How will raising education funding to 10 mills help public schools in Linden and Marengo County?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Recent history has not been kind to constitutional referendums that involve tax increases, but county leaders are hoping voters will have a change of heart when they go cast their votes for Amendment Two.

The constitutional amendment, which will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, would mandate that all school systems be allocated 10 mills of funding, the minimum millage set forth in a 1998 law to receive state funding.

Only 30 school systems out of the states 131 fall below the 10-mill mark, including Marengo County School System and Linden Public Schools.

Email newsletter signup

According to Dr. Walter Davis, superintendent of Linden schools, the city system would realize as much as $90,000.

The amendment would not affect the Demopolis City Schools, which already is the recipient of more than 10 mills per year.

Opponents of the measure, including Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, say the amendment comes down to nothing more than a tax increase. Proponents do not disagree, but they say the tax increase is both minimal and well worth it.

Commissioner Max Joiner, who is a longtime educator and former head of the Alabama School Administrators Association, said a person is taxed one mill for every $10,000-worth of real estate property they own. A home owner with a $100,000 home would see an increase of $10 per mill.

Both the Marengo County and Linden school districts currently are at an 8-mill allocation. That means someone in Marengo County who owns a $100,000 would pay an additional $20 per year, according to Joiner.

Hallmark said the amendment is needed to address an oversight in the 1998 law that created the Foundation Program, which allocates equal disbursement of state funds to each of the state&8217;s school systems.

The adequate education funding program is similar to programs throughout the nation, many of which resulted from lawsuits against states where public school systems in economically depressed areas were neglected in funding.

But what was not taken into consideration with the Foundation Program, Hallmark says, are districts that do not generate 10 mills and that also suffer from declining enrollment.

Hallmark said that in Marengo County property taxes were driven higher by the state&8217;s reassessment, which meant the school system was sending more money to the state but was still receiving less funding because the school district did not generate 10 mills.

Joiner said the shortfall in the county has been made up by sales taxes allocated to the districts. In the Linden district, no city sales taxes are allocated to help make up the difference.

Opponents of the amendment also question having a statewide vote that only affects certain voters in certain areas of the state. Baxley has said she believes if it is to be voted on it should be voted on only by the people in the areas affected.

But Hallmark said that thought-process does not account for land-owners who live outside the county where they own property.

Joiner admits that the proposal is a &8220;Catch 22 situation,&8221; where people are being asked to increase taxes on themselves.

At the same time, he said he feels the increase is so negligible that most people won&8217;t be bothered by it.

Hallmark said the extra money can be used in a variety of ways, including offsetting rising utility prices, paying for transportation costs and assisting with the hiring of support staff for the schools.

To pass, Amendment Two will have to get a majority of the votes statewide. If it does, it will take effect even if voters in the 30 affected counties reject it.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.