Baldwin County Board of Education President Norm Moore stepped down from his position as president at the board’s special called meeting June 4. Vice President Shannon Cauley, Spanish Fort’s district 7 representative, was unanimously selected to replace Moore, and Angie Swiger was voted to become the next vice president.
Moore had presided over the school board since November 2012. At an April 30 joint meeting of the Baldwin County Commission and the Baldwin County Board of Education, several members of the public called for Moore’s resignation, citing his role in the failed “Build Baldwin Now” push for higher property taxes to fund school construction.
In a letter he submitted to the board, Moore cited personal reasons for his decision to step down. Moore said he planned to serve the rest of his term, which ends in 2016, as a representative on the board.
Moore’s resignation comes on the heels of the resignation of superintendent Robbie Owen, who exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to return to his previous job as principal at Rockwell Elementary School in Spanish Fort.
Owen originally planned to leave his job as superintendent at the end of June, but has said he would stay on to help the board find his permanent replacement. Previously, the board announced it would seek to have an interim superintendent in place by July 1.
On June 8, Cauley used the county’s School Messenger system to email a nine-question survey to parents asking for input on the search for the next superintendent.
Also at the June 4 meeting, Chief Financial Officer John Wilson said the school system would have a deficit of approximately $36 million if residents don’t approve two millage renewals on the ballot for primary elections in March and the penny sales tax is not renewed.
Meanwhile, members of Fairhope’s Education Advisory Committee (EAC) have discussed three options for the future of schools in Fairhope. Mayor Tim Kant has said he wants Fairhope’s schools to be in the “top 10” statewide.
The first option is to continue funding Fairhope schools at an annual expense of $350,000. The second option is to pursue a Fairhope city school system, and a third option is what is being called a “hybrid” option, where the EAC could contribute more money through the use of a special overlay school district that would allow it to provide additional funding. The hybrid option would require a voter referendum to approve a three-mill tax increase in the city.
In 2010 the city spent $25,000 to commission a study on the viability of a Fairhope school system from consultant Ira Harvey. Councilwoman Diana Brewer said at the June 8 work session if the city is interested in the EAC’s third option — a city school system — it should use a different consultant and should not pay $25,000 again, saying it could be done for much less.
Councilman Mike Ford asked Brewer why the city should consider raising taxes for schools when the county defeated the tax proposals in March.
“The people of Fairhope do want better schools, so we are saying, how are you going to do that? You can’t just keep saying that and not be willing to do something different,” Brewer said.
Ford said the purpose of the EAC was to create a city school system, which Brewer denied, saying the EAC supported the tax referendum.
The EAC will hold a special public meeting June 16 at 4:30 p.m. at the Fairhope Public Library to discuss how the funds it distributed during the previous school year have been spent.
“We want to see, not only are there any changes to the plan on how they are going to spend the money,” EAC member Cobby Witherington said. “But also, are they facing any challenges spending the money.”
Schools were given until Dec. 31 to spend the $350,000 given by the EAC.
“I think we need to be explicit. If [schools] need to spend this money in a manner different than what we authorized, this is the time to ask and justify and gain approval,” member Bob Riggs said.
The EAC has secured $350,000 annually for Fairhope schools since 2012. In the first year, the EAC divided the funds equally among the schools in the city without parameters. In the second year, funds were allocated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related projects.
For the 2015 school year, the EAC divided its $350,000 among 15 projects at the elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools in the city. Committee member Riggs was concerned that the funds may have been spread too thin.
“We have done this three years, and now we are looking at a fourth year,” Riggs said. “I would challenge us to be able to show where we have moved the needle in any direction.”
Riggs also asked whether the committee believes funds spent this year will spur momentum within the schools without additional money being allotted during the next five years.
“Do we believe the injection of the money one time will manifest itself and improve advanced placement and international baccalaureate scores?” Riggs asked.
Other efforts to create city school systems in Baldwin County have failed since 2006, when the Daphne City Council decided not to pursue its own system. In September, an effort to create an Orange Beach city school system by raising local property taxes by 5 mills failed.
The effort to push for a Daphne city school system was revived in April when Councilman Robin LeJeune announced his intentions to pursue a break from the county system. Councilman John Lake disagreed, citing the results of the March 31 referendum as evidence that residents did not want to pay higher taxes. Results from voting precincts in Daphne showed a 70-30 margin in favor of rejecting higher property taxes to fund construction in the county’s school system.