The city of Fairhope will spend $49,000 on a study designed to explore educational issues and funding alternatives within its five Baldwin County school system feeder pattern schools, but it won’t pay for something some on the City Council say the city doesn’t want anyway.
That is, consideration of a city-run, independent school system.
“I have no interest in a city school system, none whatsoever, and I don’t think this council does,” Councilman Kevin Boone said. “We don’t want to run a school and the city doesn’t want to provide one. But educating our children is one of this council’s top priorities.”
The city will pay Spanish Fort-based Akribos Consulting Group $49,000 to perform what Fairhope Education Advisory Committee chairman Kerry Flowers said amounts to an academic audit of the schools in the city.
“I think you will find the data that comes from it will enlighten us on how to spend the city’s money going forward,” Flowers said. “The purpose is more in line with conducting an academic audit. We’ve never had a third party that can distill some of the ambiguous information about the system and pare it down so we can compare it with others in the state. This study will do that.”
An $80,000 proposal from the same group was rejected by the Fairhope City Council at a previous meeting for being too costly. That version included an investigation into what it would cost the city to start up and run an independent school system.
With the scaled-back version, Akribos will analyze data, interview personnel and identify ways in which the city can compare the Baldwin County schools located in Fairhope compare to the “top 10” schools in the state.
Boone said the community spoke loud and clear when voters rejected the county’s push for additional property taxes to fund a Baldwin County schools capital campaign in March of 2015.
“The only way to get more money to give to a city school system is to tax the citizens more,” Boone said. “The citizens have already said they don’t approve of an additional 5 mills, and it would take far more than that to have a city-run system.”
Currently, the EAC disburses $350,000 in annual community development grants among the city’s schools. Without the possibility of an independent school system, Councilwoman Diana Brewer hopes the study will give the EAC guidance on how to better distribute the funds. Brewer, the council’s EAC liaison, called the scaled-back study a “wonderful compromise.”
“I hope the study gives us the information that will allow the community to weigh in on what they want from our schools,” she said. “We have to be open minded about it. I’m not sure we can really say what it is that all of our citizens want, because we haven’t given the community the information they need to make an informed decision.”