Education tax an “investment” into county’s future, superintendent says

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

COLUMBIANA — The special election determining whether to extend 30 mills in education taxes will have far-reaching implications, according to Shelby County Superintendent Randy Fuller.

“This is the most important decision the citizens of Shelby County will make for their children’s future in the next 30 years,” Fuller said Dec. 1.

The special election will be held Feb. 8, 2011.

Currently, the 30 mills in taxes are scheduled to expire in six years. Fuller said it’s essential for voters to extend the taxes so the board of education can begin planning for the future, especially for capital improvement projects and superior personnel and educational programs.

“Because the taxes expire in six years, we cannot secure bonds,” Fuller said. “If we don’t have this, there will be no building because there will be no funding.”

If voters renew the taxes, the taxes won’t expire until 2041.

Fuller said the 30 mills Shelby County collects is lower than many of the surrounding school districts, such as the Jefferson County School System, which collects 30.1 mills, Leeds City Schools, which collects 39.1 mills and Hoover City Schools, which collects 59.26 mills. With 30 mills in taxes, someone who owns a $100,000 home would pay $300 a year.

Shelby County’s 30 mills translate into $74.9 million per year, or 28 percent of the school system’s budget.

However, even with lower taxes, Shelby County schools consistently perform well because the school system invests those funds wisely, Fuller said.

The investments include: capital improvements such as classroom additions, new schools and modernizing existing schools; programs such as technology for classrooms, gifted education, special education, career and technical education and English as a second language; personnel such as art teachers, music teachers, physical education teachers and additional instructors.

These investments have paid off, with the school system boasting a 93 percent graduation rate, the highest in its history. The system is also seeing a continued increase in standardized test scores, along with the highest average ACT scores ever scored by Shelby County students.

“To ensure we have top-flight programs, we invest in all of these,” Fuller said. “But without the investments from our local funding, these things would not occur.”

During the election, the countywide ballot will have five items to be voted on. The five items together will add up to 30 mills, so voters who want to extend the taxes must vote “yes” on all five items.

Voters in Hoover will have three items on their ballots, as there are three taxes that pertain to Hoover City Schools. Voting “yes” on these taxes will ensure Hoover citizens will continue benefiting from these taxes, Fuller said.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Tom Ferguson said the tax renewal is essential, as the school system continues to grow along with the county. Even with a down economy, the school system grew by 400 students this year, he said.

“If we can get this renewal passed now, we can continue to move forward without skipping a beat,” Ferguson said. “Why now? Because we can’t go any further at this point. We need this now so we can keep moving forward and continue to plan.”