MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Auburn-based organization Take Back Our Republic has launched a campaign against Montgomery County’s proposed property tax increase.
The democracy reform organization has paid for social media advertisements and yard signs urging Montgomery residents to vote no against the tax increase.
The property tax vote will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, and if passed, Montgomery Public Schools will receive an additional $33 million annually beginning in the year 2024. MPS currently receives the states minimum in local funding.
Take Back Our Republic President Francis Johnson said the referendum passed in an abbreviated session this May and more public input was needed before the tax hit the ballot.
“I think it was rushed through because of the COVID situation,” Johnson said. “They did the minimal amount of public input.”
State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, a member of Montgomery’s local delegation, and author of the bill that allowed the referendum, said the process was the furthest thing from rushed.
“This idea that somehow this was rushed through and that the process was not followed is simply not true,” Hatcher said. “Obviously if they’re seeking to try and defeat the bill this is a first measure to try and offer some disinformation.”
The organization also said there needs to be a deeper investigation into how MPS’s existing dollars are being spent.
“There is ample amount of money in the budget,” Johnson said. “Let’s go through and see how those dollars are being spent and how they are being allocated. We feel that just wasn’t done.”
Hatcher said misappropriation of funds has already been thoroughly investigated.
“The leadership of Montgomery Public Schools, particularly with regards to the CFO, Mr. Arthur Watts, he has performed a yeoman’s task in terms of locating where misuse has occurred,” Hatcher said. “Not only identifying it, but putting in place the mechanisms to offset any possibility of those things happening again.”
In terms of the legislation itself, Hatcher also said that at no other time in our state’s history has a local school system been required to submit an “accountability plan” to the legislature explaining how every MPS dollar has been spent.
On the Take Back our Republic website, they infer that Carver High School and Auburn High School spend an equivalent amount of funding per student and say this is proof of wasteful spending.
The website totals take into account all funding revenue sources – federal, state, and local.
Federal funds in particular are appropriated for very specific purposes. State too are restricted for specific purposes. In Carver’s case, the federal funds are restricted to food and nutrition programs and other poverty-assistance support. Carver qualifies for that funding because it is considered a Title 1 school. Auburn High School is not a Title 1 school and not eligible for these funds.
If you remove the restricted federal poverty funds that Carver receives because it is a high poverty school, Auburn High School receives nearly $1,300 per student more than Carver.
If you only look at local sources of funding, Auburn High School is able to spend nearly $2,000 more per student than Carver High Schools. Local funds carry the least restrictions.
Looking at both systems as a whole, the local to local differences remark stark. Auburn is able to spend more than double what MPS can from local sources:
The last time Montgomery residents had the opportunity to vote on a property tax increase was in June 1994. At that time, residents paid eight mills toward education, while the state average was 20.