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School leaders begin tax campaign

PHIL CAMPBELL- The Franklin County School Board announced Thursday that they will begin an aggressive campaign Monday to encourage residents to vote in support of the one-cent sales tax increase that’s on the June 1 ballot.

The school board had their largest audience so far Thursday evening inside the Phil Campbell cafeteria since they began conducting their monthly meetings at schools throughout the county while highlighting key questions about the county’s financial situation when it comes to funding school systems.

“For the past four meetings, we have been taking it to schools and this is by far the biggest crowd we have had,” said Gary Williams, superintendent of Franklin County schools. “The vote on the one-cent sales tax is getting closer and hopefully these meetings have helped get the word out.”

Williams asked for whoever is willing to come to Belgreen High School’s auditorium on Monday, May 3 at 6 p.m. to volunteer their services and make connections with as many folks as possible to ask support for the tax before the vote.

“I really hate to stand here and beg for a tax, but honestly we have just ran out of options,” Williams said.

“The state has passed the budget for next year and it looks good. We also won’t be in proration next year so that will help out, but today we still have $500,000 worth of checks written out laying on a desk that we can’t send out because we can’t cover them.”

Williams said five banks have scheduled meetings to decide if they can help out with the funding, for the rest of the school year. But he says eventually the banks could potentially turn down the funds when it comes time for help the next time.

“We have got to stop borrowing money from banks,” he said.

“I want to let everyone know up front that the state has no plans to come and take over our schools, but if the tax doesn’t pass we have no choice but to continue borrowing the money and I’m not sure how long that is going to last.”

Williams said every possible cut has been made, including the most recent cutting of another half of the central office staff and sending them out into the schools.

Williams said the financial status right now is on a month to month basis and if the sales tax passes after the June 1 vote, the money coming out of the tax shouldn’t cost residents all that much.

“If the tax passes, we will be using that money strictly to make ends meet,” Williams said.

“The construction of new buildings and bringing in new technology for schools will have to be put on hold for now.”

Williams fears that if the countywide tax doesn’t pass, the city of Russellville will pass their own sales tax and the county school systems won’t see a dime of that money.

“I’ve spoken with a few Russellville city officials and I’m almost positive the city will pass their sales tax if the county tax fails,” he said. “And if that happens our county school systems won’t receive any funding from that tax.”