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Powell: Closing schools will not solve problems

By By PAUL KEANE – Special to The Standard
Reacting to a possible plan to close and merge some smaller school districts around the state, Escambia County Schools Superintendent Melvin "Buck" Powell said more permanent financial solutions must be put into place.
Over the week, State Superintendent of Schools Ed Richardson suggested that some school districts may have to be closed and merged with other smaller districts in order to relieve some pressure from expected funding shortfalls in the school budgets next year. Powell earlier this year said his district faces approximately $5 million less in funding from the state due to economic times affecting sales tax collections.
Powell even suggested that, only as a last resort, some programs could be cut and that some schools could be closed. He reiterated that it would be a last resort only.
Powell said that closing some smaller school districts might save some money, but not enough to overcome the deficits faced at this time by school systems statewide.
And while saying again that he would be opposed to closing any schools in the county, the realities he and his staff are facing are rather harsh.
Powell also said that any mergers or closures of any schools or districts would have to be approved by the State Board of Education.
Powell also responded to opinions provided by many in the business community that donations and funding would come about if a plan was forwarded on how the money would be spent.
The superintendent said one way of helping fix the funding problems would be to increase the ad valorem taxes on property in the county. He pointed out that a sales tax is tied directly to the economy and, when consumer spending decreases so does the funding to schools.
Powell also encouraged everyone to take part in the three public meetings dealing with school funding that are coming up over the next few weeks. The first such meeting was held Tuesday night in Brewton and the next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at Flomaton High School while the final meeting will be held on Feb. 6 at Escambia County Middle School. Both meetings are scheduled to start at 6 p.m.