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Questions surround school funding picture

By Staff
Melvin (Buck) Powell
By CONNIE NOWLIN Special to The Standard
Rumors about cuts in school programs have flown around the county since the defeat Sept. 9 of Amendment One and the funds it would have generated.
Those rumors have included cutting either marching band or football, but even that scenario is brighter than the picture painted by Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Melvin (Buck) Powell.
Powell said the state department had already contacted him that morning with the news that all funds for technology, professional development, textbooks and library enhancements had fallen under the axe.
Brewton City School superintendent Lynn Smith said at last week's school board meeting that the state's superintendents would meet in Montgomery on October 3 to talk about state funding.
Smith did say that he expected that the system would have to tap into local funds for textbooks, but that overall the system was in good financial order.
School systems are required to raise the equivalent of a 10-mil ad valorem tax to match funds from the state.
In Escambia County, only a 7-mil tax has been imposed. The remainder of the funds came from an oil severance tax imposed on producing wells inside the county.
But the wells are slowing down and in many cases have closed entirely. Local funding has dried up along with the wells.
Additionally, schools have been hit with proration at 6.25 percent.
What that means is the state estimated the amount of money it would send the schools. But because of a weakened economy, people are shopping less and some have been laid off work or have had their hours cut.
In turn the state collects less sales tax and less income tax than it estimated. That means there is less money in the coffers to send to the schools. That is when the state tells the school system, in effect, that the mark was missed and the budget must be changed, or prorated, by the percentage the estimate was off by.
For several years, there was a little cushion in local funding that the schools could use to pay for extra teachers in areas like chorus, or to fund vocational agriculture. Those funds have dwindled so dramatically that the 38 teachers they paid for about four years ago have dropped to only four teachers.
Powell will lay out his proposal for making the ends meet at the Sept. 25 school board meeting. The board will have a month to think about it, with the vote following in October.
Smith said he would present the Brewton City School board with a budget at its next meeting on Oct. 13.
Powell has long said that if Amendment One failed, he would ask for an increase in the ad valorem tax, up to the 10 mil level, to ensure the dollars available from the state will be allocated.
The county commission has approved a measure calling for a vote on a 10-mill increase in the ad valorem tax in Escambia County. The vote was originally scheduled for late August or early September, but was postponed pending the outcome of the Amendment One election.