A 3-mill property tax approved by voters last year in Fairhope and Spanish Fort is earmarked for use after the Baldwin County school board approved recommendations for expenditures from the program for the first time last week.
In a referendum held last September, 54 percent of voters in Fairhope approved the tax while 51 percent of Spanish Fort voters approved it. It is expected to generate about $2 million per year to be split among the five public schools in the Fairhope feeder pattern and roughly $800,000 for the four Spanish Fort schools.
The tax will sunset in Spanish Fort in 10 years and in Fairhope in 30 years and require another election to renew. The referendum also created two appointed public school commissions in each city to oversee the funds.
Ken Cole was an early advocate for the referendum in Fairhope and was later chosen to chair the Fairhope Public Schools Commission. This week, he said the collection, allocation and distribution of the new tax is going as well as can be expected, and the commission intends to function with clarity and transparency.
“Our primary focus for funding the resources necessary to advance academic achievement in the classroom — instruction, support and professional development,” he said. “We start there and have discussions with all five of our principals about what’s needed in the upcoming school year. They provide recommendations and details and we have to decide whether it conforms to the purpose of the funding guidelines and if so, we decide whether to approve requests.”
Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler then reviews the requests to ensure they do not conflict with funding priorities of the county school system in the same calendar year, and if not, they are approved by the school board.
Cole said last year’s election was not just a vote of confidence in the tax itself, but also a vote of confidence in the teachers, administrators and commissions responsible for spending it.
“You have to put yourself in a principal’s position,” he said. “They are looking at student enrollment that’s growing in one of the fastest-growing counties and cities in the state. The county’s budget is based on enrollment the previous year, so the upcoming year you may have more kids enrolled but you’re working with a budget designed around a smaller population. That’s where our additional funding can really make a difference.”
The Baldwin County school board ultimately awarded nearly $400,000 to each of the five public schools in Fairhope for the 2020-21 year and a combined $560,000 to schools in Spanish Fort. Requests by each school is as follows:
• J. Larry Newton School was awarded $79,000 for a STEM/math specialist for K-6; $71,000 for a literacy and technology coach for the upper grades; $71,000 for an intervention teacher; $30,000 for a part-time or contract social worker; $128,000 for four temporary paraprofessional educators; and $21,000 for instructional resources and materials.
• Fairhope West Elementary was awarded $85,000 for a STEAM coach; $70,000 for a STEAM/math coach; $28,160 for two part-time instructors; $69,000 for literacy instructional materials; $19,500 for the “Leader in Me” program; $50,000 for professional development; $6,100 for counseling; $25,000 for miscellaneous instructional supplies; $6,362 for technology supports; $10,000 for the library; $5,000 for physical education; $10,000 for the music and art programs; and $60,000 for four part-time instructors.
• Fairhope Intermediate School was awarded $87,000 for a STEAM/technology coach; $76,596.33 for an instructional/eMINTS coach; $29,000 for STEAM resources and materials; $5,000 for technology; $50,000 for professional development; $105,000 reading resources; $5,000 each for counselors, the library and physical education; $2,500 each for the music and art programs; $2,403.67 for the “Liberty Learning Legacy” program; $10,000 for miscellaneous instructional support; and $15,000 for the “Leader in Me” program.
• Fairhope Middle School was awarded $144,000 for two math intervention teachers; $144,000 for two language arts intervention teachers; $30,00 for a part-time social worker; $64,000 for two fill-time instructional paraprofessionals; and $18,000 for professional development.
• Fairhope High School was awarded $70,000 for a social studies intervention teacher; $70,000 for a science/coordinator position; $70,000 for a science/ACT prep position; $70,000 for a math/ACT prep position; and $55,000 for the “Crisis-Alert Safety Program.”
• Rockwell Elementary School was awarded $90,000 for three contract intervention teachers; $20,000 for instructional support materials; $30,000 for a technology/robotics contract instructor; $10,000 for technology and robotics instructional materials and supplies; $5,000 for contracted artists; $5,000 for enrichment classes; and $10,000 for professional development.
• Spanish Fort Elementary was awarded $120,000 for six contracted tutors; $5,000 for instructional support materials; $30,000 for a technology/robotic contracted instructor; and $10,000 for related materials.
• Spanish Fort Middle School was awarded $60,000 for two part-time social workers; $20,000 for a part-time math intervention position; and $20,000 for a part-time 504 position.
• Spanish Fort High School was awarded $20,000 for teacher training in the AP Capstone program; $30,000 for teacher compensation for AP study sessions; $15,000 for ACT bootcamp and ACT prep materials; $30,000 for a part-time math tutor; and $30,000 for a part-time English and reading tutor.
Cole said the commission will also be looking at performance measures in the future to evaluate whether the funds are making a difference in test scores and aptitude.
“We have a number of standardized and specified accountability features at our disposal,” he said. “It’s a performance-based culture and we’re keenly interested in the outcome. We don’t expect to see improvements overnight but we do expect to see incremental improvements and we’ll be evaluating these expenditures each year.”
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