Time to pay attention to education

Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2003

By By James Crawford
News Editor
In case you haven't been reading your local newspaper or any newspaper for that matter or if for some reason you just haven't cared up until now, then it's time to sit up at attention.
Education in Alabama is on the chopping block and the Escambia County School system is in trouble…a lot of trouble.
Being new to this county, I'm not aware of what happened two years ago or three years ago or even last year, other than the last few months, so I'm not exactly sure how we got to this point.
But, after attending the school board meeting in Flomaton last week, what I am aware of is that if we don't do something soon then the schools are going to be faced with some drastic and potentially far-reaching decisions to make, none of which will be good for the area, the children or the future of Atmore.
This situation became even more dire on Monday night at the Atmore City Council meeting when Mayor Shell announced the city would not be giving the school system almost $275,000 in sales tax money that it can no longer afford with Kmart leaving.
On top of that bad news, the system has reportedly been told it will receive 1 million less than it had been told to expect this year, which was lower than what they had budgeted for already.
Folks, education in Atmore is at a turning point. The responsibility of educating children rests with the community. Even those of you who don't have children still share a role in this duty whether you realize it or not and it takes money to educate a child.
Granted, money is not all of it. There is still a need for caring, dedication, a school plan and the like, but all those things take money to accomplish.
The future livelihoods of our children depend on their education. A group of kids that leave school with no formal education will be the group of kids arrested the next week for breaking into your home, vandalizing your business, selling drugs to your neighbors or possibly even pointing a gun at your head.
I'm not saying the kids are all so very innocent mind you. I'm well aware that some will end up that way no matter how much money you throw at them.
But given an opportunity to grow and excel, the majority will strive to do better with their lives. And we must provide for them the opportunity to get an education that will help them do just that.
On Feb. 6, the school board will hold its third and final town meeting at ECHS at 6 p.m. to discuss what taxes we need to try to pass to help our school.
One of the proposed taxes, an ad valorem tax, will add an additional fee to what you now pay for taxes on land and your home. There hasn't been an increase in the ad valorem since the early twentieth century, which is astonishing when you think about it.
The second tax to be proposed is a sales tax, which on its own is a disastrous idea. Sales in Escambia County are down right now and, with the loss of Kmart, will drop even further. A rise in sales tax would in effect only bring us back even to an even slate.
So, what is the most logical solution to this seemingly insurmountable problem? From my little corner of the world, it looks painfully obvious that we need a temporary sales tax, devoted to education, to help us make it through until an ad volorem tax, which we should also pass, is enacted and money begins to generate from it.
This would stave off any purported school closings, any terminations of valuable teachers and suspension of, in my opinion, essential extra-curricular activities such as band, art, chorus and dance.
But, since the council just voted to withhold the existing education sales tax that we had in place, this idea now seems moot.
Without both of these taxes, our children are going to be left behind and once they are they will either leave Atmore behind or the citizens of this great town will wish they had.
Stand up at the school board meeting at ECHS and let your voice be heard. Your opinion does count and is important, never more so than now, but you have to be willing to stand behind whatever decision is made for this to all work. Let's not let education fall to the wayside.
James Crawford is News Editor of The Advance. He can be reached by phone at 368-2123 or by e-mail at james.crawford@atmoreadvance.com

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