Anniston City Council, BoE begin to talk about financial support of schools
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Jun 27, 2013 | 3580 views |  0 comments | 171 171 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The members of Anniston’s City Council and its school board all agree on one thing: The city government should provide some money to support public education.

That’s where the agreement ends.

Council and board members have begun a tentative negotiation over just how much money the council should allocate to the Board of Education. But the members have very different figures in mind, and very different ideas about just what the council should agree to pay for.

David Reddick, who represents Ward 2 on the council, plans next month to propose dedicating a part of the council’s 2012 one-cent sales tax to public schools.

“We did nothing for so long, and that’s why the school is where it’s at,” he said. “We abandoned our kids.”

If Reddick has his way, he’d like to see the council commit one-half of last year’s sales tax to funding the schools, but he said he is open to negotiations on the exact percentage of funding.

Councilman Jay Jenkins voted to authorize the tax last year.

“Nothing was defined as far as percentages or anything like that because we really didn’t know,” he said, noting that big initiatives such as school consolidation and economic development at McClellan were still in the works. “I still believe education has to be a piece of that, but how big a piece is still a question mark.”

A majority of the council favors a more cautious approach to Reddick’s blanket funding proposal. Mayor Vaughn Stewart, Councilman Seyram Selase and Councilwoman Millie Harris said they would prefer to fund requests by the Board of Education for particular initiatives.

Where the money comes from

When the council passed the new tax in 2012, it proclaimed three goals for the new money: shoring up a pension fund for police and firefighters, economic development, and education.

City Finance Director Danny McCullars said the tax is projected to bring in about $4 million in additional revenue for the city this year, the first full year it’s been in effect. Under Reddick’s proposal, that would mean an extra $2 million for a district with revenues of about $23 million, according to Jimmie Thompson III, chief school financial officer.

That $23 million came from a variety of state, federal and local sources.

Last year the City Council decided to give $186,000 to the school district to fund a technology initiative. In 2010, the city sent the schools $35,000.

Earlier councils have also struggled with funding the city’s schools. The City Council in 1993 approved a half-cent sales tax for schools. In 1997, a new council repealed that resolution.

Different views

Harris said she feels that the district spends too much money on buildings, utilities and transportation that could go toward students if the district consolidates more schools.

“Then I believe the taxpayers will be all on board to allocate a certain amount of support to the schools, when they have shown they are using money for the kids.”

The school board voted earlier this year to close Anniston Middle School and convert Cobb Elementary School — which has the lowest enrollment of the city’s five elementary schools — into a junior high school. How to move forward with construction at Cobb and potential development at the middle school is part of the ongoing funding conversation.

Selase said the council should put the onus on the school board, whom he called the experts on what the schools need, to come to the council to request exactly what they want funded.

“They know the needs more than we do as council members,” he said.

Board of Education member Bill Robison said he favored such a targeted approach.

Donna Ross, president of the Board of Education, said board members are set to come up with a slate of goals and initiatives for which to request funding as it has done in the past. She said members will review goals from the district’s principals at its July 12 work session, which will likely drive the board’s work. She had not heard of Reddick’s proposal, but said she did not disagree with the concept.

Zeroing in

Mayor Stewart said the council should be outcome-oriented, funding initiatives to accomplish its desired results.

“I think everything we have in place is outcome-oriented,” said Joan Frazier, superintendent of schools. “The product is the quality of the students’ work, the quality of their ability to communicate their knowledge successfully.”

But Stewart said that as elected officials, council members “need to be careful not to just throw money at issues.”

The mayor said he wants to see the schools pursue innovative strategies such as citywide after-school programs, pre-kindergarten classes, teacher incentives or hiring a full-time grant writer.

Board of Education member William Hutchings said the City Council should support Reddick’s proposal.

“We’re trying to build a school to help better the city, and they need to give the money like David says,” Hutchings said. “Every time someone gets a good job, they move away because they want their kids to get educated,” he said.

“The first thing out of our council’s mouth is, ‘You can’t throw money at the problem; we need to see a plan,’” Reddick said. “We didn’t need to see a plan to pass the tax.”

Reddick said prior councils were able to shore up support for sales tax increases from constituents in recent decades by promising the money would be used for schools.

School board member C.K. Huguley called the current funding situation the “break of a contract with the community.”

“Everyone has a reason these kids have to wait,” Huguley added. “Why should they have to wait one more day for us to do the right thing by them?”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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