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CCS doesn’t want penny tax

Covington County Interim Superintendent Terry Holley said Thursday the county school system’s board of education cannot, “in good conscience,” support a request for a 1-cent sales tax for education.

“We understand the economy is hurting everyone,” Holley said. “But with double-digit unemployment, the families of our students need their money just as much as (the school system does.)”

Holley said he felt residents needed to understand the board’s position on a recently proposed tax increase. He has informed both Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart and Andalusia Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty of the board’s position.

In October, Smithart said he would ask the county commission to levy a 1-cent sales tax for education at the commission’s Nov. 9 meeting, with Smithart speaking on behalf of each of the three school systems in Covington County.

At the time, Commission Chairman Lynn Sasser said he believed commissioners would only agree to the tax if the county received a portion of its proceeds.

Smithart did not make his request at the Nov. 9 commission meeting, stating he had a scheduling conflict and could not attend. It is expected he will make his proposal at a future meeting.

“The way that (the CCS) looks at things is that we’ve been tightening our belt and looking for ways to curtail expenses — the closing of Florala Middle School at the end of this year is a prime example,” Holley said. “We’ve applied for some grants and have been successful. That helps tremendously.”

Previously, Smithart said systems would no longer be able to provide the current level of services without the public’s “investment” in the form of a 1-cent sales tax increase. McAnulty has said the system is “already hurting from proration, and next year looks like it could be even worse.”

It’s a position Holley agrees with wholeheartedly. But he does not feel a tax increase is the answer at this time.

“We’re concerned about the rest of the year but we don’t know what we’re going to be facing in the future,” he said. “I think it’s premature to ask for help now, especially when we don’t know how much help we’re going to need later on down the road.”

“But the fact is, the majority of the students in our schools — 60 percent — get free or reduced lunches,” he said. “What that tells us is, sure our schools are hurting, but our families are too.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I won’t say that (the county schools system) won’t ever ask for help. If we need to, we won’t hesitate to readdress the issue, but by then, there will be a stronger need than there is right now.”