Spanish Fort makes plans for school tax money


SPANISH FORT – Robotics programs, intervention programs and ACT training are among the plans for the first revenue from the 3-mill property tax approved by Spanish Fort voters last fall, city officials said.

Voters in Spanish Fort and Fairhope approved 3-mill tax increases in September. Money from the tax will be used for school improvements in special districts that include the local attendance zones. The first revenue from the tax will start coming in later this year.

The Spanish Fort City Council voted in February to create a school commission to oversee the distribution of money collected in the city’s new property tax for local schools.

Carl Gustafson Jr., chairman of the Spanish Fort School Commission, told City Council members on June 15 that commission members have worked with school principals and the Baldwin County Board of Education to determine how to use the first money from the tax.

“We’ve had numerous meetings with principals to find out really what it was that they needed,” Gustafson said. “Right now, we have an excellent school system. We’re looking a supplementing that to make it even better. Fortunately, the citizens of Spanish Fort gave us that opportunity to do that.”

Commissioners also met with officials from the Baldwin County School System. “We got a good idea of what the Baldwin County Board of Education was going to do for Spanish Fort schools in an effort to not duplicate some things that have already been done,” Gustafson said.

Among the plans for the first funding will be reading and mathematics programs and intervention programs at the elementary level.

“We’re hoping that both the students that need additional help as well as trying to challenge the students that need an additional challenge,” Gustafson said.

He said both elementary schools will also start a robotics program.

“When it comes down to the elementary schools the primary part that you will see is that we’re going to try implement a robotics course as early as the elementary grades,” Gustafson said. “When that was proposed for Rockwell, we went back to Spanish Fort Elementary and said we’d like to keep these two schools on tandem. We didn’t want one side of the city to have something that the other side didn’t.”

At the middle school level, educators wanted more help with counseling and social work.

High school students will get funding to help with the new AP Capstone academic program, one of the first in southern Alabama, he said.

“This is going to be an outstanding program to challenge those students,” Gustafson said. “We’ve had three perfect ACT scores, which was a 36, and we’ve had one 35 come out of Spanish Fort High School. This high school is excellent. This basically takes it to the next level.”

The revenue will also help educators set up more ACT training “boot camps,” to help students prepare for college entrance testing, he said.

Councilwoman Mary Brabner said some of the money from the tax will not be allocated right away.

“We have set aside 23 percent of what we anticipate coming in that we have not budgeted yet so as we get into the school year and see what opportunities arise or things in certain categories not be spent as much as we budgeted for them, we’ve still got options for these people to submit ideas,” Brabner said.

The tax is expected to raise about $800,000 a year in Spanish Fort. The tax will be in effect for 10 years.