Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy today said the school system does indeed need and desire funding increases from the city of Hoover to help battle budget deficit problems.
Councilman John Greene cast the lone no vote on the budget, saying he thinks the city should give more to its school system.
Mayor Gary Ivey said Monday night that he has had extensive conversations with Murphy and that she had not requested an increase in funding.
Murphy today confirmed she had talked with the mayor but said she thought she had clearly conveyed that the school system needs additional revenue. Council members and other city officials also have been at some of the school rezoning meetings where Murphy has discussed school finances and the need for more funding, she said.
“I certainly want to be very clear that any and all increases that our city can give to us are wanted and are needed,” the superintendent said. “I have fairly well, I think, articulated that need.”
Murphy said it was with great reluctance that she presented a 2016 school system budget with a $10.4 million deficit to the school board in September.
“The common sense thought there is that I would not be giving a $10.4 million deficit budget to our board if we did not have some funding needs and some funding desires,” Murphy said today. “Would I like for our city to provide more financial resources for schools? Absolutely.”
Murphy in September said publicly that the school system was at a critical financial point and that school officials needed to join with the public and other public officials to examine potential additional sources of revenue. She said then that she was not ready to storm city hall to ask for another penny to be added to the city sales tax, but that might be an option to consider.
It takes $13 million a month to run the Hoover school district, and “that’s significant money,” Murphy said.
The school district has been using $85.6 million it received from a Jefferson County bond issue in fiscal 2007 to prop up its operating budgets, but that money has gradually been dwindling ever since, shrinking the school system’s fund balance.
School officials have said that money eventually will run out, and something has to be done. There must be a significant increase in revenues or a significant decrease in expenditures, or some combination of the two, Murphy said.
Murphy said she clearly understands that she and other school officials must be prudent with taxpayers’ dollars and she is looking at various ways the school system can make some cuts.
One of the school district’s biggest expenditures is personnel, and Assistant Superintendent Ron Dodson has been leading a committee that is examining ways to cut staffing and programs if additional revenue streams aren’t found, Murphy said.
There are certain things that make Hoover schools uniquely Hoover, such as smaller class sizes, and “we value that; we want to keep that,” Murphy said.
Other features that make Hoover stand out are its accelerated courses, foreign languages, International Baccalaureate program, Advanced Placement courses and dual college enrollment programs, she said.
“I think the question comes to this – what kind of school district do we want to have?” Murphy said. “And are we willing to financially support the school system we want to have?”
The city of Hoover began cutting its funding of the Hoover school system in fiscal 2002, when former Mayor Barbara McCollum and the City Council elected with her in 2000 decided to take away building permit fees that were designated for Hoover schools. The school system lost $807,000 in 2002, $1.1 million in 2003 and $1.3 million in 2004, for a total of $3.2 million in building permit fees.
McCollum and four of the five City Council members were not re-elected in 2004, and in December 2004, new Mayor Tony Petelos and a new City Council chose to quit giving the school system 16 percent of the city's sales tax revenues each year. Instead, city officials said they would provide the school system with a flat $2 million, though it ended up being about $1.9 million for fiscal 2005.
Petelos said then that the city was in a financial crunch and that other areas of city government needed the money more.
City leaders said their school system should be OK because of the $1.1 billion Jefferson County bond issue that provided Hoover schools with the unexpected $85.6 million.
Some residents revolted, and city leaders increased the city's contribution to Hoover schools to $7.1 million in fiscal 2006 and $7.5 million in fiscal 2007 and 2008.
Then in 2009, 10 months into the fiscal year and after city sales taxes had declined for the first time in the city's history, the Hoover City Council passed a 2009 budget with $2 million for schools. Petelos initially recommended nothing for schools, but after a public outcry, he bumped it to $2 million.
The city's allocation for Hoover schools has remained at $2 million a year ever since, even though sales and use tax revenues have climbed back up to record amounts. The city expects to collect a record $68.4 million in sales and use taxes in fiscal 2016.
Murphy said she appreciates the support that Hoover officials have shown the school system, such as providing nearly $346,000 to schools from the city’s lawsuit settlement with BP Corp. over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
She also is grateful to Councilman Greene for taking a position to advocate for Hoover school children and the school district’s budget, she said.
Some other council members have expressed a willingness to talk about potential financial solutions for the school system, she said, and “I’m most interested in us being able to do that.”