Two weeks ago a big hurdle presented itself to open split negotiations between Gulf Shores City Schools and the Baldwin County Board of Education. The county refused to even consider negotiations unless the new city system had a superintendent in place.

“We never deemed it a hurdle to begin with and we’re not concurring with their position,” Gulf Shores Board president Kevin Corcoran said.

But on Monday, the Gulf Shores School Board allayed county fears it would be going against state law by negotiating without a superintendent in place. In a specially called meeting on Feb. 5, Gulf Shores named Suzanne Freeman, Ph.D., as interim superintendent.

“This certainly alleviates that,” Corcoran said. “Although we don’t share that view, we don’t want to spend the weeks and months it would take to fight that scenario. By naming an interim superintendent we can move to the nuts and bolts of the negotiations.”

Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler said he hopes the city team next comes around to the county’s way of thinking on an opening date for Gulf Shores schools. The city board hopes to be up and running for the 2018-19 session but the county wants to wait another year.

“Now we must come to agreement on a realistic separation date — realistic being more than five months away,” Tyler said. “I believe that everyone is served better by us working in partnership with time and planning, as opposed to a rushed transition.”

Baldwin County is looking to build a new grades 7-12 school in Orange Beach with the opening date set for fall 2019. The county would also like to see the separation from Gulf Shores to begin in the same term.

The city of Orange Beach is donating land on Canal Road for the site of the new campus but has so far delayed transfer of the land to the county through several city council meetings. Tyler attended a meeting in Orange Beach on Feb. 1 announcing a new after-school program and told the crowd preliminary plans for the school are in the works.

“As superintendent, I must be confident that we are making decisions for what’s in the kids’ best interest and not ours nor the politicians,” Tyler said. “Schools in the area are overcrowded and I have nowhere to send 600 children. Since last year I have been clear that we would not have facilities available until next year, 2019. We stand committed to an official separation for next year.”

Gulf Shores didn’t have to go far to find Freeman, who is already leading the Gulf Shores negotiation team in her role as education consultant. Freeman has served as superintendent for two city breakaway systems, Trussville near Birmingham and Pike Road in Montgomery County.

“As one who has sat through hours and hours of meetings with Dr. Freeman at the helm, she is imminently qualified to negotiate this,” Corcoran said.

Gulf Shores School Board Attorney Bob Campbell said Freeman’s fee will remain the same, $35,000, but she will add her new title of interim superintendent.

(Photo | City of Gulf Shores) Gulf Shores School Board members, from left, are Kevin Corcoran, Kelly Walker, Nichole Gotschall, Dale Jernigan and Ralph Gold Jr.