After months of talking about the need for additional revenue to improve Dothan City Schools, the system’s superintendent has asked the school board to petition city leaders for a 1% sales tax increase or begin working toward a five mill increase in property taxes.
Dothan City School Superintendent Phyllis Edwards made the tax increase recommendation at the board’s meeting Monday, but no official action was taken.
She compelled the board to request a 1% education sales tax and/or begin working toward a five mill increase in property taxes, but noted both recommendations could take years to accomplish.
“The system will need support of the people,” she said to the board. “In order to have a top-notch school system, you must have revenue to add to teachers’ salaries, to continue with professional development, to have a new state-of-the-art Career Tech Center.”
Edwards, who has been making the case for a tax increase since her first State of Education address in February, said the board cannot afford to keep making up the difference in funding Exceptional Student Services (ESS) and nurses — areas which are largely funded at the local level.
“We receive $3 million from the state and spend another $8 million to provide services,” she said. “This cannot go on indefinitely without affecting services or changing the sources of revenue.”
She said the system is only state-funded for 5% of the increasing ESS population in Dothan City Schools. She said the system also has many “medically-fragile students” who require two or three nurses at every school. The system receives $300,000 from the state, but spends over $1.1 million annually.
At the February education showcase, Edwards pointed out that the school system receives 10 mills of property tax from local governments, which is the minimum rate to receive state funding.
“I don’t personally think that that’s good enough,” Edwards said during her address. “I hope that as we move through this next year and you feel confidence in what we’re doing that we can have another discussion at some point about how we keep things going.”
She noted that a citywide education sales tax could increase revenue by around $7 million annually.
“I know nobody wants to hear it, but if we want a high-class education system, we have to put our money where our mouth is,” Edwards said. “We can’t tighten our belts any more than we already have.”
Board Chairman Mike Schmitz believes the board should wait before bringing a tax proposal to Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba.
“What I’d like to see is at some point looking at the property tax, but we’re not there yet,” Schmitz said. “We need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Edwards also said in her report that she would also like to start offering a signing and recruiting bonus of $5,000 this year.
“The entire state is seeking math, science and ESS teachers and they are going where they are paid more,” she said.
The system has had a difficult time this past year recruiting and retaining certified teachers in special education.
Shamel Holder, a parent of two former students at Beverlye Intermediate School, recently withdrew her children after learning they were not receiving additional help in reading in accordance with their Individual Education Plans because of a shortage of special education teachers at their school.
In her report, Edwards also urged the board to consider a nominal tuition fee schedule for out-of-district students.
Other action items:
» Tabled a motion on policy dealing with accepting students from outside the city of Dothan. Edwards is recommending limiting acceptance to students in good academic standing in their prior school system and have a good record of attendance and behavior.
» Tabled a decision on a board policy that would require that booster clubs and student organizations deposit monies raised with the school district or undergo annual audits.
» Tabled a decision on a board policy that would provide more oversight for low-risk juvenile sex offenders pursuant to Annalyn’s Law, which was passed during the most recent legislative session.
» Approved switching banking services to BBVA Compass bank, noting a significant difference in cost of services from Dothan City School’s previous bank, which the school board has used since 1969.
» Approved a manual of athletic responsibilities schoolwide
» Approved a resolution to extend $2,000 incentive bonuses for “hard-to-fill” teaching areas — math, science, and ESS — to present teachers who are moving into hard-to-fill areas.