Jeff color

Back in August it was finally said out loud by someone important enough to cause ears to perk up.  “The poor state of education in Montgomery is really about what do you want for the future of the men and women who reside in the River Region,” said Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, the commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Base during a speech at Leadership Montgomery’s Education Summit. He went on to explain that more than 56 percent of airmen at the Air War College came without their families. And the top reason given was SCHOOLS.

    He also said the poor state of public education in Montgomery has prevented the Air War College from recruiting quality faculty and as a result Maxwell has been unable to stay competitive with other military universities.

    Eleven Montgomery schools are currently listed on the state’s FAILING list and the entire system is currently under a state intervention. Every high school in Montgomery is listed as failing, as defined by the Alabama Accountability Act, including newly constructed Park Crossing that opened only 5-years ago.

    Montgomery property owners currently pay the very minimum state requirement of 10 mills in ad valorem taxes, by comparison Pike Road property owners pay double that.

    It has been 24-years since Montgomery last voted for a property tax increase and that vote failed because most of white Montgomery voted against it.

    So, what would an increase cost you? If you own a really nice house, probably no more than a couple hundred bucks a year and if we got really ambitious it might cost some folks the equivalent of a car payment.

    The typical excuses I hear from people against any property tax increase to benefit public education are “I don’t have kids, so why should I care” or “I’m already spending a fortune to send my kids to private school, I’m not paying for someone else’s kid to go to school too.”

    The answer is as simple as the responses above are dumb. Everyone benefits from a good school system. It drives the local economy, raises property values, determines economic growth and is the main determination as to the future of our city.

    Imagine for a minute, Montgomery without Maxwell/Gunter. Because I’m here to tell you if the Air War College or a company the size of Hyundai were to leave it would be devastating to our city. That’s just how close we are to becoming the next Detroit.

    A good school system isn’t free. And while it might cost a little more in the short-run, if we can eventually get things turned around, maybe, just maybe, your grandkids or at least their kids, will want to stay in Montgomery and have other options than to shell out the tens of thousands of dollars a year for a private school education.

    I’ve heard more than once Montgomery parents who pay for private school education say, “my imaginary lake house is located at (insert school address here).”  And while a place on the lake would be nice, at our home it has stymied the discussion of adoption. As much as we’d like to, I selfishly admit, the thought of having to cough up another 20 grand a year for school is a tough pill to swallow.  I have seen families downsize their homes; take on heavy debt, and grandparents going back to work to keep their children in private schools.

    But, most Montgomery residents don’t have the option of forgoing a vacation home or even moving somewhere that has better schools. They are stuck in this abyss between the haves and the have nots, because even the least expensive private schools cost more a year than many pay in rent.

    Not to be misunderstood, I know throwing money at a situation doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. There must be a plan.  The newly elected Board of Education is facing a monumental task. It will be their responsibility to demonstrate to the public that new education dollars will make a significant difference in our public education system.

    Montgomery residents can do better than minimal funding for the children of our community. So, the next time we are given the opportunity to cast a vote to increase public school dollars, remember a property tax increase is a much better option than losing all the equity in your east Montgomery home.