Having no money to spend is just one of the challenges ahead for the new Gulf Shores School Board and President Kevin Corcoran.
“We’ve got such a unique situation with the city because we need people to negotiate our settlement, but we have no money,” Corcoran said. “So, the city has to hire everybody but they report to us.”
The latest such hire happened at a special council meeting on Jan. 8. The Gulf Shores City Council voted to pay Suzanne Freeman, Ph.D., $35,000 to serve as an education consultant for the city during negotiations for a split settlement with the Baldwin County Board of Education.
“It’s strictly for the purpose of negotiating the separation,” Corcoran said. “She’s not a candidate for superintendent.”
Freeman brings a wealth of experience on school separations, having worked on three teams for city systems separating from county systems. She also worked for Criterion K12 when Daphne hired the firm to do a feasibility study. Daphne’s council voted down the second half of the study, ending that city’s effort to form a system.
“I helped start Trussville and I was superintendent there,” Freeman said. “I helped Pelham get started and was involved in negotiations with that. And I was the first superintendent of Pike Road Schools.
“I’ve done this a few times. They are all different but they all have some similarities. I have a little experience in this area.”
Both sides say they want negotiations to start as soon as possible. Gulf Shores wants to open its doors for the 2018-19 school year.
“That’s the last member of our team so our hope is we get started right away,” Corcoran said. “Superintendent Tyler has said that he wishes us the best and says it’s all about the children. We share that view so I expect it to go pretty smooth.”
On Jan. 12 Baldwin schools spokesman Terry Wilhite said ad hoc committee members from the school board haven’t been named yet for the county’s team, but the county hopes meetings can start before the end of January.
“The quicker the better, just so that they can both plan and move forward, both Gulf Shores and Baldwin County,” Freeman said. “I’ve allocated a day a week to come down and help them. Hopefully, in a few months, we’ll be done, maybe quicker, maybe longer. But the quicker the better.”
Corcoran said with the negotiation team finalized he and other board members will at the same time be searching for the system’s first superintendent.
“We plan to run a dual track and begin our search for a superintendent,” he said. “We’re just not going to be sitting back waiting for the finalization of the separation agreement. We’re going to run them in parallel.”
Other business ahead for the board includes reviewing two audits of the buildings the new system will take over. Latham and Associates conducted a general facility assessment on life expectancy, compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and inadequacies and concerns for each building. Terracon Consultants searched for the presence of asbestos, studied paint samples and did a mold assessment.
“I was told the earliest we would see it is the last week of January or the first few days of February,” Corcoran said. “They had asked for a month to complete their work and they were on site Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. We’re just chugging along. There’re so many things to do from website creation to central office and those types of things.”