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Not much left to cut at schools

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
Voters will be asked Dec. 9 to pass an increase in the ad valorem tax. What will it mean to the schools of Escambia County if the measure fails?
The very idea scares the stuffing out of Escambia County Middle School principal Herbert Payne.
His school has already lost its choral program. The students who would have been in the class are now split among art, band and career technology classes to fill their elective schedule.
"If it doesn't pass, I hate to think of the impact," Payne said. "We will not have football or basketball, and we could lose art and career tech programs, too. We would be down to the core curriculum, with maybe P.E."
Payne's is one of the newer schools in the county, designed to be climate controlled. In spite of that, one of the cost-control measures he has implemented is cutting back on heat and air-conditioning usage. The school has also reduced its copy machine and telephone use as well.
Yet, the measures still are not enough.
"You have to put money up front to get money," Payne said, speaking of the funds that the county collects toward its budget.
But if the school is reduced to only the Three Rs, wouldn't that be better for the students, increasing test scores and the readiness of the children to go on to high school?
No way, said Payne.
"The Three Rs are no longer enough for the world in which they (today's students) will have to survive," he said.
Computer labs are a good exampleAlmost every job in today's world requires the ability to run a computer. The middle school has several computer labs and a couple of computers in each classroom.
But without passage of the tax package, there won't be money for the supplies the computers require for use.
"We'll have all this technology," Payne said, "and we won't be able to use it."
Low-tech teaching supplies have taken a hit as well.
Escambia County Middle School is a Title 1 school, so its library funding has remained intact.
But there is no money for textbooks in next year's budget. Students will just have to continue to use the older, sometimes outdated books.
"In 1968 I bought a brand-new car and paid $3,400 for it," Payne said.
"The same type of new car today would cost $36,000. It is the same in education. Costs have gone up, tenfold. But the funding isn't there."
Payne feels that if the voters pass the measure the system will be adequately funded for a long time.
That feeling is echoed by Superintendent of Schools Melvin "Buck" Powell.
"If this passes, we will prosper within two to three years," he said.
"Within the second year, we'll be on stable ground until the state's funding turns around."
Powell said the Alabama Reading Initiative could be added to the programs at A.C. Moore, Rachel Patterson and at the middle school as well.
"And the best thing for children is to read better," Powell said. "It translates to success in all areas. We could add back programs such as vocational agriculture, art and chorus, and have small classes in all the core subjects."