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Friday, May 8, 2015

Next Week's Education Town Meeting Finalized

Fairhope, Alabama. (fairhopetimes@att.net)

EDUCATION COMMITTEE  SETS AGENDA

EAC with Flowers at right
Earlier this week, the city's Educational Advisory Committee finalized plans and the agenda for the town hall meeting scheduled for 6PM Tuesday, May 12th in the Christian Life Center located behind the United Methodist Church at the  corner of Section St. and Morphy Ave.

In the wake of the March 31st tax referendum's failure, the committee decided to seek opinions from the Fairhope public about the future of the city's five schools.

Committee Chairman Kerry Flowers described the meeting: "Leadership for the city of Fairhope created the Educational Advisory Committee to serve as a liaison between the city, our schools, and our community. This community education meeting will give us a chance to do just that by bringing in experts such as Dr. Chang, educators, parents of school-aged children, retirees and city leaders to discuss the future of education in Fairhope."

Anyone who has an interest in Fairhope schools and the Fairhope community is invited and encouraged to attend; they were not certain how many citizens would turn out, but the facility can handle up to about 500; setting a firm agenda is a priority so the meeting will not descend into chaos as so many others on this subject have.

At a previous meeting, the committee had decided the forum should be forward looking; the official objective decided upon is "to define the current set of circumstances for Fairhope students and begin discussion about the future of education in Fairhope."

Dan Lumpkin of the strategic consulting firm Lumpkin and Associates will be the facilitator.

Citizens attending are to be classified by five demographic groups, likely to be of similar interests/concerns:

* Parents of current Fairhope feeder pattern students.
* Adults 50+ that may or may not have students in Fairhope schools.
* Retirees.
* Community leaders (i.e. elected officials, business owners, corporate mangers, civic org. leaders)
* Educators (i.e. principals, teachers, staff)

Flowers will open the meeting by explaining the current mission of the committee, which was established in 2011 to aid area schools hurting from the 'Great Recession.'

Economics consultant Dr. Semoon Chang will speak about the long-term consequences to the community of underfunding public schools.

Then they will break into the five groups, each facilitated by EAC members to focus on discussing and answering two basic questions:

1. Given the results of the March 31st referendum, do you think that academics in the Fairhope feeder pattern will be better, worse, or unchanged in five years?

2. The city has given nearly $2.5 million to schools over the last 3 years in cash and in-kind services. If you were an elected city official,  what steps would you take to ensure that excellence in education is a top priority for Fairhope schools?

 Lumpkin will then summarize and discuss next steps: another meeting may be held to go over the results.


ORGANIC SCHOOL MOVING TO K-1 CAMPUS?

Jessie Patterson, Vice President of the 501(c)3 non-profit corporation Marrietta Johnson School of Organic Education, told the committee the organization may be interested in obtaining the old K-1 school -- to establish a performing arts high school there.

He has information the Baldwin County School Board may be planning to sell the property to the highest bidder: if the new property taxes had been approved, the Board planned to refurbish the old building and construct a new one behind it (K-2).

Both of the new property tax proposals on the March 31st ballot failed in Fairhope-area voting districts.

Jessie Patterson
Patterson said he realizes it will be expensive to purchase the land and refurbish the building (estimates range to well over $10 million), but he has already contacted possible funding sources.

Trading their current campus for the property is  a possibility as well; the Marietta Johnson Museum now located on the Faulkner State College campus may be interested in re-locating there as well.

(Publisher's Note: The Times was already aware the cash-strapped Baldwin School Board is seriously considering selling many properties across the county -- to to highest bidder. Presumably, the old K-1 would be demolished by potentail developers.)

The K-1 campus is currently assessed at $820K, according to county tax records; the building itself has virtually no value.

The Mayor and City Council had been discussing obtaining the property for a Perfoming Arts Facility; but the high cost to refurbish and modify the old building were problematic: locating a PAF elsewhere would probably be more cost-effective.



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