By John Mullen
Joe Davis says all members of the Daphne City Council care about the education of the city’s children. They just share different visions on how to accomplish that mission.
In Monday’s meeting only two council members, Robin LeJeune and Doug Goodlin, voted to pay $30,000 for the second half of a study on a separate school system for the city. The remaining five members voted against it effectively squashing the move for independent city schools.
“I think that it was clear, a 5-2 vote, and it was also clear that the two that voted for it are certainly passionate about our schools,” District 7 Councilman Davis said. “But all seven of us are. We just see that there’s some other ways we can make the classroom experience better. That’s what we’re going to strive to do.”
Two weeks ago, the council heard the results of the first half of the study and the results sealed the deal for Davis. The first half cost the city $38,500.
“I was one of the ones that suggested, and I was glad that my colleagues went along, to split the study in half,” Davis said. “Having done a little homework I figured that the numbers would come in as they did. Really, they were higher than I had first thought, higher meaning the amount of debt that we would have to take on as well as the amount of money we’d have to generate from some source prior to even getting funding.”
The city would have to take on a $43 million debt service on current school facilities in Daphne. Additionally, the city would have to pay $9 million in startup and reserve costs required by the state.
“Those numbers were tantamount,” Davis said. “Several members of the council stated that was the reason that they voted the way they did. The scary part is once you leave, you can’t go back.”
Davis said it would be years before Daphne schools could work up to the level of funding per student received now as part of the Baldwin County system.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, but you’d have to work really hard for a couple of years just to get where we are right now,” he said.
LeJeune was a proponent of an independent school system and was disappointed in the outcome.
“I understand what happened and how things worked and we move on and work on the next thing that comes up for the betterment of our citizens,” LeJeune said.
Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler said he believes the study helped reveal the good job the county system is already doing.
“Just as we respected the study by Daphne, we respect the decision by the City of Daphne to stay with the Baldwin County Public School System,” Tyler said. “Their study identified the quality schools within our area and the strengths of staying together.”
Daphne’s next step is to appoint members to an Education Advisory Committee which Davis said will work with the county to identify and fund needs in the Daphne feeder pattern. Council President Tommy Conaway said citizens interested in serving on the committee should send resumes to the city clerk by Dec. 4. She said the panel will have one representative from each of the seven city districts and Mayor Dane Haygood will select two members for the committee for a total of nine.
“The idea is to have a streamlined process where we can identify areas where we can help and not just put money in the general kitty,” Davis said. “Specifically sponsor programs that will make things better.”
He said the process will begin in earnest after the holidays and it will likely be a five-member board with council and county school board liaisons as well.
Tyler said the county system welcomes working with the city to improve education in Daphne.
“We look forward to strengthening our partnership with Daphne as we continue to build a better education system for Baldwin County while respecting the taxpayers who fund it,” Tyler said.