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St. Clair BOE talks misinformation, next steps following failed referendums

Superintendent Mike Howard and board members Scott Suttle and Marie Manning

Pictured, from left, are St. Clair County Board of Education Superintendent Mike Howard, Chairman Scott Suttle and Vice-chairwoman Marie Manning. 

ODENVILLE — On. Nov. 16, citizens who lived within the St. Clair County Schools districts were given the opportunity to raise property taxes with the funds going to schools within each district.

During the St. Clair County Board of Education’s regular meeting the following Thursday, the board discussed next steps in the districts where the referendums failed while still waiting on results from the Moody district.

Had the referendums passed, Ragland and Ashville residents, who voted on a 5 mil increase, would have paid an additional $50 a year in property taxes on a $100,000 home. Meanwhile, Odenville residents would pay $120 with a 12 mil increase and those in Springville would see $150 more a year in property taxes in an effort to build a new school. Moody also voted on a 15 mil increase.

Those who use their land for agricultural purposes would be able to receive certain exemptions and pay less.

Board member Mike Hobbs said he feels the board wasn't able to connect directly with the community in the most effective ways.

“If I could go back, I would have done Monday night Facebook lives and addressed all these concerns because nine out of 10 of them just weren’t true,” Hobbs said. “I think if people had known more of what they were getting, I think you would have seen a better turnout.”

He added, “We’re going to continue saving money, going to continue looking for additional resources and additional funds. We’re at a point in Springville we’re we have to have additional classrooms. We have to or we’re going to have to get trailers.”

Superintendent Mike Howard later said trailers will become the next logical step in creating additional space for the influx of students at Springville. He added, however, it was not true that the board was discussing cutting Springville’s pre-k program.

“If we don’t have room, discussions are going to be, at that point, how are we going to create room? But I think the answer would be to bring in trailers,” he said. “We do have an issue that’s growing very rapidly at Springville, at the Elementary school, they enrolled 12 brand new students in the last week, they’re already up 60 students in the last year and we anticipate another 40 students, so they’ll be up another 100 students this summer and we have no where to put them.”

Howard said, however, at some point cutting programs may have to be a topic of discussion in the future, however, the pre-k program has still not been considered.

For now, the board will have to pay $100,000 per trailer classroom in response to the overpopulation at Springville.

The superintendent later added, “We can’t make our walls any wider without help and the only thing that we can do as a board and financially afford is the portable classrooms — that’s a lot of money we’re going to be eating up, but we don’t have an option.”

Another issue of concern Howard mentioned was both time and inflation. Howard said the earliest a new Springville school can be built if voted in the next election would be 2026. He added that because of inflation, the same millage rate voted on last week probably will not be able to buy the same amount this year as it will in two or so years from now.

Chairperson Scott Suttle and Vice Chairperson Marie Manning both agreed tough discussions need to be made as to how the board will move forward without the referendum tax.

“The board had, I guess it's fair to say, a misguided confidence that we were going to see a property tax passage and there have been no discussions about what would happen in the event it didn’t pass. So, that being said, it is time for us to decide what we can do,” Suttle said. “I don’t think anyone has made a suggestion on what the right plan is moving forward.”

Board members Nikki Van Pelt and Bill Morris emphasized that there was too much misinformation being spread about the new tax, especially through social media.

“I just think there are some points that need to be addressed tonight, out there for everybody, because there was so much misinformation out there,” Van Pelt said.

Morris added he would have preferred the voters talk to the board directly to have their questions answered about any concerns they had. One example he gave was residents were concerned their car tag fees would triple, which according to the board, wasn’t true. Morris said his ad valorem car tag fee was currently about four dollars. 

“It shows the power of social media. It's hard to win any election we live in now with social media, because social media is going to drive elections,” Howard said. “When misinformation gets out there, people don’t research the truth, they research Facebook and what people are saying.”

He added, “Social media leads by fear factor. If people are afraid of what’s being said, they’re going to go the opposite way, because they’re scared that their tags are going to triple in cost, which was not true. Or, that they’re going to pay $4,000 more a year for their property taxes, which was not true. But these things got out there.”

Howard later said some residents assumed that because certain projects were on the five-year capital plan meant that it was going to happen no matter what, such as building a new Springville Middle School. He emphasized, however, that that plan is merely a wishlist and some projects have been on the list for well over 10 years.

“This is what’s so frustrating, all of these answers can be had at a board meeting,” Howard said. “Every single one, the financials are there. We’re as transparent as possible.”

The board agreed that they would talk about next steps in further detail during the Dec. 14 meeting.

Assistant Editor Josie Howell: 205-884-3400