School Land Suits

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A judge in Covington County has ordered state officials not to spend $38 million from the sale and lease of local school lands -- money the state wants to use to prevent school budget cuts next month.

The Legislature passed a bill in April allowing Gov. Don Siegelman to use the funds from school land sales and another $46.1million from three other sources to avoid mid-year budget cuts, or proration.

But the Covington County school board filed suit Aug. 21, claiming the money doesn't belong to the state and that the state constitution bars officials from spending it.

The board claims a bond sale to repay local boards, which the Legislature included in the bill this spring, might never happen because spending the school lands money is illegal. The suit also alleges that the new law was intended to prevent budget cuts just before the Nov. 5 election.

Judge M. Ashley McKathan's order is good until a Tuesday preliminary hearing.

Mike Kanarick, a Siegelman spokesman, declined to comment on the case.