Sense and nonsense about vote

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Shelby County voters made it brutally clear in Tuesday’s tax vote that they are not willing to give one more tax dollar to fund schools.

In the aftermath of this resounding defeat, it is important for school officials and board members to ascertain the &uot;why?&uot; and try to make sense of the message voters sent them. They should also ask &uot;what&uot; in terms of what went wrong with their efforts. There seemed to be a substantial chasm between the real needs of our school system and the perceived need to which voters responded.

It makes sense that folks are reluctant to vote additional taxes on themselves. There are those on fixed income; there is the innate aversion to taxing one’s self and the universal distrust of &uot;big government.&uot;

The slump in the American economy for the past five years has resulted in a more fiscally conservative mindset among many wageearners. Highly publicized reports of fraud and mismanagement by public officials to include some school leaders in Alabama cause many to be wary of pleas for more funding.

What does not make sense are some of the reasons given by the leaders of the tax opposition.

In Shelby County’s case, in particular, it is difficult to figure which of the opposition’s reasons given were sensible. Among those given include voters not knowing

&uot;where the money is going&uot; and &uot;excessive salaries of system administrators.&uot;

The Shelby County School System makes its budget available to all who wish to look at it. Shelby County Schools’ website ( contains a plethora of information and contact telephone numbers for responsible officials.

Informational items include a school system report card, board policies, financial and purchasing contact information, plans for the system and employee salary schedules. Exactly what part of &uot;where the money is going&uot; do folks not understand?

The issue of &uot;excessive salaries&uot; is one which is often relative to the perception and economic status of those of different occupations. However, when examined objectively and compared to similar professional occupations, the charge is simply nonsense.

Shelby County is the fifth largest school system in Alabama with an enrollment of some 23,000 students and more than 3,000 employees. However, there are a number of Alabama school superintendents of smaller systems whose salaries are higher than that of Evan Major.

Shelby County is growing at a breathtaking rate. It is one of the best places to live in the state in terms of jobs, housing and general economic conditions. We all benefit from this growth with many quality of life amenities. That is all good.

However, with growth and prosperity come growing pains and the need for resources to support those institutions which we all believe to be important to good communities. The county commission, the planning commission, the school board and all city officials are struggling to meet the enormous demands of this growth on existing resources.

Shelby County school officials were not requesting more money because they had been bad stewards or even due to reduced state funding. They were not asking to tear down existing school buildings to build new, finer schools. What they did ask for was funds to keep up with the nearly 1,000 additional students coming in to our schools annually. They asked for funds to build schools so that our children won’t have to attend class in trailers.

With that said, school officials did get the message and now have to move ahead and find ways to provide the best education affordable.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this.

Did those who opposed paying a few more dollars for our school really get our message?

Did we, as educators and public officials, do a good job in communicating not only needs but also the ways and means we utilize to be fiscally accountable, to provide services to the public and to strategically plan to meet pressing demands?

It is important that those 20,000 folks who cast their votes against the funding initiative step up now and propose options for providing adequate classroom space.

Offer reasonable ideas to school officials as to how they can be more efficient with available funding in order to construct schools to house rising enrollments. Offer proposals to fund the trailers for our kids in the meantime.

It is time to stop being against something and become for finding solutions, seeking opportunities and perpetuating a quality community we all can enjoy here in Shelby County.

Dr. David Nichols is a member of the Shelby County Planning Commission and a resident of Pelham. He has served as a law enforcement administrator and educator in Alabama’s public schools and universities. He can be reached at