After spending $49,000 on an academic audit from Akribos Consulting Group, the Fairhope City Council is trying to decide what it should do with the study’s results, which include the recommendation of more than $600,000 in new spending.
Akribos, a firm headed by former Baldwin County Public Schools System superintendent Faron Hollinger, recommended spending $600,000 for additional personnel and $80,000 for professional development for teachers and staff in the city’s BCPSS feeder pattern schools.
The City Council disburses $350,000 annually to the city’s five BCPSS feeder pattern schools. This week councilors wrestled with where to find funds to implement Akribos’ recommendations.
One source could be the school system’s special tax district plan to allow residents in its seven feeder patterns to approve 3 mills in property taxes with funds diverted to needs within each feeder pattern. In Fairhope, a 3 mill special tax district would generate $1.8 million per year and $26.7 million in bonding power.
BCPSS assistant superintendent Hope Zeanah said the plan would allow voters to approve a 1, 2 or 3 mill tax district. A 1 mill special tax would generate roughly $600,000. With approval from state legislators, the tax districts could be on an upcoming election ballot but officials said it is unlikely the measures would appear on this November’s presidential ballot.
According to a letter from Fairhope Education Advisory Committee chairman Kerry Flowers, a $290,000 home in Fairhope would see an increase of roughly $29 per year in property tax if a 3 mill special tax district is approved.
Council President Jack Burrell said he is concerned about the city being left on the hook for $600,000 in annual funding if the council approves the recommendations but voters later reject creation of a special tax district.
“I’m afraid that without a concrete source of permanent funding we’ll get left with it the very next year,” Burrell said.
Hollinger said the special tax districts would benefit feeder patterns where residents are committed to funding education. In Gulf Shores, feeder pattern schools stand to gain an additional $5.5 million per year and $79.5 million in bonding power.
Hollinger also said Fairhope could sign an “innovation contract” with the BCPSS that would allow it to develop feeder pattern-specific curriculum and areas of focus.
“One size will not fit all in Baldwin County,” Hollinger said. “This is by far one of the most culturally and economically diverse school systems I’ve ever seen. That makes it a real challenge to do a uniform program for everyone.”
Councilwoman Diana Brewer, the city’s EAC liaison, said with or without special tax district funds the City Council should commit to funding Fairhope schools above current levels.
“I would like for us to commit to being a ‘top 10’ school system,” Brewer said. “To do that we have to follow the Akribos recommendation and to do that, we have to find a permanent source of funding.”