PHOTOS BY JOHN MULLEN
After more than 11 months of formal negotiations between the Baldwin County Board of Education and the independent Gulf Shores Board of Education, they have a … proposal. Well, at least one proposal to resolve one of five unsettled issues.
Each board has 10 days to review a proposal on attendance questions for students living outside the city limits once the split formally takes place in 2019. That’s one of the five remaining unsettled issues between the parties.
On “January 10th of 2018 we started separation talks with the Baldwin County Board of Education … 342 days ago,” Gulf Shores School Board President Kevin Corcoran said. “We’re not the first school system to split from a county system. We are the 71st.”
Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler defended the delay, saying each negotiation is unique and this is the first time it has happened in Baldwin County.
“It’s new to Baldwin County, it’s new to Gulf Shores regardless of what other systems may have done and how they’ve broken off and formed four or five or six city systems in a county,” Tyler said. “This is new to Baldwin County. [We’re] trying to navigate that and navigate it in a way that both systems have integrity and go forward from here. “
The other four issues — likely the most contentious — are personnel, taxes, start date and startup cost, Tyler said during a 1 p.m. news conference today. Gulf Shores held its own news conference 90 minutes later. Both teams were reporting on negotiations with State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey in Montgomery on Dec. 17.
It was widely reported Mackey wanted the separation agreement in place before the end of the current school term. With the term at end, there is no agreement on any of the five issues Mackey must rule on.“There’s a lot left to do,” Tyler said. “A whole lot left to do. You’ve got transportation issues, you’ve got facility issues. When I say issues, I mean issues to discuss to see how the transition happens. This will consume a large part of the second half of this school year between the two systems and getting all this worked out.”
Corcoran said his team was instructed not to talk about the four remaining issues of separation but address only the attendance policy.
“Dr. Mackey made it very clear yesterday that we only discuss student attendance and we’re going to adhere to that request,” Corcoran said.
One of those is a disagreement on the start date with one team wanting the first official day to be July 1 and the other June 1. Neither stated which one they favored.
“That’s been talked about but it’s attached with other things so we’re waiting on [Mackey] to give us his thoughts on the start date which is attached to other things,” Tyler said. “Once he makes the determination on some other recommendations then that start date will kick in and he’ll announce that, too.”
Each of the school boards will receive a formal letter from Mackey and have 10 days to comment on it and suggest changes to it.
“We understand there’s a 10-working day time period to respond to Dr. Mackey’s proposal but I want all of you to understand that our board is prepared to move forward immediately and signing a separation agreement when it’s ready,” Gulf Shores Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin said.
In Mackey’s proposal, students who will be juniors and seniors in the 2019-20 school year who live outside Gulf Shores will finish at the school, Tyler said. Those entering the 10th grade for the same school year will have the option of attending Gulf Shores or in Orange Beach.
The county’s new $26 million Orange Beach Middle/High school will not be ready until June of 2020 so 7th through 10th grades – 10th graders who choose Orange Beach – will attend classes in a portable village on the campus of and across the street from Orange Beach Elementary. These will include K through 9th-grade students from Fort Morgan who currently attend classes in Gulf Shores.