NEW LONDON — The Pell City Board of Education held a small town hall Monday night at the New London Fire Department to discuss the upcoming tax referendum.
Superintendent Dr. James Martin and all but one member of the board attended the meeting to discuss the Nov 16 tax referendum, where voters from across Pell City’s School zone will get to decide if they support a 5 mil increase to school related property taxes. The meeting was attended by a small crowd of about 15 people, but featured heavy discussion on several issues.
The meeting began with the board and Martin making the case for the milage increase.
Board President Laurie Henderson called property taxes the “correct way to fund a school system,” during her comments.
“A real property tax is the most stable form and reliable form of income,” she said, “and the places that are above and beyond, the crazy good school systems, have figured that out a long time ago and don’t begrudge that for their children.”
Board Vice President Norman Wilder made a point to address concerns from some county residents that they do not have representation on the board. While Martin and Henderson both saisd that the board has been actively working towards redistricting since approving to start the process over the summer, Wilder said the current board also wants to work for the county areas of the district. He said the board did have the opportunity to vote the county areas out of the district and downsize to only include the city limits, but did not.
“We felt like you were apart of our school system and we wanted you to be here,” Wilder sadi “it wasn’t a 3-2 vote, it wasn’t a 4-1 vote, it was a 5-0 vote, because you are the Pell City School System, you are apart of it and we want you to remain there forever period.”
Martin then went over the plan the school has to put the money from the referendum to use. If the vote passes, he said the plan is to use the funds for storm shelters for Eden Elementary and Coosa Valley Elementary, full time art and music teachers for all elementary schools and copious other facility upgrades.
When asked by one of the attendees, Martin said it was unlikely the system could look at doing any of these projects within the next decade if the referendum is passed. He also said the extra 5 mils could bring in anywhere between $1.5 million and $1.7 million into the system annually.
Martin also said the system is currently looking at getting an agreement with the county commission to allocate the one cent sales tax collection in the county areas of the school district. He said this tax is currently collected but is instead allocated in its entirety to the St. Clair County School System.
There was also a lengthy discussion about how the money from the referendum should be used. One resident, who indicated that his wife was a teacher, said he felt it was unfair for his wife to have to spend money out of pocket for her classroom and that the school should use the money to more directly help teachers. He said teachers sometimes have the greatest effect on children and they need to be supported.
Martin said the state did recently give all teachers a two percent raise and funded more money for classroom expenses this year than ever before.
Dr. Andrew Jackson, a teacher at Eden and the 2020 Alabama Teacher of the Year, agreed with the sentiment saying that the connection between new facilities and teacher support is indirect.
Wilder countered that the investment in facilities and technology does help teachers, but Jackson said in his experience he isn’t sure that’s the case.
Jackson said he felt teachers would benefit from things like additional teacher units and more support in things like special education. Martin agreed and Coosa Valley Principal Jennifer Hannah said she felt these funds could help free up funding for teachers down the line.