MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Montgomery County Board of Education voted 5-2 to a adopt a resolution to raise property tax in the county by 6 mills to support Montgomery Public Schools. The increase would bring the total millage to 16. The county’s current 10 mills is the minimum required by the state to support education, making Montgomery County’s millage the lowest of Alabama’s large school systems.
“We can point fingers all we want, but that doesn’t stop schools from closing,” Arika Watkins-Smith, District 7, said. “It doesn’t stop laying off staff because we can’t afford it. If we want quality education, we have to put our money where our math is. I don’t mean to sound like a cliche, but at this point, it is the reality.”
Watkins-Smith presented the research and information she used to create the resolution. Her data compared Montgomery County’s ad valorem tax and its impact per student to those of other Alabama system’s of comparable size.
“No money for us means no money for them,” Watkins-Smith said. “No money means no money.”
In her presentation, Watkins-Smith said 5 mill increase would bring in about $14 million. Watkins-Smith listed a number of things the money would go toward including addressing the substitute teacher shortage, helping meet the required one month’s reserve in the budget, supplying textbooks and building renovations.
Chief School Financial Officer Arthur Watts said the increase would make a big difference.
“The maintenance, instructional needs, and safety,” Watts said. “All of the needs she talked about, those are the reality. This increase would be humongous for us.”
Lesa Keith and Larry Lee were the two who voted in opposition of the resolution. Keith said she was not comfortable voting on it until there is clear accountability for how the money would be spent. However, Lee said he voted against it because he thinks the resolution should include a higher increase.
“I think we need to be more ambitious,” Lee said. “If you’re going to go through the blood bath of a referendum, make it worth while.”
The resolution will now go to the Montgomery County Commission. Watkins-Smith said the commission will likely get public input, set a date and then the issue will be put on a special ballot with Montgomery County voters ultimately making the final decision.
Watkins-Smith said she is hopeful the community will support the school system with the vote.
“It really is about the about the legacy we leave for our children,” Watkins-Smith said.