Jeff Martin 2020

Jeff Martin

A referendum to increase funding for Montgomery public schools is on the November ballot. If approved, the average homeowner would see a monthly property tax increase of about $10. That means for less than the cost of a pizza, our city could add an additional $33 million per year to the budget of a desperately underfunded school system.

I’ve written before about the need to properly fund our public schools. On November 3rd (or earlier if voting absentee) we’ll have that opportunity.

Two years ago, someone important enough to cause ears to perk up finally said out loud what we all know is true. “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. He went on to explain that more than 56 percent of airmen at the Air War College come to Montgomery without their families. And the top reason given for that decision was schools.

Cotton 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. Imagine for a moment Montgomery without Maxwell/Gunter or Hyundai. Because I’m here to tell you if the Air War College or something equivalent were to leave our beloved city it would have such a devastating impact we’d likely never recover.

Montgomery has some of the lowest property taxes in the country and property owners currently pay the very minimum state requirement of 10 mills in ad valorem taxes. By comparison, neighboring Pike Road property owners pay more than double that.

It has been 26 years since Montgomery last voted on investing in our schools and that vote failed because most whites voted no.

The typical arguments 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 ignorant. A good school system benefits everyone. It drives the local economy, raises property values and is the main determination as to the future of our city. But most importantly, our city’s kids deserve a high-quality education that will prepare them for their futures.

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 will want to stay and raise their family in Montgomery and have educational options that don’t cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

I’ve heard more than one Montgomery parent who pays 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 the cost of education stymied the discussion of adoption. As much as we once considered it, I selfishly admit the thought of having to put another child through private school was a big factor in ultimately deciding we’d remain a family of three. I have seen families downsize their homes or borrow money, and grandparents go back to work to pay private school tuition. And we’ve all had friends and neighbors move to Auburn or Pike Road to take advantage of well-funded public schools.

But the majority of Montgomery residents can’t just pick up and move. Most don’t have the option of forgoing a vacation home and many struggle just to keep the lights on and the car running.

Montgomery residents can do better than minimal school funding for the children of our community. Now we’ve been given the opportunity for the first time in almost three decades to cast a vote to improve Montgomery schools. Remember a small property tax increase is a much better option than losing all the equity in your hard-earned Montgomery home.

Vote for Montgomery Public Schools on November 3rd. It is way past time we up the ante for our community, our children and our future. Visit educationmgm.com for more information.