Little: Educating county voters plays role in passing district taxes

Published 9:24 pm Monday, June 11, 2007

By By Kerry Whipple Bean – publisher
Ten months ago Escambia County voters chose not to renew a 1-mill countywide tax and a 3-mill district tax for county schools.
Last Tuesday, both taxes were renewed with overwhelming support.
What made the difference?
County Assistant Superintendent Randall Little said educating the voters played a big part.
Last fall, voters went to the polls just days after receiving notices about their property tax bills - many of which had increased because of a regularly scheduled reassessment. The tax vote also stood alone, and some residents had questioned the need for the county to spend about $50,000 on a special election.
Last week, the tax renewals were added on to a statewide ballot for two constitutional amendments. Voter turnout in Escambia County was about 18 percent.
Escambia County Schools Superintendent Billy Hines said getting the word out about the vote was important to the success of the tax renewal. The school system sent home fliers to parents - on paper donated by local printing shops - while principals and other school officials spent days making phone calls to parents and other voters.
Another thing that made a difference, at least in Hines' eyes, was splitting the county schools vote into three districts, so that voters knew which schools would be receiving their tax money. District 1, for example, included W.S. Neal Elementary, Middle and High schools.
Hines was able to reinstate eight teacher positions the day after the tax renewals. He had kept the positions on hold waiting to see what voters chose to do. He has also begun meeting with principals about their budgets for the upcoming year.
The Escambia County School Board is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss some personnel decisions and a budget amendment for the coming school year.