At a budget work session today, a quorum of the council discussed how to move forward with Board of Education requests that exceed the $400,000 in funding recommended by city management in the proposed budget. Both Mayor Vaughn Stewart and Councilman David Reddick were absent from the session.
Councilman Jay Jenkins said he feels the proposed $400,000 figure is fair, especially considering other items, including the city’s infrastructure needs and consistent delay in giving city employees raises. He said it’s a significant increase from the approximately $150,000 the city gave the schools last year.
“We have to ensure that any funding we give them, in my mind, goes to the student and is financially responsible,” he said.
Last month, school board members compiled a $631,000 wish list for the council members after the majority made it clear this summer they would support funding individual initiatives for innovation in the schools but not handing over funds for the schools to continue with “the status quo.”
The list included significant requests for career technology and academic programs, including a new career technology director, two assessment teachers to help prepare students for ACT-related tests and $150,000 to fund a re-entry program that will help individuals who have left high school before graduation or who are at risk of doing so. The list also included requests for a music teacher, an assistant principal, a part-time grant writer and other small requests for student programs like the Cobb Elementary School Choir.
Jenkins said that while he supports some items on the list, there are others he’s against, including the $70,000 to fund an assistant principal.
“I cannot stomach funding additional administration for a system that I see is well beyond the administrative needs that it should have,” Jenkins said. He added that he would like to see the council support — at reasonable levels — funding for innovation in the classroom and to build a new middle school.
Councilman Seyram Selase said he would like to see the council, as a good faith gesture, give the schools $600,000, but he said he was willing to compromise on a figure.
“I think we have to show our community in good faith we are passionate about education; we are concerned,” he said.
Selase said the majority of people who work in Anniston don’t live here, but the city provides them services.
“Who does live in the city are our students,” he said.
He also expressed concern about the council’s ability to tell the school board how to spend the money it gives them.
Reached by phone after the meeting, Reddick said he thinks $600,000 is an absolute minimum compromise. Reddick said he understands where Jenkins is coming from in regard to spending on administrators and other non-program measures, but he said he supports whatever the school board says it needs.
“We elected them,” Reddick said. “It’s not for me to tell them what they’re doing is right or wrong.”
Councilwoman Millie Harris said she supports the $400,000 figure proposed in the budget, but only if there’s accountability with the allocation.
“We need to know where it’s going and specifically what it’s being used for,” she said.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said by phone that he appreciates the list provided by the school board, but he would like to meet with members to talk about issues that might be more pressing than those items on their list.
Stewart said he is interested in funding more preschool classes and discussing the prospect of a strong after-school program that may be more of a long-term project rather than something the council would fund this year. He added that he supports the part-time grant writer requested by the board. He said he hopes a potential after-school program can be supported with grants matched by city and school board funds.
Part of the community discussion about giving money to the schools has been the one-cent sales tax passed by the council last year to fund such priorities as education, infrastructure and the police and firefighter pension fund.
Danny McCullars, finance director and interim city manager, told council members that between fees the city had to pay the state to collect its sales tax and a shortfall in projected collection of those taxes, the income for the one-cent sales tax is expected to be about $3.4 million. Right off the bat, he said, $680,000 million of that was used to cover a deficit from the 2012 fiscal year. $1.9 million of the remaining revenue went to shore up the police and firefighter retirement fund, leaving only about $820,000. McCullars said the city may have that much or a little less in surplus when the fiscal year closes out at the end of the month.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.