Your Opinions

By Staff
Education at a crossroads
Editor:
I am writing this letter over concern about Hartselle and where we are headed as a community with particular regard to our commitment to education. I am going to be optimistic and say that we are at a crossroads and have some decisions to make that will have long standing effects and will define us in future years. I say being at a crossroads is optimistic because we may have already charted our course. I hope not. Let me say I live in Hartselle by choice. It was my privilege to grow up here, be educated here, and to return here after college graduation.
In order to better understand how we move forward as a community I think it fitting to reflect on how we got to this crossroads. In the late 70’s Hartselle folks felt that they could create a better education and more opportunities for their community by having their own school system separate from the county. Many folks said it couldn’t be done, that there wasn’t enough money, that priorities should be elsewhere, in other departments. But the community leaders had a vision and with that vision they started the Hartselle City School. In order to ensure adequate funding and to ensure that the Hartselle Schools could keep up with a growing community they allocated 41 percent of sales tax revenue to the school system. This was important in at least two ways: First it guaranteed that as the city grows and revenues grow the schools are able to keep pace. Second it is from this revenue that schools are able to go above and beyond state minimums and requirements that are directed by the state and come from only state funds. Through the 80s Hartselle held steady growth and its school system established itself as one of the best in the state, consistently compared with the likes of Vestavia and Mountain Brook. However as the city grew with a boom in housing, infrastructure needs grew and other departments were left to manage these needs with few funds. Over time animosity began to emerge between city departments and the school system. Rather than being seen as one community there began to be this sense that it was the schools vs. the city departments. This culminated into a decision by then Mayor Samie Wiley and the council, which included Ronald Grantland, to break the percentage of sales tax guarantee to schools and instead cap the amount of city funds to schools. The years following saw a decline in percentage of city revenue going to schools. As Hartselle continued to grow and record revenues the city’s budget included no increases in school funding. The percentage of sales tax revenue had dropped from 41 percent in 1980 to around 33 percent in 1996 and is less than 28 percent today. Over this time period the divide between city departments and schools had grown and instead of viewing the school system as an integral part of our community in concert with the city departments, elected officials have increasingly seen the schools as not their concern.
This reduced percentage of revenue has left the school system unable to keep up with the growth in terms of classrooms, as well as facility maintenance, and limits the ability of the schools to offer many non sports extras. Think about how many homes and subdivisions have been added in the last 20 years with no additional junior high classrooms.
So here we are at the crossroads with the choices. Do we do nothing and watch as our schools decline from superiority to mediocrity or worse? Do we get school funding to a level that ensures that we have one of the premier school systems in the state? And if so do we do it by cutting services elsewhere or do we increase taxes for the funding? Those are questions whose answers will determine our future. Will we be just a wide spot in the road somewhere between Birmingham and Nashville? Or will we be a model community that cares about the education of its kids and that attracts businesses and people that place a premium on education. We as a community must decide what our future holds. There is no answer that doesn’t involve money. The school board is opting to get a property tax passed for the new school. This is one option. There are other options of course, but I have heard no options being proposed by the council, yet all agree additional school facilities are needed.
We now look to our elected leaders to make the tough decisions that they were elected to make, to offer solutions, debate them, then chart a course. This notion that there are two entities the City of Hartselle and the Hartselle City School System must be dispensed with. The mayor and city council are charged with maintaining our schools just as they are the police department, fire department and utilities. It is time for leadership. We didn’t get in this spot overnight but now is the time to act. The tax vote is being held hostage by one member who is stating he isn’t sure if a majority of people want to vote. I would ask that member was he confident that a majority of folks wanted him to vote to spend taxpayer dollars to purchase land outside the city and to spend money upgrading the land? In addition Rep. Grantland needs to step up and show some leadership instead of utilizing a made-up self- imposed rule to keep Montgomery folks from having to make hard decisions. I encourage him to use his common sense and do what is best for Hartselle. And if the tax for schools does come to a vote then we as a community need to decide; do we want premier schools or not and then be willing to live with the consequences of that decision.
Andy Vest
Hartselle
Community should have its say on tax
Editor:
I must have been misinformed. Surely we are not giving the power as to our right to vote on the school (property tax) issue to one individual. Am I to understand that our Representative Grantland and Senator Orr will not present a petition to the legislature (so that we might have the right to vote on the school issue) without the approval of the entire city council? And that Mr. Drake is the sole dissenting member of the council? Can Mr. Drake speak for the entire community on such an important matter?
I am sure that Councilman Drake is listening to those constituents who do not favor a tax increase for any reason and I am sure he believes he is doing the right thing. However, pros and cons of the issue nonwithstanding, one person (Mr. Drake) should not have the power to take away my right to vote.
The “unanimous approval” stance taken by our legislators is tradition not law…a tradition that should be set aside. The approval of the council does not mean that we will have a property tax increase to fund a new high school. It simply means that we, the citizens of Hartselle, would have the right to a referendum, the right to cast a vote.
No one likes a tax increase! However, if we need a new high school (and it certainly seems that we do) we should be given the option to vote as to a tax increase to fund he new high school. Then, “yes” or “no,” we will have heard the citizens speak. I believe this is called “democracy.”
I will not have children or grandchildren that would attend a new school but I know that a quality community is not inexpensive. Our property taxes are among the lowest in the state…wonderful if we have everything we need in our community…not wonderful if we are shortchanging our children.
Mr. Drake, Mr. Grantland, Mr. Orr…give us the right to vote. Please, do not take away the voice of the citizens of Hartselle because of the resistance of one man.
Linda Webster
Hartselle
Library grateful for support
Editor:
On behalf of the William Bradford Huie Library of Hartselle I would like to thank the members of the Current Review Club for their continuous support of the library. Their help has provided much needed improvements in the library and allows us to provide better service for our patrons.
Thank you again for your generous support and commitment to the library.
Emily Love
William Bradford Huie Library of Hartselle

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