By John Mullen
Joe Davis had no qualms about going forward with a vote on whether to spend another $30,000 on a study about an independent school system in Daphne.
But a motion by Councilman Robin LeJeune to delay a vote two more weeks was carried by a 5-2 vote at Monday’s council meeting. LeJeune said he felt officials needed more time to digest information from the first part of the study — one that cost $38,000 and was only released Oct. 30.
“I just thought it was a little hasty in trying to force a vote when you’ve just gotten a 55-page study just a week ago,” LeJeune said. “It’s been out in the public eye for less than a week, which I thought was concerning that they were trying to really push a vote on the second portion of the study. I felt that five or six days was not enough time for the general public to look at the study. If they had any questions it gives us a chance to answer those questions.”
Davis and Councilman Ron Scott were the two dissenters on waiting two weeks. Voting for the delay were new Council President Tommie Conway, Council Pro Tem Pat Rudicell and councilors LeJeune, Joel Coleman and Doug Goodlin.
Coleman echoed LeJeune’s concerns and said he wanted more time to let the public digest the report in order to have an informed opinion.
“There are 25,000-plus citizens in the city and it’s not imprudent to wait to see if we can get more comments,” Coleman said. “Two weeks, to me, is worth the time to wait and see if we can get more feedback.”
Davis says he doesn’t think the Baldwin County system is broken and wants the council to look for ways to help the county improve Daphne’s schools.
“There are other ways we can make our schools better without going to this sort of expense,” he said.
He found some expenses revealed in the first part of the Criterion K-12 study alarming, including $5.3 million in startup costs for teacher salaries before state funding would kick in. On top of that, the city would be on the hook for an additional $3.6 million for operating costs and to bank a month’s worth of operating costs, a state requirement.
That’s almost $9 million the city would need on hand before any state funding flows into the new system’s coffers. LeJeune said the startup costs, while steep, weren’t unexpected.
“There’s an investment that has to be made and we know the investment is upfront,” LeJeune said. “Once we make the initial investment we don’t need that much to continue on. After the initial investment, the millage they ask for drops back to 2 mills to run the actual school system.
“Yes, the initial shock was there, but I think everyone understands that is going to be there. It didn’t surprise me.”
Another Davis concern is the $43 million debt on current facilities the school board would have to take on through 2037. It’s a concern LeJeune shares and one reason he wanted to delay a vote on the study’s second half.
“I’m trying to get some information about that and get more information on the amount of debt and how that all works,” LeJeune said.
LeJeune also said Criterion K-12’s estimation of future growth in Daphne omitted several upcoming or ongoing residential projects in the city. Councilman Goodlin pointed out that 2,859 approved lots for homes, apartments or townhouses were not included in the study.