MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Parents of Montgomery Public Schools students met inside Lanier High School Thursday to speak out against the democracy reform organization Take Back Our Republic.
The Auburn-based organization has spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, radio commercials and text messages urging Montgomery County residents to vote no to the proposed property tax increase on Nov. 3.
If passed, the tax would increase from 10 mills to 22 mills, bringing in an additional $33 million annually to MPS beginning in the year 2023.
“Do not believe the campaign of lies that is being hosted out of Auburn by a professional, political, pundit organization,” said Jeanne Charbonneau, a mother of two MPS graduates. “When you go to the polls on Tuesday, turn your ballot over and vote for Montgomery Public Schools.”
The information being spread by the group more than 50 miles away “is categorically, absolutely false,” she continued.
Take Back Our Republic President Francis Johnson said MPS already has enough funding, despite the district receiving the state’s minimum in local funding. Johnson also said the referendum was rushed onto the ballot without enough input from the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was basically rushed through,” Johnson said. “There were no public hearings on this and we dug a little deeper and realized that they didn’t even take a look at how Montgomery County is actually spending their money.”
MPS Chief Financial Officer Arthur Watts said this is not true and that the referendum passed the MPS school board, the Montgomery County Commission, and the state Legislature before being put on the ballot.
“For anyone to say that it was rushed through without our presenting of all the information and all the data, that is just simply a lie,” Watts said. “It’s just terrible that you would have organizations out there that are spreading these lies against the children of Montgomery Public Schools.”
Recently, some Montgomery residents received unsolicited text messages from the group. One message claimed that “All $300 million new taxes goes to construction and businesses who are friends of the school board.” However, $300 million is nowhere near the rate of additional funding the district will receive.
On the Take Back our Republic website, they also 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. However, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Education, The City of Auburn collects 24 mills for its schools. The extra millage in Auburn amounts to nearly $2,000 more per student collected each year.
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:
Johnson released the following statement today in response to MPS parents' meeting Thursday: “No Montgomery school parents ever contacted our office about any factual errors in the information we provided to voters, but we always encourage whatever percentage of the parents of the 30,000 Montgomery school children want to be involved and encourage doubling the tax. It appears the proponents of this tax hike are spending many times as much as we are spending - hundreds of thousands of dollars - to give voters all the reasons they believe Montgomery residents should be willing to double their taxes - and we are glad both sides were presented so voters can make an informed decision.”
At Thursday’s gathering, MPS parents said the campaign is full of misinformation and they are asking voters to vote in favor of the tax and invest in their children’s future.
“Every student in Montgomery deserves the opportunity to have a first rate quality education,” Charbonneau said.
“This is our future workforce in Montgomery,” said MPS parent Elizabeth Lawlor. “We need to take control of that. We need to be responsible of that and support greater funding for our students and our teachers.”
If the property tax referendum is approved by voters, beginning in 2023, Montgomery would increase the number of mills levied on property in Montgomery County from 10 to 22. This amounts to a nearly $12.75 increase for the average property owner each month.
Nov. 3 is the first time Montgomery County voters have had an opportunity to raise MPS' ad valorem amounts since 1994.