Sports, schools face ax

Published 10:27 am Monday, September 29, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
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.
The problem is two fold.
In the last few years, costs have continued to increase, especially the cost of salaries and benefits, while revenues have continued to decrease.
State funding has been cut because of pro-ration, 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 board will ask for a special vote on an increase in ad valorem taxes, collected on houses and auto license plates. The current rate is 7 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.
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 vote will be held Dec. 9.
Powell was loathe to consider closing schools or eliminating programs.
"I hope people don't think I'm bluffing," he said. "I promise you I'm not. Our backs are against the wall."
Pro ration 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.
Jason Jackson spoke on behalf of the McCall community, where one of the endangered schools is located.
"I went to school in McCall, graduated from there, have lived there all my life," Jackson said. He will be working to help get the increased ad valorem tax passed.
"The schools they are talking about closing are in small communities, and neither has the votes to pass the tax and keep the schools," he said. "We feel that since this is countywide, we control our own destiny, so to speak."
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.

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