Key concerned about

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2001

future of Pike Co. schools


Staff Writer

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Pike County Schools could be headed for takeover by the state.

John Key, superintendent of the county school system, asked Pike County Commissioners for desperately needed funds by levying a 1-cent sales tax for education.

Key said the 2001-2002 budget "does not have a lot of good news in it" and the future does not look too bright either.

Actually prognosticators are forecasting another 1 percent in cuts for next year’s budget, which will mean another $90,000 that will be cut from Pike County Schools.

"We’ve been in a precarious situation for the last several years," Key told commissioners. "You’ve heard me moan and groan about it.

"I wouldn’t be here unless I thought it was absolutely essential."

Earlier this year, Gov. Don Siegelman declared proration of the education budget.

Overall, the county school system will experience $800,000 in cuts from the 4.13 percent proration. Add another $163,324 hit to transportation funds and it’s the equivalent of $1 million, Key said, explaining $13,566 for fleet renewal was taken away after the school system had already borrowed the money.

Part of the problem, Key said, is the lack of local financial support.

Local funding is approximately 15 to 19 percent of the total funding for schools and the last time Pike County Schools saw an increase in that money was in 1978. A temporary increase was made several years ago.

For now, the county schools are looking at a deficit budget.

"We can’t turn in a deficit budget," Key told commissioners. "We lack $250,000 to have a budget the state will accept."

But, Key has no choice but to turn in a deficit budget. Under the law, the state can take over a system in that predicament.

"We expect a waiver because other systems are in the same boat," Key said of the impact proration is having across the state.

"We’ve made all the cuts we can make," Key said. "They next two years are going to be tougher than what we have now."

Commission Chairman Willie Thomas told Key he understands Key had "no other recourse, but to come to us" for help and will look at the matter.

Getting the additional tax money is not just a matter of asking the county commission.

Because counties lack home rule, they can’t raise revenue without the Alabama Legislature’s approval.

"We are not a local school system anymore…essentially, we are dictated by the state," Key said.

Each school system must collect 10 mills of property tax or it doesn’t get its share of state monies.

"Essentially, its taken, by the state, off the top of local systems’ resources," Key said of that money.

Pike County collects 9.7 mills plus the 1-cent sales tax Key calls the "lifeblood" of schools. Troy City Schools collect 10.7 mills plus sales tax.

But, sales tax money is being lost every day to Internet sales and catalog sales.