School tax referendum: A good deal

Published 2:31 am Monday, June 4, 2007

By By Tray Smith
Oftentimes, when my political interests surface during conversations with my peers, I am asked to justify my concern with issues that, to many of my fellow young people, do not matter at all. And more times than not, I find the task of explaining how those issues, such as tax reform and agricultural subsidies, actually effect our lives difficult. But the four mills of taxation that will be placed on a countywide referendum this Tuesday has provided me with a rare opportunity to intertwine political issues with the well being of our county's young people. That is because if the tax fails to pass, the Escambia County School System will loose more than $600,000 in essential funding for our classrooms. That is $600,000 currently being used to fund extracurricular activities, teacher salaries and capital improvement programs that will no longer be available to our system administrators as they try to rise to the many challenges modern day public schools face.
There are two taxes on the ballot. The first is a one-mill county wide property tax whose existence will be determined by a county wide vote, the other is a three-mill district property tax. In order to determine whether or not the district tax is renewed, the county will be divided into three areas which will pass or reject the tax separately. The districts passing the tax renewal will be allowed to spend the additional money, while those districts failing to renew the tax will be forced to make cuts in the classroom. The Atmore area district stands to lose the most, with $297,000 at stake. The reason I say that our district stands to lose, not gain, the nearly $300,000 in revenue is because the tax in question is not a new tax, it is a tax that residents of our county have paid and schools in our county have depended on for more than 80 years. However, in order for the tax to continue to be collected, it must be renewed by voters every 20 years. That stipulation, attached to the tax when it was initially approved in 1924, allows voters to hold our schools accountable for the way they spend our tax money.
And accountable our schools have been. During the 2005-2006 school year, our county schools met all of the academic goals set forth by the state of Alabama. Our schools only failed to meet two of more than 160 goals set forth for them in order to make adequate yearly progress. By any logical measurement, that means our schools are earning an A-plus. Our school system has also fully funded the Alabama Reading Initiative in every elementary school and hired reading coaches to help implement it. We are preparing to offer classes over the Internet to students that would otherwise be unavailable and we already are offering four courses of dual enrollment classes at each high school in the county each year.
Should Flomaton and East Brewton pass the tax without us, they will continue to pay the money and support their schools while Atmore area students will suffer from the loss in revenue. Likewise, should Atmore pass the tax and the other two districts reject it, their students will suffer while our schools will be able to avoid devastating cutbacks. With so many exciting economic development opportunities opening up in our area, and so much money our community has already invested in projects such as Rivercane, do we really want to put our leading industrial recruiters in the position of defending our county's, more specifically our end of the county's, vote to end 80 years of school taxes and thus take money away from educating our work force?
Indeed, I could write several articles about why we should renew this tax. But I could not write a paragraph about why the tax renewal should be voted down, because I cannot think of one good reason the residents of this county should not vote for it. On a $30,000 home, this tax would cost the owner 12 bucks a year. That rises to $1.64 on a home worth $50,000. If you are looking to save money, cut a tank a gas out of your annual expenses, because the only party that stands to loose money on Tuesday is our public school student body.
All residents of Atmore who graduated from our schools after this tax was instated, in other words, all Escambia County High School alumni under age 100 currently residing in town, benefited from this tax. Your parents and grandparents voted for and paid this tax so that your school may have plenty of resources with which to fund your academic needs. This Tuesday, my fellow students and I are asking you to do the same thing for us that your parents did for you. Our school system has proved its commitment to our education. Will our community follow suit? I pray so.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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