The Fairhope Education Advisory Committee (EAC) selected Spanish Fort-based Akribos Consulting Group as its preferred firm to conduct a feasibility study for an independent school system. The EAC plans to present its recommendation to the Fairhope City Council at a work session as early as Dec. 28.
Akribos was one of two bids the EAC received for the study, which it hopes will give the city guidance about supplemental funding options for the city’s feeder pattern schools. Tallahassee, Florida-based Evergreen Solutions was the other finalist for the study. Akribos Consulting Group’s president is former Baldwin County superintendent Dr. Faron Hollinger, who held the superintendent’s job from 2002-2010.
According to the firm’s presentation to the EAC, Hollinger will be part of a project team which includes former Deputy State Superintendent Ruth Ash, former Trussville City Schools administrator Pat Hodge, former Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama director Jim Williams, education policy analyst Gene Murphree and facility planning specialist Stephen Salmon. Former Baldwin County Board of Education representative Bob Callahan also works for the company but is not listed as part of the Fairhope project team.
According to its presentation, the Akribos study will consider the academic, financial and community culture ramifications if the current governing structure of Fairhope schools is unchanged, if a special tax district raises millage levels in Fairhope to dedicate to the city’s feeder pattern schools and if the city forms its own independent school district.
Fairhope EAC chairman Kerry Flowers said knowledge of Baldwin County school funding issues gave Akribos the edge over Evergreen Solutions, which has performed studies with public sector clients in 43 states but just one – a Tuscaloosa schools payroll study – in Alabama. Flowers acknowledged that Akribos employees’ connections to the Baldwin County Public Schools System could be a “double-edged sword.”
“There is no doubt Akribos is the better candidate because of their expertise in education financing, but I do think it could be a double-edged sword,” Flowers said. “On the one hand, they certainly have a high level of credibility with the school system, but on the other hand they do have that history. We have to make sure the study looks at all three options in great detail.”
The study will seek to identify the top 10 school systems based on ACT Aspire assessments in reading, math and science for grades 3-8, college readiness and compare the results to those from Fairhope’s five feeder pattern schools. It will seek to identify the possibility of Fairhope schools reaching “top 10” status with each funding scenario.
Flowers said the EAC had hoped the study would be finished ahead of the March 2016 presidential primary, when the county’s millage level renewals will appear on the ballot. He said realistically the study may not be finished until the spring.
Upon hearing the recommendation at a future work session, the City Council can choose to place the selection on a council meeting agenda or table it. At Wednesday’s meeting, the only councilperson present was Diana Brewer, the council’s liaison to the EAC. Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler was present for presentations from both firms.
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