Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New School Superintendent Meets EAC

Fairhope, Alabama

Tyler, center

New Baldwin County School Superintendent Eddie Tyler met the city's EAC for the first time last week; chairman Kerry Flowers and others started by summarizing the committees history: He said they had similarly-met with the previous superintendent Robbie Owen last January before the (failed) tax referendum in March.

The EAC was formed by the city council about 5 years ago they said, during the height of the Great Recession after a proposal to form an independent city school system failed to gain enough support: It was charged with finding other ways to make Fairhope-area county schools within the top echelon (top ten?) in the state.

Originally, $750K per year was proposed to add ten teachers; but that was pared back to the current $350K for the past three years from city "community development" utility funds: limited to  technology at first (STEM) but now for the "greatest needs" according to the five principals.

Additionally, the city provides over $500K/yr for facilities and "in kind" services for school athletics support -- and a police resource officer for the high and middle school.

EAC members said their main concerns at present were that the whole, existing12 mils would not be renewed by voters next March, cutting county funding further; and the proposed pay-as-you-go funding for construction programs mostly elsewhere in the county would drain away money needed for academics in the Fairhope feeder pattern (more teachers?).
CFO Wilson, Flowers, Kellen
A RFP (request for proposals) for a consultant is currently pending to evaluate the three options facing the city: maintaining the staus quo within the BC system; an independent city system; a special tax district within the BC system.

(Chairman Flowers announced the RFP request would remain open for another two weeks to allow more time for responses.)

One member called the committee's history an evolving process: "Is the $350K/yr. getting us anywhere ... ?  Or is some other dedicated funding source needed ... ?  We haven't found a model yet ... . A decade from now where will Fairhope schools be ... ?"


Tyler said he liked everything he was hearing about wanting to improve local schools, but cautioned that funding for hiring any new teachers must be from a permanent, finite source, not subject to changing political winds, to do any good: The Baldwin County system has always been "well thought of" in the state he added -- and currently locally-funds over 200 teachers itself -- a "heavy burden" financially.

Tyler : "At the end of the day ... it comes down to funding ... giving $400K for teachers sounds good ... but unless it continues ... you just can't do that .. ."

He conceded being within the top ten in the state is a good goal to have ("high and lofty") -- but cautioned those "have to answer to the state" as well and have the same problems county systems have with funding like the 10 mil match, unfunded mandates and hiring restrictions for teachers.

A citizens task force recently mostly "exonerated" the School Board and administration he said, by finding the system was running as best it could under difficult economic conditions -- except for debt service and the digital renaissance.

He observed technology is very important now and was "not going away" but changes he is planning to the troubled digital renaissance program could bring savings-enough for one new school building (tablets vs. computers?).

Tyler conceded "broken trust and promises" are issues here but emphasized the familiar better together theme of the last year -- and asked for an "opportunity to make us whole again" with stable funding, first by renewing the expiring 12 mils next March: "I can make the tough decisions ... just give me the opportunity ... . I'm asking you to go out and preach positive messages about Baldwin County schools ... then move forward together ... ."

(But after that, not making the penny sales tax permanent before it expires in 2017 would be "catastrophic" -- a $30 million loss. Citizens themselves would then have to decide about the Task Force's proposed new 1/2 cent sales tax for new building construction: He will not be advocating one way or another.)


Zenah, Riggs, Wilhite
Tyler agreed with another conclusion of the Task Fore: that leadership has been a big issue and said he was working hard to get the "chemistry right" at the main office and in individual schools.

He said he had heard numerous stories since arriving two months ago and was emphasizing the need for employees (especially in leadership positions) to "live your lives" but be guarded: "Seeing me ... or anyone else ... on a Facebook post with a lampshade on my head ... that's when it starts affecting my school system ... when I step in."


After Tyler finished speaking, School CFO John Wilson said the county system is currently "at a crossroads" and a lack of funding stability was the major issue holding the county back.

EAC members noted they had passed a resolution supporting the last referendum (renewals and additional property taxes) and pledged the full support of the EAC to "get back the 12 mils ... if being in the top ten is really our goal."

Member Bob Riggs added he thought that ultimately, only with outstanding leadership and teachers will that ever be achieved.


Kerry Flowers said...

James - again, great job of accurately summarizing what is going on in Fairhope! Thank you for all you do to keep Fairhopians in the know.

Anonymous said...

What a disaster this has been.

Anonymous said...

Huh? We give millions to football why not a little to things that really matter like academics too?

Anonymous said...

we need the lottery and need it now!