Powell outlines school cuts

Published 8:19 pm Monday, September 29, 2003

By Staff
Future of schools and programs will hinge on tax vote
By CONNIE NOWLIN Special to The Standard
Unless there are new funds coming in, programs at Escambia County schools, including sports and band programs, as well as some of the schools themselves, stand to be shut down.
That is the message a reluctant superintendent gave a standing-room-only crowd Thursday. Melvin (Buck) Powell presented his suggestions to the County Board of Education at its meeting where the board approved a pair of resolutions related to theproposed December vote.
The problem is two-fold.
Over the last few years, costs have continued to increase, especially those related to salaries and benefits, while revenues have continued to decrease.
State funding has been cut because of proration, the formula used to correct the difference between anticipated tax revenues available to the school and the reality of tax revenues collected. Local funding derived from an oil severance tax dried up with the oil reserves in the county.
The two fiscal events have caught the schools between a rock and a hard place.
To avoid the cuts, and reinstate programs already cut, the Escambia County Board of Education and the Brewton City Schools will ask for a special vote on an increase in ad valorem taxes, collected on houses and auto license plates.
The current county rate for education is seven mills. That rate was decided on in 1925, and has not changed since that time. The proposed increase is an additional 10 mills, for a total of 17 mills for education.
According to figures shown in Powell's presentation, the increase on a house valued at $75,000 would be $6.25 per month. On an automobile valued at $20,000, the increase would be $2.50 per month. The figures are from the tax assessor's office.
In order to ask for the vote, and to allow school employees and other assets to be used to lobby for the proposal, the board passed two resolutions. They are only applicable to this election.
The Brewton City School system passed similar resolutions at its meeting, also held Thursday. The resolutions will now go to the Escambia County Commission which is expected to approve the countywide vote to be held Dec. 9.
Powell was loathe to consider closing schools or eliminating programs.
Proration and a drop in oil severance has cost the system more than $5 million over the last four years.
The additional taxes would generate almost $2.5 million, to be split between Escambia County and Brewton City schools. The split, which is based on student population at the schools, is approximately 23 percent for Brewton City Schools with the remainder going to the county system.
Jason Jackson spoke on behalf of the McCall community, where one of the endangered schools is located.
He said he will be working to help get the increased ad valorem tax passed.
Jackson and others, including Powell, like that the proposed tax increase would all be earmarked for education.
The board will set priorities for the proposed cuts at the Oct. 30 meeting.
Because there is expected to be a large turnout, the meeting will be held in the Flomaton Auditorium, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The meeting will be followed by a public forum at which residents may speak.
Brewton City School Supertintendent Lynn Smith said that the city schools are not looking at programs to shut down, right now, but that additional staffing cuts were looming in the system if the tax vote does not pass.

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