Preparation key to funding crisis
By By BILL CRIST – Managing Editor
Success not only happens to individuals and groups, it often comes about because of their doing. Athletes train on the playing field, scholars study for hours outside the classroom while still others of us try to come in early and work late to be successful.
Most would agree that the best way to ensure success is to prepare for it. By taking a proactive approach, we can help make sure that situations turn out the way we would prefer. That is in contrast to being reactive, which often leads to disappointment and failure. And although school administrators' hands are often tied when it comes to financial matters, leaders with the Escambia County School Board are taking steps to make sure the chips fall in their favor despite the current financial crisis they are facing.
This Tuesday at 6 p.m., the board will host the first of three public meetings designed to seek public input on the system's projected $5 million shortfall in the coming year. The first meeting, to be held at the board's central office in Brewton, will give the public insight into the financial situation the schools currently face and then a discussion about options for the future will be opened.
Often times the general public clamors to have more input in how our cities and schools are run. At the coffee shop, on the golf course and over lunch, many of society's problems are solved…up to a point. Carrying those ideas over into a forum where action can be taken on them is the second important step, and one that is all too often left out. Some time ago, Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings held a series of town hall meetings, with smaller and smaller audiences each time. That, despite numerous important issues the city and some of its departments were facing at the time.
Education is something that impacts each of us, whether we have children in school or not. The success of our school systems is vital to our area's continued growth. When the schools fail, our communities fail. That makes Tuesday's meeting very important for our entire community, including those of us that are served by the Brewton City Schools. The funding crisis the county schools face is the result in a drop in state funding, something the Brewton City Schools will face as well.
When any business or institution is facing a budget deficit, there are two ways to go; increase revenue or cut costs. Unlike businesses in the private sector, though, public schools cannot raise prices for the service they provide. At the same time, there are state and federal mandates that dictate how many teachers are required, which is based on the student population. There are some simple, obvious solutions to the problem, although none of them are popular.
County School Board Superintendent Melvin "Buck" Powell rightly said that the solution to the problem is going need to be found locally. Some people are going to read that to mean a local sales tax, which may or may not be the only solution. Until our state legislators get serious about tax reform, though, that is one of the few avenues school boards can travel to generate additional revenue. And while it would be nearly impossible to find anyone who would be enthusiastic about having to pay more taxes, the reality is that an increase may be needed.
Another part of the equation, one that has been hammered home by the city and county for years, is for shoppers to spend their money here, rather than in Pensacola, Mobile or another city. While increased sales at the current tax rate cannot make up the $5 million shortfall, it will help. Many local shoppers seemed to have heard that message during the recent holiday season, as sales tax receipts in Brewton were up in November and are projected to be up in December.
Whatever solution the board decides to endorse following the meetings, we as citizens have an opportunity to help shape their decision beforehand. Make your opinion heard and attend Tuesday's meeting, or one of the following meetings in Flomaton and Atmore. By taking on the issue ahead of time, our schools, and our children, may be able to avoid the potential shipwreck looming on the horizon.
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