Lawrence County voters will narrow field in race for next school superintendent

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School bus (file image)

MOULTON, Ala. (WHNT) — Lawrence County voters will narrow the field tomorrow in the race to become the next superintendent of the embattled school system.

Five candidates, including Republicans Jimmy Black, Andy Bradford, Jon Bret Smith and Democrats Joey Burch and Thomas Jones, will compete in the March 1 primaries.

The five men all work in the Lawrence County school system. They are bidding to replace Jimmy Yates, who is scheduled to retire in December.

Yates took on the job last year after Superintendent Heath Grimes left to take another job.

Grimes’ departure followed the defeat of a property tax measure that would have raised the ad valorem taxes in the county and generated an estimated $2.2 million, Yates said.

The measure was soundly defeated with the “no” votes winning 80 percent of the ballots cast.

The tax hike was sought to make up for lost school system revenues stemming from the 2014 closing of International Paper, Lawrence County’s largest employer. More than 1,100 workers lost their jobs and the county schools also lost property tax and TVA in-lieu of tax revenues.

Lawrence County’s 4,900 student population includes a number of low-income students. Yates said 64 percent of the students receive subsidized free- or reduced- lunch.

The system is also losing students. Yates said they are currently losing about 100 students a year and new enrollments in kindergarten and first-grade are also down.

Yates said the system cut $1 million from its budget over the past year, cutting teaching and staff positions and trimming spending in other areas. He said the system now has rebuilt its cash reserve to exceed the state’s one-month reserve requirement. Yates estimated the current reserve is about $4 million.

Lawrence County voters will also have a chance to vote on another tax measure. The proposal would increase and equalize the sales tax rates paid in unincorporated Lawrence County to that paid in Moulton, Town Creek, Courtland, North Courtland, and Hillsboro.