The Watson Chapel School District kicked off its campaign to urge voters to pass a 2.3-mill tax increase by appealing to their fiscal conservatism during a Tuesday evening rally at Edgewood Elementary School.
If the millage increase is endorsed by voters in the May 14 special election the funds will be used to construct a new K-1 elementary school building at Edgewood Elementary to replace the existing structure.
“If you have a $100,000 house the passage of the millage increase will increase your property tax from $636 per year to $682 per year, an additional $46,” district superintendent Danny Hazelwood said to the crowd assembled in the Edgewood cafeteria for the start of the Our Watson Chapel campaign. “That breaks down to $3.84 per month; 89 cents a week and only 13 cents per day.
“We’re asking you to secure the future of this school district with an extra dime and three pennies per day,” Hazelwood said. “
Hazelwood said homeowners of a $100,000 home in each of the other three Jefferson County school districts pay substantially more in millage taxes. The current tax rate for the Watson Chapel district is 31.8 mills.
“If you lived in the Pine Bluff School District you’ll be paying $834 per year,” Hazelwood said, using the example of a $100,000 house. “If you lived in the Dollarway district you would be paying $816 per year and if you were in the White Hall district you would be paying $784 per year.”
Statistics provided by the district said that the owner of a $50,000 home will owe just $23 more per year, which is equivalent to the purchase of one 20-ounce soda once a month for twelve months.
“The current school was built in 1959,” Hazelwood said. “It’s time for us to upgrade. This district has not passed any kind of tax increase since 1974. Now I know that people hear the term ‘tax increase’ and cringe. I’m asking those of you who are against this increase to reconsider your initial instinct not to pay more taxes.”
“The new school will be a beautiful, state-of-the-art building,” Hazelwood said. “The current building has classrooms that open directly to the outside and in this day and age that is simply not safe. The new building will be secure for our students.”
Hazelwood said students in Jefferson County are notorious for shifting school districts.
“We are in competition with the other county school districts,” Hazelwood said. “This building will get us going in the direction that we need to go. The other districts in our area have been updating their buildings. It is time for us to do the same. This is a $10 million project and $6 million of it is already on the table with our name on it. The state will fund 60 percent of the total and this millage increase will pay for our 40 percent.”
Board member support
Watson Chapel School Board President Sandra C. Boone spoke in support of the new school but not before her goddaughter Mikayla Charde Powell, a Watson Chapel first-grader, spoke of her wish to see the new school built.
“Mr. Hazelwood, school board directors, and voters,” Mikayla said. “Please vote for this millage increase so we will be able to build this new school. I want to be a graduate of Watson Chapel High School.”
“Aren’t our children worth it?” Boone asked. “This school is unsafe and it needs to be replaced. Mikayla is just one of the many reasons that I have made such a personal investment in this school district.”
Board member Danny Holcomb also shared his love for the Watson Chapel School District.
“I have a vested interest in this school district,” Holcomb said. “I am a product of this district and all but one of my brothers and I are products of this district. The only reason one of us wasn’t is because he had already graduated when our family first moved here. Both of my children went through this school district. I love what this district stands for. I live in this district and I hope that some day my grandchildren will attend this school district.”
Barbara Warren is a parent of two children, one currently enrolled in the Watson Chapel district and one future student.
“I graduated from Watson Chapel High School in 1989,” Warren said. “I have a 3-year old who would be in the first class to attend the new school. The new building will have technology, security and safety and that is what our children deserve from us.”
Former state representative Toni Bradford shared her recollections as a Watson Chapel parent.
“In the mid-1960s my husband and I bought our first house on South Orlando Street just a half block from this school,” Bradford said. “We moved there because we wanted our children to attend Watson Chapel schools. I taught civics and government at Watson Chapel Junior High School and the high school. During my six years in the Legislature I was on the education committee.”
WCHS seniors Chanel Allen, Rhett Hunt and Jeffery Neal spoke in support of the millage increase.
“You’ve heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child,” Hunt said. “Well I say it takes a millage to raise a child.”