The quality of schools, according to Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan, has been a big reason for residents moving into his city and the outlying feeder pattern for Spanish Fort High School.
“One of the biggest drawing cards we have in Spanish Fort, honestly, and it was repeated to me last night, people are moving here because of the schools,” McMillan said.
The city experienced an 82 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010, and the 2020 census is expected to reflect continued growth.
Still, he and others are seeking to make the schools even better by taking advantage of a special tax district within the schools’ feeder pattern. That would mean a referendum for residents of that district to vote in an extra 3 mills in ad valorem or property taxes. Every bit raised would have to be spent within the district.
“It gives us an opportunity to do something better for our schools,” McMillan said. “And while the schools are outstanding, we can make them better.”
The district includes all of Spanish Fort, portions of Daphne and Loxley, and portions of incorporated Baldwin County. A tax could provide $800,000 per year to schools within the district.
Initially, McMillan said the group was looking at getting the referendum to the voters in the spring but now that timetable has changed.
“We want to try to move forward with the referendum in the fall, probably September,” McMillan said. “I talked to the judge of probate and they need 120 days prior to any election. We’d push it if we tried to get it done by the end of the school year, so feel like it’s probably prudent to do it during the school year as opposed to during the summer. We haven’t spearheaded an exact date.”
There’s still lots of work to be done, McMillan said, like choosing members for a nine-person panel that will make recommendations on how the money would be spent. The current plan is to have a representative from each school in the district (none employed by Baldwin County Public Schools), one appointed by the Spanish Fort City Council, one appointed by the Baldwin County Commission and three other appointees from the district.
“Three appointed positions by the city will be to make sure that you’re covering all of the district and make sure it’s not just Spanish Fort and everybody has a voice,” McMillan said.
The county would have the final say on what gets funded but all of the money would have to be spent in the district. McMillan said the level of funding from Baldwin County the district receives now would stay the same.
“You’ve got to make sure the school board would continue funding the Spanish Fort schools at the same level they are now,” McMillan said. “I’ve had that conversation in depth with the superintendent and the other parties within the school board and they’ve assured me that would happen.”
McMillan said the funding would be earmarked for expanding and improving academics and arts programs.
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