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Proposed cut could cost schools more than $750K

With budget talks just around the corner, Selma City Councilwoman Miah Jackson proposed during a recent meeting of the Selma City Council that Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams be informed of the possibility that the city would pull some of the funding it provides for local schools in an effort to shore up the city’s desperate financial situation.

Jackson made the recommendation with the memory of the controversy that swirled around a proposal to pull around $400,000 from the school system earlier this year.

By law, the city is required to hand over ad valorem tax dollars to the local school system, but the city has opted to pitch in much more than that – currently, in addition to the ad valorem dollars, the city hands over a percentage of sales tax revenues, as well as cigarette and beer tax dollars, to the local school system each year.

During the 2017-2018 school year, Selma City Schools received nearly $570,000 for its percentage of sales tax revenues, more than $40,000 in city cigarette tax revenue and just over $4,000 in cigarette tax dollars within police jurisdiction and more than $146,000 in beer tax revenue.

The total amount of tax revenue given voluntarily by the city to the local school system during last school year amounts to nearly $760,000 – in conjunction with ad valorem money, the city handed over more than $2.2 million to the school system last year.

Jackson, alongside Selma City Council President Corey Bowie, met with Williams last week to discuss the financial issue, which at this point is little more than a potential proposal and certainly nothing etched in stone.

For her part, Jackson is doubtful that she has the support of the council to renegotiate the portion of funds handed over to the city school system, noting that at least one council member vocally opposed the measure when it was brought up.

Jackson called Williams a “great leader” who is “very passionate about the school system,” but noted that their priorities are different from one another.

“As leaders, we have different roles,” Jackson said. “Her role is to ensure the stability of the school system and my role is to ensure the stability of the city.”

Jackson argues that at least a portion of the funds currently being diverted to the school system could be used to address long-term debt and various financial shortfalls, as well as funding the return of the laid-off workers, equipment needs and more.

Further, Jackson noted that the school system now has two less schools that it needs to maintain, both of which will now fall under the responsibility of the city, and is expecting a “windfall” from county tax revenue.

“We don’t have those windfalls coming into the City of Selma,” Jackson said. “I wish we did.”

Jackson also noted that in order for the school system to continue to collect nearly $1.5 million in ad valorem revenue the city has to thrive, though she added that Williams asserted that a quality school system is required for the city to thrive.

“We’re pretty much in a catch-22,” Jackson said.

Williams stated that both entities would benefit from a better understanding of where each one’s budgets stand and, to that end, she plans to begin attending Selma City Council meetings and providing updates on the local school system.

Further, Williams has encouraged council members to attend the school system’s upcoming budget talks in an effort to create a “space for open dialogue.”

“We really just want to make sure we have open communication about the budget,” Williams said. “The school system is a microcosm of the city. The city is not going to thrive without a strong school system.”

Despite her willingness to meet with council members regarding possible changes to the amount of money handed over to the school system, as well as her understanding of the city’s financial woes, Williams is urging the council not to pull any funding from the system.

“Any amount of funding removed from the city school system is going to impact us,” Williams said. “Any amount.”