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SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2007
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Councilmen say attitude change needed for new school

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Some councilmen say unless the school board gets a different attitude it is unlikely the city will see a new high school.

“If you want something new, sometimes you have to look in your budget and cut something out,” Councilman Mark Mizell said. “That’s the way I run my budget at home.”

Mizell’s comments came one day after the school board argued for a new high school and told the council it is its responsibility to fund it.

“We’re not a revenue-producing body,” board member Jeff Gray said.

The school system offered $1 million from anticipated bond money Hartselle will receive from a state bond pool. Board Chairman Dr. Andrew Dukes said the school system didn’t have more to give. He said he is “absolutely” opposed to any staff reduction.

“I am not going to jeopardize the education of our children,” he said. “I’m not going to do it.”

The school board can’t make personnel decisions without a recommendation from Superintendent William Michael Reed. He supports Dukes’ position.

“My feeling is why build a new high school if you’re not going to have personnel to put in it,” he said.

Council President Kenny Thompson, a former school administrator, said these “absolute positions” are what people don’t like.

“That attitude has to change if Hartselle is ever going to build a new school,” he said.

Thompson said the city realizes the school board can’t make enough cuts to pay for the high school. But, it can make changes in some areas, he said.

“Look at what they spend on supplements,” Thompson said.

Hartselle spends more on supplements than Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties.

Almost an hour before meeting with the council, the board added three $750 supplements for teachers to assist elementary principals with paperwork and increased supplement pay for the head volleyball coach.

The amount is not the issue, city leaders said.

“That’s money they could have pledged towards the new school,” Councilman Bill Smelser said.

Smelser has questioned the amount Hartselle spends on supplements for about two years.

Supplements come from local money, which are funds the board can use at its discretion.

In May, for example, the board used its discretion and gave head basketball coach Johnny Berry and head football coach Bob Godsey 12-month contracts, plus their coaching supplements.

State funds will pay nine months of the contracts. The other months and supplement pay will come from local money.

Mizell is a former Hartselle football player and remains a member of the Tiger Booster Club.

“I love sports as much as the next guy, but at some point you may have to decide if you want coaches on 12-month contracts or a new high school,” he said.

Mizell said he’s not trying to tell the school system how to spend its money.

“Fundamentally, I’m against government getting (financially) bigger,” he said. “Sometimes you have to figure out how to make do with what you have.”

If a tax vote goes before the people to pay for a new high school, Mizell said, he would support it. But, he said, he will not use his council vote to levy taxes.

A vote is unlikely unless Councilman Bill Drake changes his mind about a resolution asking Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to introduce legislation authorizing the election.

Drake has opposed the resolution because he said he has seen no evidence that Hartselle residents want a tax increase.

Grantland and Orr said they will not sponsor the legislation unless the council vote is unanimous.

As for the school system, Reed said, the board has a campaign ready to promote the proposed 12.5-mill tax increase.

“We don’t want to be in a squabble with the council,” he added. “We’re going to continue to work with the city in every way we can to get the school built.”

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