As they enter the county from Interstate 20, uninformed visitors might gaze at Oxford’s meteoric growth in recent years and think something’s brewing in Calhoun County’s water, though that’s hardly accurate. Oxford is a unique case: A small Alabama town with a gargantuan sales-tax base, a city government largely supportive of the school system’s physical — and fiscal — needs, ad an education foundation that lends assistance.
Then there are Jacksonville’s public schools, which are widely regarded as being some of the best in the county. Yet, that academic reputation hasn’t kept the city’s school system from suffering from its version of fiscal plight. In that sense, Jacksonville resembles the county’s other locales — when it comes to finances for education, it isn’t Oxford.
That’s why we’re not surprised that the Jacksonville Educational Trust is stepping in. Jacksonville’s high school facilities remain top notch but the system needs a new elementary school, and neither the city nor the system has the cash on hand to pay for it. Thus, the trust has hired an Auburn-based firm to survey residents and determine if it’s feasible to conduct a capital campaign for Jacksonville’s schools.
An early guess: Yes, it’s feasible — but only to a point. Donations are hard to come by.
At a base level, Jacksonville’s fund-raising efforts are more about the state of Alabama public education and less about Jacksonville itself. We wish that system well; the city’s elementary students need updated facilities. Yet, Jacksonville’s situation could become a worthwhile example for this generation of public education in Alabama.
State budgets are flat, at best. Stagnant local economies are making it difficult to lure in new business and grow city coffers. Some industries normally receptive to helping local schools continue to have tough times. And competing needs are pulling city governments in numerous directions.
Again, consider Jacksonville.
The City Council OK’d a 1-cent sales tax increase in 2011 to pay for a new public safety complex — a worthwhile endeavor. The crumbs from that new revenue are earmarked for Jacksonville’s schools. Last month, the council decided to issue nearly $13 million in bonds for the complex, but because of the timing of that project, the school officials still aren’t sure what, if anything, will come their way. Hence, the trust’s decision to step in.
The improvement of public education is the gold standard of Alabama’s needs. Jacksonville is fortunate; its schools already are good. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how fruitful the city’s search for new academic funding will be.