Q&A about school district’s plan to add schools, increase taxes

Here are some public FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on the new school and funding plan from the Madison City Schools website:

Q. What is the proposal?
Build an elementary and middle school in the next 3-5 years, convert West Madison Elementary to a PreK Center serving all of Madison, expand both high schools, and enhance school safety with more mental health counselors and school resource officers.

Q. Why?
The growth rate we have been experiencing is unsustainable. We are reaching a critical point in capacity. Just from the end of the school year in May to now, we have seen an increase of approximately 420 students. That’s nearly the enrollment of an elementary school. Packing more students on existing campuses is not feasible because it would overtax lunchrooms, gyms, hallways and other school operations. More than 200 kids had to be turned away from PreK this year because we did not have the space. Madison City’s pupil-teacher ratios keep climbing, too, currently ranking 129th worse out of 137 school districts.

How do we pay for it?
*Superintendent Parker is recommending a 12-mil property tax increase which will be put to a vote of the people in Madison. A mil is a unit of measure (1/10 of a penny) used to calculate property tax. A 12-mil hike would add $120 in property tax per $100,000 value of home, or $10 per month. For a $200,000 home, it would add $240 per year or $20 monthly; a $250,000 home would see a $300 yearly increase ($25 per month); a $300,000 home would see a $360 yearly increase ($30 a month), and so forth. The actual financial impact would be less because property taxes are deductible on income tax.

Q: Will the tax apply equally in Limestone County?
Yes. It would be proposed as a citywide millage collected in all portions of Madison lying within Madison and Limestone County. As with the 11 mill Madison City School ad valorem tax that voters approved to start the Madison school system, all of the money goes to Madison City Schools.

Q. How can we be sure MCS gets its full share of taxes collected by Limestone County given the recent litigation?
The taxes that were in dispute in the Limestone tax case that was recently settled with Madison City Schools involved countywide property taxes in Limestone County and a sales tax collected from Madison businesses in Limestone. The settlement was worked out equitably with neither side getting everything it wanted. Background on the Limestone Tax Issue can be found under that heading on the MCS home page: www.madisoncity.k12.al.us . The 11-mill Madison City education tax was never an issue in that case.

Q: Why not just pay for schools out of your current budget?
There is no room in the budget. Because Madison City Schools is a relatively new school system, the budget is still paying for a lot of schools. So our debt is high ($156 million) from multiple mortgages. Also, because the state funds schools in arears, the system has to absorb teacher growth units out-of-pocket each year and won’t recoup that until the following year. This is particularly burdensome on fast growing systems like MCS.
We are house poor and can’t borrow any new money until after 2030 and even then it would only support a $39 million bond.

Q: Are we really that strapped for funding in a community like Madison?
Madison City Schools ranks 82nd out of 137 public school districts in Alabama. Per pupil spending at $9,339 per student is below the state average of $9,671. The lowest per-pupil spending district is $8,140 and the highest is $13,141.