North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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November 6, 2013

Breaking Away: JefCoEd opposes separation; others want city schools but no property tax

GARDENDALE — Another in our series of stories about the proposed separation of Gardendale schools into its own system, and the referendum for a property tax that would far for it. A story about supporters of the proposal and the tax appeared earlier Wednesday.

Opposition to the upcoming referendum on a hike in Gardendale property taxes to finance a breakaway city school system has taken two forms — one from those who oppose the breakaway system, and those who want a system but not paid for with a property tax.

Those opposing views are represented by two disparate groups: the leadership of the Jefferson County School System, which wants Gardendale to stay with it; and a small group fronted mainly by businessman Jerome Cantrell, who has paid for billboard and newspaper advertising primarily out of his own pocket.

JefCoEd Superintendent Dr. Stephen Nowlin has stated on multiple occasions that he believes the estimate of start-up costs for a new Gardendale system is greatly underestimated by city leaders and other separation supporters.

Nowlin and the board are presenting their arguments in written form in a letter addressed directly to Gardendale residents, and a check list of points to consider under the tagline, “We’re Better Together.” Both were mailed to Gardendale residents this week.

Among the points made in the mailer:

  • “10 mills of extra property tax simply is not enough.” The board argues that the $1.8 million raised by the new tax is not enough to cover the cost of a central office at around $1.5 million, plus the utility costs of Gardendale High school alone at $400,000.
  • “School funding can’t be built on hopes and dreams.” The arguments cites coming increased costs in sewer rates and federal taxes — specifically mentioning “Obama Care,” formally called the Affordable Care Act.
  • The board hints that “significant payments” that the new system would have to make to provide for students from outside the city who are displaced. “It appears that City leaders have not even considered such a possibility, much less how to pay for it.”
  • “There will be no room for error.” Again, the board alludes to what it sees as a lack of start-up funds, saying that shortfalls would put the system in the position of having to raise taxes further, cut programs, or resort to “closing schools such as Snow Rogers.”

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