By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
On Tuesday, October 8, residents will cast their ballots in a special Birmingham City Council election for seats in districts 1, 6, and 7. They also will vote whether to renew the ad valorem property tax that supports the Birmingham City Schools (BCS) system.
An ad valorem tax is a property tax based on the assessed value of real estate or personal property. This is not a new tax; it is simply a proposal to continue current funding the system already receives and uses to support BCS programs, including pre-K, technology, and job readiness.
“BCS has made significant progress for our scholars. If we wish to maintain this momentum, we ask you to vote ‘for’ BCS three times on your ballot in support of a renewal of taxation,” said BCS Superintendent Lisa Herring, Ed.D. “To be clear, this is not a tax increase. Additionally, this is not a yes-or-no vote. We ask [voters] to vote for this proposal three times, which will allow us to continue receiving current funding by giving our scholars the best opportunities for success.”
In addition to pre-K, technology, and job readiness, the revenue is used for operational purposes, such as academics, student transportation, career tech, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programming, explained Craig Williams, BCS Strategy and Communications Coordinator.
“We stress pre-K, technology, and job readiness because those are really critical ones,” he said, adding that the property tax revenue has enabled the system to make numerous strides.
“We have about 50 pre-K classrooms, and 100 percent of those are certified first-class,” Williams said. “When it comes to pre-K around Alabama, we’re doing a great job. … We’re really proud of the [advances] we’re making, not only with our students in kindergarten through 12th grade but with our pre-K students as well.”
The pre-K program is important because “data [comparing] students who attended pre-K when they were younger and students who did not shows that students who attend pre-K perform better academically than their counterparts,” Williams said. “[With] technology, we have partnerships with companies like Apple and Sprint, and that’s important because technology is always changing.”
BCS also has a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) programs, and the Bush Hills STEAM Academy that launched this year is supported by funding from the ad valorem property tax. Williams said residents are urged to renew the tax to help BCS continue making progress in those areas.
“We’ve come a really long way, and we want to continue going a long way to provide the best opportunities for student success,” he said.
According to Williams, the ad valorem property tax revenue generates a little more than $30 million for the school system.
“We are calling on the community to vote for our students, vote for our community and for our future on October 8. A community is only as strong as its schools, and schools are only as strong as their communities,” said Williams.
The ad valorem property tax effectively expires next year, and this election would renew the measure for the next 25 years.
“Nobody’s taxes will increase because of this,” Williams said. “It is simply a continuation of funding we already receive, and we’re asking for the public’s support by helping us continue to receive those dollars.
“It’s in the best interest of Birmingham voters to vote for this in order to ensure that we have strong schools in our community. When a community has strong schools, it typically helps property values. … It helps everybody when school systems succeed.”