With one councilor calling a proposed feasibility study for alternative funding sources in Fairhope’s schools a “complete waste” and another saying its $80,000 price tag is too costly, a majority of the city council decided it wasn’t even worth a vote on Monday.
Councilwoman Diana Brewer and the city’s Education Advisory Committee sought approval of an $80,000 contract with Spanish Fort-based Akribos Consulting Group to perform the study, but her motion at Monday’s council meeting was met with silence from councilors Jack Burrell, Kevin Boone and Mike Ford. Rich Mueller was not present.
“We don’t bat an eye at budgeting $35,000 for an engineering study for baseball fields, and we approved another $35,000 for the Senior Bowl,” Brewer said. “We passed those without question. We don’t bat an eye at spending those funds, but funds for something as important as education and we go around and around. I’m really troubled we can’t move this forward.”
In the last four years, the city council has contributed more than $1 million to Fairhope’s schools through allocations to the EAC. It budgeted another $345,000 for the 2015-16 school year.
Akribos was picked by the EAC and approved by the city council to perform a study which would consider three funding options for the city’s feeder pattern schools. The study would consider the ramifications of keeping funding at the same level it is now, creating a special tax district for Fairhope within the BCPSS system or creating a city-run independent school system.
This year the city budgeted $40,000 for the study and councilors expected Mayor Tim Kant’s negotiations with Akribos to fall in the $35,000 to $50,000 range. The study would be funded with a portion of the EAC’s yearly appropriation.
“I am not opposed to this study and I appreciate the EAC, but we budgeted $40,000 and I think $80,000 is too much,” Burrell said, allowing that he could support a renegotiated contract with a lower price tag. “Had the EAC come to us and said this was going to cost $80,000 it would never have made it into the budget.”
According to Akribos president and former BCPSS superintendent Faron Hollinger, the firm’s proposal could be broken into separate studies for each option with an approximate cost of $50,000 each.
Boone signaled he won’t support any educational study regardless of price.
“I am against any study that has anything to do with an independent school system,” Boone said. “I don’t think Fairhope wants an independent school system and any money you put out for this is a complete waste.”
At the same meeting, the council approved a $304,500 expenditure of alcohol and tobacco tax funds to purchase 70 golf carts for the municipal golf course at Quail Creek. Burrell defended the purchase, saying it represented a cost savings for the city versus leasing the equipment and the golf carts would produce revenue at the course.