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JefCoEd chief on Clay: Preparing for ‘difficult situation’

By Gary Lloyd

CLAY — New Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Craig Pouncey said last week that it would concern him if the city of Clay eventually broke away from the county and formed its own school system.

The Clay City Council in July voted 4-1 to levy a five-millage property tax, which could be the first step toward a school system or police department for the city. The rate equates to $50 per year on a house with an assessed value of $100,000. It would be $100 per year on a house with an assessed value of $200,000.

New Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Craig Pouncey speaks to reporters earlier this summer.
file photo by Gary Lloyd

Forming Clay’s own school system would require an estimated 10 mills in additional property taxes, something city residents would have to vote for.

Mayor Charles Webster said after the vote passed that it “wasn’t the way I would have done it” but that he was fine with how the vote went. He said he thought Clay could do a better job than the county because of its focus on all the other schools in the system.

Pouncey said there are “significant” facility issues to deal with at the Clay-Chalkville schools. He mentioned that the Jefferson County Board of Education recently partnered with the city of Clay to place turf at Cougar Stadium.

“My board now questions whether or not Clay is committed to (the) Jefferson County Board (of Education),” Pouncey said. “If they’re not, then it’s probably in the board’s best interest to try to prepare for a difficult situation. We don’t want to do that.”

Webster said Tuesday that he thinks “it would be best” to talk more about the possibility of a school system at the Monday, Aug. 4 Clay City Council meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Clay City Hall.

Pouncey said cities that have broken away from county systems in the past may not have been fully aware of what it costs.

“You think you can get in there and do a better job with less,” he said.

Pouncey said he’s noticed a lot of “antiquated” district lines throughout Jefferson County in his short time as the superintendent.

“That’s part of what I hope to accomplish within this next year, is to go back and visit all of those district lines and try to balance them based on our available classrooms and the convenience to parents and students to local schools,” he said.

What, however, is the best way to win over people who have kids going to county schools?

“I think, most importantly, we have to be conscious of their concerns and try to work to mitigate any concerns they may have, at the same time build a lasting relationship that they can trust, to know that we are attempting to do the same things that they are and provide children with a great education and meet individual needs,” Pouncey said.

Councilman Ricky Baker asked that the five mills be set aside for a Clay school system. Baker, referring to a feasibility study done under Mayor Charles Hart’s administration, said he recalled that the city would need about 12 mills in property tax, and he thought it was a 7 mills tax that was voted on and rejected by Clay voters years ago.

“I don’t know what that amount would be today,” Baker said. “It might be 8 mills. It might be 10 mills. Obviously, we would have to do another study to find out what that number would be today. We also need to know how much we would receive in state and county school district money. Most people don’t realize that they are already paying most of their property taxes for schools. It’s just going to someone else. There are school systems all over Alabama that are paying for themselves this way.”

Baker said he would be open to hearing ideas from the Jefferson County Board of Education but would keep pushing forward.

“I would have to see something really change,” Baker said. “Not necessarily just district lines, but a lot of changes. I would have to believe Clay is getting its fair share of education money. Right now, it goes in one big barrel and is doled out any way they choose.”

Scott Buttram contributed to this story.

Contact Gary Lloyd at news@trussvilletribune.com and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.

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