Survey: Parents support school tax
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
A survey conducted among parents of students attending Hartselle schools supports the need for a new high school as well as an additional tax to fund its construction.
The New School Committee, a body of teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, parents and students representing Hartselle High School, recently circulated the one-page survey to approximately 3,000 prospective respondents.
"We wanted to assess the needs of our community to determine if a new modern, comprehensive school should be considered for Hartselle," Johnny Berry, committee chairman, said. "To do that a survey form comprised of 41 questions was developed and given to all students in grades K-12 to take home to their parents."
Berry reviewed the results of the survey at a joint work session attended by the mayor and city council and school board members.
The top 10 things respondents said they wanted to see in a new school were:
Included in the survey was a question that was stated simply as: "Would you support a bond referendum to build a new, modern comprehensive high school?"
"I was floored when I saw the feedback we got on that question," Berry stated. "Of the 760 surveys (about 24 percent of the total) returned, 81 percent indicated they would support a bond referendum; 137 individuals stated they would be willing to make phone calls to campaign for the referendum; 72 said they would be willing to help get people to the polls; and 161 said they would be willing to campaign in their neighborhoods."
Mayor Dwight Tankersley said he wasn't sure people understood the question referred to a tax increase.
"Do you think the people who indicated support for a bond referendum realized the question was referring to a property tax increase?" he asked.
"Yes, they knew it was a tax question," Berry replied.
Superintendent Mike Reed said no matter how it's financed, the push for the new school will continue.
"I think the committee has established the need for a new high school," Reed said. "We have a floating teacher (without a permanent classroom) at the high school this year. We know our student population is going to grow. Next year, we could have three or four (floating teachers)."
Reed said he expects some 1,200 students would eventually attend the high school. A building to accommodate that number would need to have about 200,000 sq. ft. of floor space. The cost would run somewhere between $25 and $30 million.
At least one council member said he expected that growth to continue, too.
"I know we're growing," council member Bill Smelser said. "We have 192 subdivision lots ready to build on and we're averaging about 82 new homes a year."
The mayor and council indicated they would be open to a request from the school board for a property tax referendum to finance the school project. They also said they would support the referendum on condition the tax be limited to a certain number of years and would not be collected after the building is paid for.
Reed said he is already looking into having an architect prepare conceptual drawings of the proposed new school.
"But we still have a lot of work to be done before we'll be ready to ask for a tax referendum," he said. "We'll hold several public meetings and encourage everyone connected with the school system to get involved. I'd say we're six or seven months away from asking for a referendum and three to five years away from having the school ready for occupancy."