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Joint meeting between Madison and Triana leaders talks strategy for tax increase

MADISON, Ala. - The Madison City Schools superintendent, Robby Parker, has said for a year that the district will need more revenue to build multiple new schools.

Leaders reiterated Tuesday that the district is running out of space for students and has limited options. It cannot borrow more money for construction projects without additional revenue streams to pay it back.

At a joint work session between the Madison City Schools Board of Education, Madison City Council, and Town Council of Triana, leaders worked out the path forward and listened to ideas about next steps.

The district said it needs:

  • $34 million for a new elementary school
  • $49 million for a new middle school
  • $18-20 million for high school additions
  • $3.5 million for additional operational support

The district says growth is unsustainable, and there is no room in its budget for cuts. Enrollment topped 11,300 this week, and in three years the school system will run out of space.

Parker is proposing a 12-mil ad valorem tax increase for Madison residents. This would include Madison residents in Limestone County. Triana would also need to approve the tax increase.

Leaders said Tuesday that it would take support from the respective councils, a public hearing, legislative support, and ultimately a special election to get the additional 12 mils approved for construction to begin.

What will it take?

By Alabama's Constitution, attorneys say the passage of an ad valorem tax increase is contingent on a few steps:

  • A proposal from the city council
  • A public hearing on the proposal
  • Legislative approval
  • A majority vote of the citizens

"I think now, there is specific requirements that need to be met to give our Madison city residents the opportunity to, in essence, invest in themselves again," Mayor Paul Finley said. "I think Madison has always been collaborative. I think right now, we have worked together. We put the Madison Schools Growth Impact Committee in place. They gave us numbers. We've listened to the schools on what they need. The City understands that."

The bodies at Tuesday's work session appeared committed to working together to make it happen.

"Everyone has been much more than amenable to understand the challenges," Parker said. "I think the meeting tonight was outstanding."

Can it pass?

There was an air of confidence during Tuesday's meeting that the voters would embrace the idea of a tax increase.

"I truly believe the citizens of Madison value education so much that they will do whatever it takes to keep Madison City Schools as one of America's best school systems," said Superintendent Parker. "I believe the data is compelling enough to show them that we are growing as such a rate that if we want to maintain excellence, we are at a critical junction where we need to have another source of income."

Parker said he has not heard one negative comment about the plan from the community.

"Everyone has come to me and said, 'What is it going to take? Tell us?' And that's what we're doing right now. We're telling them," he stated.

"We feel strongly they care about education and they want the opportunity to vote to make sure they have the schools their kids can go to," Finley explained.

One parent we talked to said that's her viewpoint.

Nancy Vaughn said her daughter goes to Mill Creek Elementary School.

"My husband and I firmly support the property tax increase because we know it will continue to provide a quality education for her and her classmates," she said. "We want that to continue. So we support the tax, and most parents I have spoken with support it as well."

She has faith that the rest of the city will support it too.

"I think through education and public forums, and events like this evening, there will be widespread support," she said.

Vaughn is looking forward to seeing her daughter's school's pupil-teacher ratio go down, and she is looking for dedicated classrooms in schools for classes that currently are taught by carts that roam from room to room to save space.

What's Next

On November 8, the City of Madison Board of Education will discuss and vote on a resolution requesting that the Madison City Council propose the tax increase.

Then, on November 13, the Madison City Council will hold a public hearing about the increase. They will consider the resolution following that public hearing.

Triana will need to also hold a public hearing and vote.

Meanwhile, school leaders say the proposed legislation will need to be drafted by January 2019.

There is no scheduled election in 2019, so the district would need to see a special election for this to come before the voters. The election date will depend, the district said, on when the Legislature passes the bill.  The goal is to have the election before October 2019.

That way, the district can levy the tax and collect the money starting on October 1, 2020.

Meanwhile, the city of Madison is working on a growth policy for residential development that it is almost ready to unveil.

Once the tax is approved, leaders can start the construction timeline. Approval in Fall 2019, they said, would mean a contract can be awarded soon after.

District officials said they must maintain excellence as the district grows, and they believe this plan is the way to ensure that happens.