,” he said. “What we’re doing right here has to be a team effort. The City of Huntsville has to support the Huntsville City Schools, and we have to make sure they’re a success. Their success is our success.”

In her letter to the state superintendent, board member Watkins outlined a number of concerns that went beyond the immediate budget year, including school system contracts and even its property deals with the City of Huntsville.

Battle responded today, saying Huntsville’s partnership with the City Schools had led to significant construction projects over the past five years.

Battle said the city did infrastructure work at the new Grissom High School. And, to cover the cost of that work, the mayor said, the city reduced the $8 million it agreed to pay the school system for the former Grissom and Johnson high school sites.

Here’s Battle’s full statement released Tuesday:

“The City of Huntsville and Huntsville City Schools worked together in partnership to build Jemison High School, McNair Middle School, and Grissom High School from 2013 through 2016.

 “The City of Huntsville provided infrastructure improvements to the Grissom site including roadway, utilities and drainage projects.

 “The cost of these infrastructure systems were offset from the $8 million price the City of Huntsville paid for the former Grissom site and the Johnson site. Without those improvements the Grissom site would not be connected to our road and infrastructure system.

 “The new schools built between 2013 and 2017 are a crowning achievement of the Huntsville area. These new schools show our community’s commitment to education.”