Proponents spend final days working to educate the voters

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 10, 2002

As president of the Charles Henderson Middle School PTO, Eula Pouncey has a vested interest in promoting Tuesday’s school tax renewal vote.

As the parent of three students in the city schools, her stake is even higher.

"We need the tax," she said. ‘We need it to keep our extracurricular activities and schools going."

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But as the vote nears, Pouncey admits she is concerned.

"They’re really kind of quiet about it," she said of people in the community. "I think it’ll pass, but

"I guess people are really not asking a whole lot of questions, like I would be."

That perceived "quiet" could be a good thing, according to proponents of the tax renewal who have worked to explain the importance of Tuesday’s vote.

"I’ve talked to lots of coffee klatches," said John Key, superintendent of Pike County Schools, "and they always start off saying we pay the highest taxes in the nation. Well, we don’t. We pay the lowest in the nation, even when you put in sales taxes."

Moreover, he said, the vote on Tuesday is simply a renewal of an exiting ad valorem tax ­ a tax residents of Pike County and Troy have been paying for at least 70 years.

"The number one thing I try to get across on this tax is that it’s not a new tax," he said. "It’s the same one you’ve been paying for 70 to 80 years, and we want to keep hammering that point in."

Key and others will learn Tuesday if they’ve been successful in hammering that point home. If they have, and if the 29-year renewal passes, the city and county districts will each receive about $1.1 million annually from the tax. The vote specifically renews a 9.7-mill levy for the county schools and a 10.7-mill levy for the city.

If they haven’t, and if the vote were to fail, the results could be disastrous. Jones has already said loss of that revenue would force the city schools to eliminate most of the extracurricular activities, from band to athletics to journalism programs, for the district’s nearly 2,300 students. Funds used now for those programs would have to be diverted to meet bond obligations ­ about $640,000 annually ­ that helped build things such as the Early Childhood Center at Troy Elementary.

In the county schools, which serve 2,185 students, Key described the situation as more "dire." Loss of this tax, combined with resulting loss of state funding, "well, if we lost both of those I don’t know how we could operate," he said.

That’s a consequence at least one taxpayers doesn’t want to face. Lindy Mobley Wood was a senior at Pike County High School in 1979. For months, the seniors had to worry whether they would be able to graduate. The county school system didn’t have funds to operate and was within days of closing its schools when the Pike County Commission finally passed a one-cent sales tax for education.

"I don’t want any children to ever have to go through what I went through as a senior," she said. "That really hit home with me how important education is and I will vote ‘yes’ on Tuesday and encourage everyone else to do the same."

Still, Pouncey said she is concerned about reaching residents and voters without that vested interest in the school district. She comes in contact with dozens of people each day, and she is urging all of them to vote for the tax renewal.

For older people, or those without children in the school districts, Pouncey said she tries to explain why this tax matters. "I basically explain to them that if the kids don’t have any extracurricular activities, that might bring more problems to your community because they won’t

have anything to do," she said.

Wood’s husband, Tony, said everything he has heard has been positive about the tax referendum on Tuesday.

"We still have a daughter in public school, but, even if we didn’t, we would be in favor of continuing the tax," Wood said. "The children are our future and we need to provided them with the best education possible."

Messenger Publisher Stacy Graning and Features Editor Jaine Treadwell contributed to this report.