Board agrees to call for countywide vote
By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
In addition to dealing with the need to increase revenue or cut services, the Escambia County Board of Education also had several other issues on its plate at its regular monthly meeting.
The board received a donation from the W.T. Neal Trust to pay for the operating expenses for the Turtle Creek Science Center for an entire year.
The donation, more than $150,000, was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal fiscal report.
In addition to accepting the donation and thanking the Neal Trust, the board awarded bids to Southern Energy for bus fuel.
In order to save money on the fuel, the transportation department has lowered the specifications on the fuel for busses to 87 octane. That measure alone stands to save the system $10,000.
"We won't be running quite as smoothly, but at least we'll still be running," said one board member.
Because the board is unsure it will have enough money to cover the school years' expenses, it voted without discussion to borrow funds, not to exceed $2 million, for the fiscal year 2004. The loan came in the form of a line of credit through the United Bank in Atmore.
Also on the agenda was changing the job title of Jerry Weeks, who was the information technology specialist, so that his job description fit under a federal program. In that way, Week's salary will be 75 percent paid by the federal government, rather than from state funds.
The board also passed a resolution that allows the schools, faculty and staff to work for the passage of the board's request to increase the countywide ad valorem taxes. A state law prohibits the use of school property, equipment or time to work for political issues, but the resolution passed is specific to a single vote.
At the Brewton City School Board meeting, a similar resolution was passed so that the employees of that system may also work for the passage of the tax.
A second resolution was passed asking that the Escambia Board of County Commissioners call for the vote on the proposed increase in ad valorem taxes before the end of the year.
The board of education also heard from Jason Jackson, a Pollard resident who spoke in support of the McCall Pollard Junior High School, which is in danger of being closed if the ad valorem tax does not pass.
Jackson asked Superintendent Buck Powell why he had announced what schools and programs were potentially on the chopping block before the vote on the tax rather than after. Jackson's concern was that while ad valorem taxes affect the whole county, residents might not be concerned that two community schools would close. He said that the communities themselves do not have enough residents to pass the measure on their own and protect the schools.
Powell responded that people should know what they are facing before deciding how they would vote.