Stakeholders in Tuscaloosa City Schools want its 11,000 students to be safe, taught by the best educators possible and ready for the future when they graduate, according to data collected by the school system this year.

TCS has been asking its employees, parents of students and the general public to help its School Board and Superintendent Mike Daria for months to help them shape the system's priorities in the years to come.

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That led to more than 2,000 responses that came from more than 1,200 TCS employees, 176 citizens who attended community input sessions and 675 respondents to a survey TCS distributed in September.

An outside firm based in New Jersey, TregoED, has analyzed that data and identified the emerging themes folks said they want to be prioritized by the system.

The stakeholders said TCS already commits to the academic, social and emotional well-being of their students, but more can be done. The data suggests TCS should add teachers to keep their class sizes low and hire additional professional math and reading interventionists as well as social workers and mental health professionals.

Almost 80 percent of participants said TCS should increase the salaries it pays its employees so they recruit and retain the best professionals across the board.

School safety also remains at the forefront of conversation, and participants said TCS must continue to ensure a protected and secure learning and work environment for all students and staff.

TCS and TregoEd filtered the responses down to three key areas of focus: Educator Excellence, Premier Student Services/Programs and Safety & Security.

Very little comes for free, though, and TCS Chief School Financial Officer Jay Duke has tried to estimate what it could cost to continue what the system is doing well and enhance the areas of need identified by all this input.

That could include raises for all support staff positions and teachers, incentives for veteran teachers, staff bonuses, enhanced special education services, a fine arts program at every school, and new or upgraded safety measures at all TCS facilities, including ensuring a school resource officer is present at each campus and the Central Office and much, much more.

Duke said it will cost around $8 million to just continue the high-priority programs already in place at TCS and another $9.25 million could be invested in enhancing them.

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That leaves Daria to identify how to raise $17.25 million before Fiscal Year 2025, and the only way a school system in Alabama can generate more revenue is to request an increase in property tax. That requires approval from the legislature and passage of a referendum voted on by Tuscaloosa residents.

To raise $17.25 million, Duke said Tuscaloosa would need to raise its ad valorem tax - property taxes - by 11.5 mills. That represents roughly a 22 percent increase to existing property taxes here.

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Daria's recommendation is expected at the board's next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, October 17th. If he proposes a referendum for a property tax increase, it would not go to voters until 2024 and, if passed, would not go into effect until 2025.

Any tax increase may be an uphill battle for TCS - voters resoundingly rejected a much smaller property tax increase for the Tuscaloosa County School System earlier this year.

For more from the city schools and their efforts to find funding for the initiatives the community wants prioritized, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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