Elmore County is a great place to live. The county has beautiful planned neighborhoods and natural rural charms. There is just enough business to keep us from the “city” and not too much to lose the country feel. There is an abundance of churches with many playing an active role in our community. The lakes and rivers are close by and nature’s beauty surrounds us. Those are all reasons why people choose Elmore County as their home.
But many people move to Elmore County for our public school system. Elmore County Public Schools are well-run and provide an excellent education for our children. It is easy to accept what we have in our county and not put much thought into it. Life is quite good. But imagine what we could have or, better yet, what our children could have if we are willing to do just a little more. Get involved just a little bit.
Our schools are wonderful and they make the most out of the resources they have. We expect that from public administrators. But our schools are very poorly funded by our county residents. Most people do not want to talk about taxes. The easy answer is always no. Elmore County is a very conservative area and we tend to want minimal government involvement in our lives. Being conservative means saying no to taxes. No is often the best answer but maybe not when it comes to our public schools.
Before we can decide if our schools need more revenue we have to understand how much our schools receive and where it comes from. Almost 90% of Elmore County Schools’ budget comes from state and federal sources. The state provides funding to every public school system based on enrollment and at a set dollar per student. To receive the state funding a school system is required to levy its citizens 10 mils of ad valorem tax (1 mil equals $1 per $1,000 of the assessed value of property). The state and federal funds are used to provide services mandated by these funders. Local revenue is critical if we want to provide our children with educational opportunities not required by the state or federal funders.
Local funds come from dedicated local taxes such as sales tax assigned for education and ad valorem tax. Per the state’s website, Elmore County received about $12 million in local taxes in 2016. About $5 million was from the 10-mil ad valorem tax. Our total per pupil expenditures (PPE) ranks us 134th out of 137 public school systems in Alabama. Local funding accounted for $1,063 per student. Total PPE was $7,770 per student. In contrast the school ranked No. 1 had total PPE of $12,811 with local funding accounting for $7,001 (they levy 20.6 mils of ad valorem tax) of the $12,811.
We are more familiar with what Auburn City Schools and Opelika City Schools provide their students. They are ranked 79th and 30th, respectively. Opelika City Schools provide $2,986 of local PPE or about 64% more than Elmore County and Auburn City Schools provide $2,717 of local PPE or about 60% more than Elmore County does.
That’s a lot of boring math but the point is made when we visit those schools and attend sporting events at those schools and we see what they provide their students. What could we provide our students if we are willing to increase local revenue? Updated facilities? More technology? Expanded arts classes? Music? Athletic facilities? Could we pay our teachers more? Compete for STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) teachers? Offer stipends to our coaches and teachers who take time away from home to lead our children in athletics and clubs? What would your wish list be?
Our children are not being provided the best public education and the best extracurricular activities. They are receiving the best that we are willing to pay for. Elmore County has a long history of voting no when it comes to increasing local funding for our schools. Isn’t it time to change that? Elmore County, it’s time.
Brian J. Ward