In interviews Thursday and this morning, those supporting the matter spell out what they see as the need for the tax.
In efforts to raise funds to defeat the referendum, a group called Citizens Against Higher County Taxes says the tax would increase county taxes by a potential 60 percent. “Radical elements on the Halifax County School Board have again placed the supplemental school tax for the ballot on November 8th. Will they never quit,” says a copy of the letter seeking donations of $250.
That donation would be used to pay for a direct mail campaign, the letter says.
Those supporting passage of the referendum, including the Roanoke Valley Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said opponents to the referendum have misstated how much the school board would request should the tax be passed.
“It’s less than that,” said Claude Cooper, chair of the county school board. “We’re doing this to hire teachers and teacher assistants. We’ve never had that flexibility.”
(Voters eligible to vote in the referendum will be those who cast their ballots at the following precincts, according to the Halifax County Board of Elections: Butterwood; Conoconnara; Enfield 1 and 2; Faucett; Halifax; Hobgood; Hollister; Littleton 1 and 2; Ringwood; Roanoke Rapids 11, 7 and 9; Scotland Neck and Weldon 3)
“The maximum amount we can ask for is 50 cents per $100,” said Tyus Few, a county school board member who is serving as spokesman for the referendum. “We would never approach that rate. We’re proposing 10 cents. That’s 10 cents less than Weldon and 12 cents less than Roanoke Rapids.”
When combining supplemental and sales tax receipts over the last nine years, Few said Roanoke Rapids has received $19.8 million while Weldon has received $13.6 million. “Halifax County Schools has received zero because we don’t have a supplemental tax.”
Few said going with the 10 cents, as the school board expects it will request, will raise approximately $1.6 million for the school system. “Ten cents is the amount we feel is equitable and fair. We’re not asking for the same (as Weldon and Roanoke Rapids) we’re asking for less.”
The money would be used for providing extra teachers and meeting other needs. “If we have a large class size, we need more to reduce. We can use the additional funds for art teachers, music teachers, additional English teachers. If we don’t have the supplemental money, we’re at a disadvantage. We need additional technology. We need to provide signing bonuses because we can’t provide financial incentives for them (teachers) to stay here. We need to continuously improve our technology infrastructure. We need to replace activity busses. The money can be used for a lot of things — supplies, field trips. We have to provide the best education we can even though we’re not near the top of the ladder in funding.”
Few likens the situation of the county school system to a family with three children where the third child receives the least attention. “Halifax County Schools is ranked 114 out of 115 in local funding, Roanoke Rapids is 69 and Weldon is 10. Do you understand how the third child feels now? That child expects the same results as me and my brother.”
The school system asking for the supplemental tax is not the same one asking for the additional funding in 2012, when the measure was soundly defeated, he said. “That was part of the problem, the previous mismanagement caused citizens to say no.”
The last three audits of the school system have been clean and the school system is now off the state’s low performing schools list. “Our money is managed properly and if this is passed it would be used to benefit the children. The community is looking at us and saying why do you need the money? They need the same chance to be successful as the other two children.”
Few says new Superintendent Eric Cunningham is charting a new course for the county school system. “There’s definitely a renaissance coming in our county, but it makes it difficult when you don’t have the dollars.”
The county has spent $775,000 on children in its school system whose parents decided to send them to charter schools, Few said. “All we can try to do is move forward.”
Many who pulled their children, he said, spoke of the cultural and geographic opportunities their children could have within the charter schools the county couldn’t offer. “Don’t be so critical when it come to Halifax County. We’re the third child, the others are receiving better support.”
Few said he is pleased the SCLC is joining in support of the referendum. “Both of these gentlemen (James Mills and Reverend C.E. McCollum) are interested in education and they realize funding is not equal. This is not a racial thing. We have Native American, white, Asian, and Hispanic. Halifax County Schools is not just for certain children. It’s for all children.”