Commission Sets February 14 Special Election on Millage Rate for Schools
November 16, 2022
At its Wednesday, November 16 meeting, the Tuscaloosa County Commission approved a request from Tuscaloosa County School System Superintendent Dr. Keri Johnson, for a Special Election, for the purpose of the levy of a Special District School Tax in the Tuscaloosa County School Tax District. Dr. Johnson made the request on behalf of the Tuscaloosa County School System, after the Board of Education approved resolutions, in support of the request. The action by the Tuscaloosa County Commission sets a February 14, 2023 Special Election, in which Tuscaloosa County voters will vote on an 8 mill property tax, which would generate funds for local school improvements.
Currently, Tuscaloosa County ranks at the very bottom of the state in millage rate for local school funding; however, TCSS is one of the largest school systems in the state. Out of 139 school systems in Alabama, TCSS covers a larger geographic region than any other school system. In student population, TCSS is the ninth-largest school system in Alabama, serving approximately 19,000 students. The last time Tuscaloosa County voters approved a millage rate increase for local school funding was more than 100 years ago, in 1917.
If Tuscaloosa County voters approve the 8 mill property tax, someone who owns a home or property with a $100,000 assessed value would pay about $75 per year in additional property tax. Someone who owns a home or property with a $200,000 assessed value, would pay about $150 per year in additional property tax. The funds generated by the 8 mills would provide approximately $15 million each year, to meet needs of TCSS schools, not addressed by current local, state, or federal funding.
“Tuscaloosa County is experiencing significant population growth, and this is reflected in student population growth at our schools,” Johnson said.
“Local funding is required to make improvements at our schools, such as additional school security resource officers and pre-k for all students. Local funding is also necessary to construct new school buildings and update existing school buildings, as well as provide smaller class sizes, more electives for high school students, and art and music for all elementary students.”
“More than 90 percent of the funding received by the Tuscaloosa County School System is already committed by state and federal law,” TCSS Chief School Financial Officer Danny Higdon said.
“Much of our local funding must cover unfunded state mandates, in areas of transportation, school nurses, special education, and utilities. This leaves only a small percentage of our local funding to use in a discretionary manner.”
TCSS has recently utilized funds from a state public school bond issue, as well as federal COVID-relief funds, to address facility needs allowable under the requirements of these funding sources. However, this funding does not cover all the needs across the Tuscaloosa County School System’s 35 schools.
Prior to asking voters to make a decision on the 8 mills for schools, TCSS will outline exactly what improvements each school attendance zone would receive, so voters can make an informed decision. TCSS will share this information directly with stakeholders, prior to the February 14 election date.
Johnson requested a February election date, because that is the latest the election can be held and still allow TCSS to begin collecting the revenue at the start of the 2023 fiscal year. Johnson said funding is needed as soon as possible to address the growing student population, as well as other needs of Tuscaloosa County students.
Johnson also recognized that this request comes at a time when families are dealing with the financial impact of inflation.
"We're making this request at this particular time because of the circumstances we are facing," Johnson said.
"Our student population is growing significantly, and we need resources to provide more opportunities for more students.
“If voters approve the 8 mills for local school funding, students in all TCSS schools would benefit from more school security resource officers, pre-k for all students, smaller class sizes, more electives for high school students, dual enrollment scholarships, art and music for all elementary students, and a centrally-located performing arts facility. I believe this would provide an excellent return on investment for Tuscaloosa County citizens."
“Also, every TCSS high school attendance zone would receive facilities improvements, tailored to the needs in each community,” Johnson said.
TCSS will provide more information to all stakeholders, prior to the February 14 Special Election.