Schools talking taxes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 3, 2002

Messenger Publisher

Hank Jones and John Key are unabashedly talking taxes these days.

Jones, superintendent of Troy City Schools, and Key, the superintendent for Pike County Schools, are talking about the March 12 tax renewal vote, and they’re educating anyone who will listen about the importance of that vote.

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"The number one thing I want to get across on this tax is that it is not a new tax," Key said. "It’s the same one you’ve been paying for 70 or 80 years."

More important, the superintendents said, it is a tax renewal that simply must pass.

In Alabama, every school system must receive a minimum of 10 mils in taxes, or the equivalent with a portion of that amount coming from sales taxes. The assessments up for renewal in the March 12 special election include 10.7 mils for city schools and 9.7 mils for the county district. The tax generates approximately $1.1 million annually for each district – money that the superintendents say is absolutely critical to operating the schools.

"If it didn’t pass … we’d lose a large number of support personnel, and we’d cut all athletics," Jones said. "We’d cut all student activities, as well. That’s things like debate, journalism … anything that could not be accomplished in regular classes.

"It would leave us at a point in the middle school and high school where we would offer only the basic core classes. Where we offer three foreign languages, we would only offer one .."

In the county, Key said, the need is more dire. "I haven’t put a pencil to it, but I don’t see how we could operate," he said.

"The state taxes the value of 10 mills off the top (of its funding) and we couldn’t participate in the public school funds (another state funding mechanism) without that 10 mills"

It would be, as Key described, "a snowball kind of situation." Both superintendents say they leveraged the anticipated "public school" funds for bond issues and loss of those funds means other expenses – from personnel to activities – would be cut to meet those financial obligations. That’s when secretaries and janitors would lose their jobs; maintenance would be postponed, again; and activities would be cut.

"We build the Early Childhood Center (at Troy Elementary) on leveraged funds," Jones said. The bond payments are approximately $650,000 per year. "Those dollars have to be paid regardless, whether the taxes come in or not."

The good news, they say, is that the tax renewal has passed before – most recently in 1979, and is likely to pass again on March 12. "As far as I know, there is no school system in the state where this has not passed," whether on a first or second vote, Key said. "It has to be in place; it’s a constitutional requirement."

Moreover, he added, "if anybody really understood it, he couldn’t vote against it."