Editor's note: This is a reader-submitted Letter to the Editor in response to a previous letter. To submit your own Letter to the Editor, send an email including your name and city of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the weekend, I read the submitted letter that criticized Mayor Gary Ivey and claimed he lacked the leadership skills to lead Hoover. Specifically, the assertion was made that Mayor Ivey has failed to properly lead and fund the Hoover schools. There is a lot of misinformation circulating this election year regarding the role of the mayor and funding of the Hoover City Schools system. As a former member of the Hoover Board of Education, I would like to help clear up some of the conversation.
First, the notion that Hoover schools are broke simply is not true. Are all our public schools back to level funding from the state's initial 2011 proration cuts? No, but when you hear reports of “education deficits," that does not mean the school system is out of money.
For example, in fiscal year 2015, it was widely reported that the schools faced a projected $7 million deficit. By the end of the fiscal year, tax collections totaled $1.4 million less than the schools’ operational expenses ($167 million). Accordingly, the school system used $1.4 million of the $70 million it had in its general reserve fund to cover the operational expenses.
Currently, the Hoover Board of Education has $68 million in reserve in its unrestricted General Fund savings account and another $22 million in the Capital Fund reserve account. Combined, the school system responsibly has $90 million in savings, which is a healthy and desirable 6 months operating reserve. According to the Alabama State Department of Education, Hoover City Schools has the largest reserve fund of any school system in the state.
Second, this was my explicit understanding when I was appointed to the Hoover Board of Education: The mayor of Hoover does not and should not run the school system. When the citizens of Hoover decided to form their own school system in 1987, they wisely gave responsibility for running the school system to an independent Hoover Board of Education and a superintendent of education.
As a board member, I did not experience, nor would I have wanted any mayor or council member micromanaging the operations of the school system, trying to tell us how to do our job or manage our budget. I am concerned that the campaign rhetoric of some of the candidates for mayor is encroaching on the responsibilities of the school board and superintendent.
Third, as I am aware, the current school board has not requested a property tax increase in order to generate more revenue. In this current economy, local boards are looking to their own communities to fill the funding gap to help restore level funding from the state's 3 percent cuts in 2011. In strong or weak economic times, neither the city nor the school system has access to unlimited tax revenue.
Ultimately for both, budget decisions always have to be made, and to dramatically increase city funding for the school system would mean either cutting city services, the city council unilaterally raising taxes or having the citizens specifically cast a vote on funding mechanisms (my preference). The Board members, at the request of the Superintendent and CFO, can pursue their option for more dedicated funding, however; simply raising sales taxes, as some running for office have suggested, has been shown over time to not be a reliable source of revenue for funding schools.
I am very proud of our Hoover City Schools, and it honestly was a privilege to serve our students, teachers and staff. Our enviable school system continues to be ranked as one of the best in our state. During my tenure on the board and beyond, Gary Ivey has supported our schools and our Board of Education providing a safe and secure environment through a partnership with the Hoover PD, parks and recreation and funding. As a business owner with a true understanding of the customer and the bottom line, he has extended those skills and provided excellent leadership and management of resources and finances for Hoover. Now, as a private citizen, I will be casting my vote for Gary Ivey for mayor.
Suzy Baker is a resident of Hoover and served from 2006 to 2009 on the Hoover Board