CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) on Thursday voted to sell the board’s property on Smith Lake to R&D Lake Properties, LLC. This decision was approved by majority vote with Wayne Myrex abstaining from voting and Kenny Brockman opposing the sale. Additionally, the board approved the opening of a trust fund to gather interest on the proceeds made from the Section 16 land.
According to business entity records at the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, R&D Lake Properties, LLC is a business name filed on April 25, 2021 by Ronnie Solley of Decatur.
CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette said, “Over the past five years, the board and I have listened to a majority of the citizens in Cullman County. This was an asset we have, but we’ve heard over and over, ‘We want you doing something with it.’ We’ve been exploring several different avenues of how best to create a revenue source that will serve our students for years to come, and finally we were offered a substantial amount of money that we could sell it for and have a good enough return for our students.
What is Section 16 land?
According to the Code of Alabama, “‘School lands,’ within the meaning of this chapter (Title 16, Chapter 20), are sections numbered 16, in every township, granted by the United States for the use of schools in the township, and such other lands as may have been granted to any township or district for the use of schools; and all such lands are vested in the state in trust to execute the objects of the grant.”
Essentially, the 16th section of land within each township (not a municipality, but a mapping term for a specifically defined geographic region) in the state belongs to the local educational system, under the oversight of the State. The land can be leased to generate educational funding or can be sold under certain conditions.
When manmade Smith Lake was formed, the CCBOE’s particular Section 16 (over 430 acres) became lakefront property. In 2014, the board purchased adjoining land (10 acres) that increased access to a peninsula that formed the bulk of the property, as well as a house and land at the southern tip of the peninsula that fell outside Section 16 but could only be accessed by land on a route through the CCBOE property.
The board received a total of $16.1 million for the land. Of that total, $2.9 million is payment for the land that is not Section 16, which goes directly to the CCBOE. The remaining $13.2 million will be divided up between the county and city school systems based on where students live, not student enrollment numbers at the schools, to prevent schools with high out-of-district enrollment from being overcompensated. The schools will have immediate access to 10% of the remainder ($1.32 million divided among them), with some amount taken out as fees for the sale and other legal matters, and the rest put into the trust fund to earn interest (which will be divided among the schools). In total, the trust fund will earn interest on $11,880,000.
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