By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore’s registered voters will decide next Tuesday, November 12, whether a school tax that has been in effect for six decades will be extended for another 20 years.
The tax is a 5-mil levy of which the proceeds are earmarked to help pay the salaries, payroll taxes and benefits for several administrative positions at schools within the city, as well as part of the salaries, taxes and benefits for two teachers and a counselor.
According to Murray Johnson, a long-time advocate of local schools, the school-tax money is used to cover the salaries and salary-related expenses of one-and-a-half of Escambia County High School’s assistant principals, Kevin Everett and Randall Jackson, as well as half those costs for ECHS’s choral instructor, Conrad Weber, and its Spanish teacher, Guy Mims.
The tax also provides funds for the salary costs of Escambia County Middle School Assistant Principal Toya McMillian, and half that of Cordia Lee, one of two guidance counselors at ECMS. The remainder is used to pay the salary, taxes and benefits of Rachel Patterson Elementary School Assistant Principal Keiana Quarker White.
Johnson pointed out that the revenue generated by the tax, approximately $363,000 a year, doesn’t cover all the annual expenses of those positions.
“The total expenditures — salary, payroll taxes and retirement — for those positions come to about $400,000 a year,” Johnson said during the October 28 Atmore City Council meeting. “So, you can see there is a deficit of $37,000. But they took care of those people.
“The 2019-20 (school system) budget has already been set, and they’re assuming that $363,000 is probably what the tax will bring in. The expenses will be about $389,000. That’s $60,000-65,000 over and above what the tax brought in over the last two years.”
Tuesday’s referendum, if the issue passes as expected, will renew the school tax for another two decades. It was enacted in 1958, with 1960 the first year it was actually levied, and is up for renewal every 20 years. If the extension does not pass, the only way to ever renew it would be through the state legislature.
“It’s not anything new,” Johnson said. “It’s a 60-year-old tax, and it’s for our kids. It equals about $5 a month on a $100,000 home, and the majority of the tax is paid by businesses.”
He also warned that passage of the extension is crucial to the quality of education local students receive.
“We probably won’t lose all those people (if the extension is voted down), but you can see where they might get rid of choral teacher,” he said. “If they have to use money to cover those funds we’ve been generating, they’re going to have to cut something else, so our kids are going to lose.”
Voting will take place at Atmore City Hall, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.