The coming end of Federal COVID19 school funds are putting Tuscaloosa City Schools in a difficult position. The pandemic relief funding has helped Tuscaloosa City Schools with budget shortfalls over the past several years. However, the CARES Act funds will expire at the end of 2024. That will force the city board to make some tough decisions on who to keep and who to let go leading up to the new school year this coming fall.

The Federal pandemic relief funding has been helpful in addressing budget shortfalls in school systems across the state over the past several years. The CARES Act provided $43,000,000 to TCS but just $11,000,000 remains and that will be gone by the time the next school year begins in August.

In the city system, some 54 employees are dedicated to the CARES Act money but unless something changes not all of them will be able to be retained. Tuscaloosa City Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Daria told news partner ABC 3340 that all the positions are vital, but some are more vital than others. "We will go through our staffing to determine which of those are able to stay because they are of high value, and we have the money, or which have to leave because we don't have the funds for them."

Dr. Daria says the selection process is complex because the services that were brought in with the funds provided high value for students.

The costs of operating the school district have risen significantly in recent years, leading to an average deficit of about $2 million annually. The district has needed to leverage its reserve to provide the same level of programs and services to its students. The CARES Act money helped mask the shortfalls but that is coming to an end.

That makes getting an Ad Valorem Tax increase approved by voters in the City of Tuscaloosa that much more imperative according to Daria.

The Tuscaloosa City Council approved a city schools request for legislation allowing a public referendum on a property tax increase in the city only. They now await word from Montgomery one whether lawmakers will approve it or not.

The current property tax rate in the city of Tuscaloosa is 51.5 mill. Of that, the Tuscaloosa City Schools receives 15.5 mill. An approved 11.5-mill increase would mean TCS receives a total of 26.5 mill. Property taxes and federal grants are the primary way education is funded in Alabama.

The last property tax vote was in 2015 when voters decided to continue the 51.5 millage rate set in 1986 and make it permanent. But the cost of maintaining a quality school system does not remain static.

Inflation has brought increasing expenses. That means more revenue is necessary to continue providing programs and services, especially with the coming loss of CARES Act money exacerbating the problem.

No doubt there will be formidable opposition to the tax increase request. A year ago, voters in Tuscaloosa County shot down two proposed property tax increase options for county schools, one for five mills and one for three mills. Had the referendum passed it would have funded several projects in the school system, including five entirely new schools.

The difference between last year's county vote and this year's proposed city referendum is the county's included structures while the city vote is to cover rising operations and programmatic costs.

The one know factor out of the whole issue is the fact that the cost of educating our children is not cheap and it will only increase with time.

 

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