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Children board buses at West Morgan Elementary School. If Amendment 106 doesn’t pass, school buses may arrive earlier and drop students at home later because of lack of drivers, school officials say.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Children board buses at West Morgan Elementary School. If Amendment 106 doesn’t pass, school buses may arrive earlier and drop students at home later because of lack of drivers, school officials say.

Morgan tax election
If Amendment 106 doesn’t pass, schools will lose $4.6 million

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com· 340-2432

How important to Morgan County Schools is a 7.5-mill property tax that voters will decide Tuesday in a special referendum?

“If the school system were a body, this (tax) would be our jugular vein,” said Tom Earwood, a member of the school board.

If Amendment 106 doesn’t pass, school officials say that county schools will lose about $4.6 million, possibly forcing the school system to cut teachers, extracurricular activities, transportation, technology and maintenance.

For example, students would be leaving home earlier and arriving later as bus routes get longer with fewer drivers and buses on the road. Coaching supplements would be dropped.

In an era that does not favor tax increases, school officials are quick to point out that this is not a new tax. Voters are considering renewal of a tax first approved in 1957 at 5.5 mills and then increased in 1979 to 7.5 mills.

The tax almost expired unnoticed by Morgan County Commission and county school officials on Sept. 30. They discovered the oversight too late to get the renewal on the November general election ballot. As a result, the system has already lost about $100,000 from a motor vehicle tax that the county collects monthly.

The issue does not apply to Decatur and Hartselle, which have school systems. Morgan County school board member Carolyn Wallace wants to make sure county voters know that this is a separate tax from the one Hartselle city leaders are discussing as a way to fund a new Hartselle High School. Hartselle has not set a date for a vote on that proposal.

The word school officials most often use when they talk about losing this funding is “devastating.” Making matters possibly worse, the vote comes at a time when school officials are trying to cut expenses.

The school system operates on a $65 million annual budget, and school officials are trying to reduce expenses. Finance Director Rodger Spillers projects the system having $1.6 million in its savings account at the end of the 2007 fiscal year.

That is short of a state requirement of $4.2 million, equal to one month’s operating expenses, in reserve.

“We’re really talking about a $9 million cut, if the tax fails,” school board Chairman Jimmy Dobbs said.

Since 85 percent of the budget is salaries and benefits, that area would take a big cut. The school system has 60 teacher slots funded with local tax money.

Proration years

During the proration years of the late 1990s and early 2000, school boards suffering financial difficulties often automatically canceled non-tenured teachers’ contracts at the end of the year.

This gives school officials the flexibility to then hire on an as-need, or funding available, basis. Morgan County has 130 non-tenured teachers.

Losses of teachers affect the quality of education that county students get because class sizes could increase dramatically in a school system that’s already struggling to deal with area population growth.

Studies show that larger class sizes mean less individual attention from the teacher, more discipline problems and drops in academic achievement.

Vote on Tuesday

On Tuesday, voters living in Morgan County will consider Amendment 106, a renewal of a 7.5-mill property tax, a special referendum.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Voters living in the city limits of Decatur and Hartselle are not eligible to participate.

Bayne Hughes

Amendment 106

On Tuesday, Morgan County voters will consider Amendment 106, a 7.5-mill property tax, in a special referendum. Finance Director Rodger Spillers estimates that Morgan County Schools get about $4.6 million from the tax.

If the tax fails, the Morgan County Board of Education would have to make budget cuts. Some items facing cuts:

Teacher units — The school board would have to cut at least 80 teacher units.

Extracurricular activities — Sports, band and robotics could be eliminated.

Transportation — The school system would have to reduce the number and length of bus routes.

Computers — Funding would not be available to update or replace computers and other technology.

Maintenance — School personnel would have to delay or ignore maintenance.

Capital projects — With areas like Trinity, Priceville and Danville already seeing increased enrollments, the school board would not have the funds to keep up with this growth through the construction of new schools and additional classrooms.

Bayne Hughes

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