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Q&A session about upcoming tax vote planned

MADISON – The day Madison City school leaders have been waiting for is just around the corner, in fact its next week. Voters in Madison and Triana will go to the polls on Tuesday, Sept. 10 to decide the fate of a proposed 12-mill property tax increase for Madison City Schools.

A Q&A public meeting is planned for voters to learn more about the special election and why school and city leaders say the tax increase is crucial.

The meeting will be held Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Bob Jones High School auditorium starting at 7 p.m. Madison City Schools Superintendent Robby Parker will be there to answer questions and provide information.

The increase is needed to help the city schools handle the recent boom in population growth, says Parker. He maintains that to keep the Madison City school district one of the best in the nation, it needs the financial boost a tax increase will bring to create more space for students and hire the additional staff necessary to meet the increasing demands.

“We are not going to be able to offer the same world class education if we don’t have places to put children,” Parker said. “We need an additional revenue source because growth is going to continue.”

Parker is hoping voters in Madison and Triana will pass the increase on Sept. 10 so the district can add a new middle school and elementary school to alleviate overcrowding. A 12-mil increase would add $120 annually in property tax per $100,000 value of a home.

“When we became a school district we had 5,000 students,” Parker said. “We will have 12,000 students this year. There were 400 high school kids in the city of Madison in 1988, and now there are over 4,000. In thirty years we have grown times ten times.”

During the past school year alone, the district grew by almost 600 students. They are projected to grow by that much or more during the next few months.

MCS officials estimate schools started the new school year at 94% capacity district-wide. In fact, some schools have reached or near reaching their capacity.

Residential growth is to blame. It’s a good problem to have, as more people are drawn to this area for the top-rated school district, low crime rate, good jobs and recreational opportunities. But, it leaves school officials wondering how they are going to make preparations for the growth ahead and how to accommodate for more students.

Madison’s population has grown from about 42,000 in 2010 to over 50,000 today, and that number is expected to rise significantly as more jobs become available in the area.

“With all the jobs coming to the North Alabama area, growth will happen,” Parker said. “We are excited about that. What we are saying is for us to continue offering a world class education we need an additional revenue source to be able to handle that growth in the schools.”

The rising student population numbers have already been challenging school officials to find space to accommodate all the classes.

“We are putting them anywhere we can,” Parker added. “We are making any decision we can make to utilize space the best we can.”

Parker said some schools are using special gyms to hold certain classes and incorporating rooms originally meant for other purposes. Administrators are doubling up and sharing offices so they can have enough rooms to accommodate more students.

Parker has proposed building a new $34 million elementary school on 20 acres of land the school district already owns next to the Kroger on Wall Triana Highway. It will hold about 900 students.

“We believe it will serve our students really well,” Parker said. “It will help alleviate some of the overcrowding at Mill Creek and take in all the West Madison students. West Madison’s campus will become the Madison City Pre-K Center, which will alleviate some overcrowding at Rainbow. We believe this will be a beautiful site and serve both the east and west end of town.”

He also proposed building a new $49 million middle school, which will hold 1,200 students in grades six to eight. It would be built on land the school district also owns behind the central office on Celtic Drive.

“It is imperative that we pass the tax increase to build the new middle school,” Parker said. “One middle is at 100% capacity and the other is over 90 percent capacity.”

Bob Jones and James Clemens would see some expansion to handle growth at the high school level.

Regardless of whether a tax increase for new schools passes, the school district’s rate of growth will remain. “I see it continuing at this rate or greater for the next few years,” Dorinda White, the attendance coordinator for the school district, told school board members in April. “When you look at the development that is happening now around us, it makes these numbers even more significant. Enrollment at most fast growing school districts within the state increases about 150 students per year. We are almost at 600.”

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