Lawrence County residents organize fight against proposed tax increase for schools

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SPEAKE, Ala. (WHNT) - There's a fight brewing in Lawrence County, and it all has to do with funding for the county's school system. School leaders say they need a tax increase to make up for money lost when the county's largest employer shut down.

"And we're hearing all kinds of numbers that's being thrown out, how much revenue we're actually losing that won't go to our school system," Mark Clark of the newly formed Citizens For Accountability political action committee told a gathering Friday night at the Speake Volunteer Fire Department in Lawrence County.

Clark told the group he disputes the projected losses the Lawrence County School System will face as a result of International Paper shutting down last year. In fact, he says his information shows the loss will be about half of what school Superintendent Heath Grimes predicts. Clark says the system has lost more money as a result of having fewer students now than because of IP shutting down.

"We feel as Citizens For Accountability that the money has not been handled appropriately up and through this administration," Clark told WHNT News 19.

He and others who spoke here say the school system has spent unwisely on building projects and a recent $9 million energy-saving contract. The system has one of the state's lowest per pupil expenditures. Yet Clark says approving additional taxes for schools now would amount to throwing good money after bad.

"More money given to the school system is not the answer. Using the money you have now is the answer and learning to live within your means not just raise your budget," according to Ben Nelson, who attended the meeting and says he is against a proposed tax increase.

And others we spoke with said essentially the same thing. This is not necessarily a vote, in their minds, about funding for schools as much as it is about providing additional funds for a school board and superintendent that they don't believe will use the money wisely.

The school system has scheduled three more community meetings where you can hear from Superintendent Heath Grimes. We have reported on two of those meetings thus far. Grimes has previously told us the district will experience more than a $2 million deficit as a result of International Paper closing. He says that means lay-offs and the elimination of many school programs in order for them to stay within budget. Grimes is asking voters to approve a 10-mil property tax increase to off-set the loss. That vote is scheduled for April 28th.