Gulf Shores School Board President Kevin Corcoran realizes it will take time to finalize a split between his board and the Baldwin County Board of Education.
But he firmly believes it can be accomplished in time for Gulf Shores to open for the first time for the 2018-19 school year.
“Satsuma hired a superintendent as their first employee and 43 days later opened school,” Corcoran said.
The county’s desire to delay the split until the 2019-20 session is one of two emerging contentious issues as the sides met for the first time on Jan. 25 in Robertsdale. Another is the county’s stance they will not negotiate until Gulf Shores has hired a superintendent.
Corcoran said he asked Superintendent Eddie Tyler what he saw as obstacles to opening this fall rather than in fall of 2019.
“I asked Mr. Tyler to share his concerns as to why he thinks opening in 2018 was not doable or practical and maybe we can address them,” Corcoran said. “He said he was not prepared to share any of that, he was just there to listen.”
A county press release issued Jan. 24 quoted state law as saying the “Superintendent must approve in writing all contracts of whatever kind entered into by the city board of education.”
The press release itself led to a surprise, Corcoran said: The media showed up, something the Gulf Shores team was not expecting.
“It certainly wasn’t our intention, but it was Eddie’s intention, obviously,” Corcoran said. “We did not anticipate it to be open and we expect negotiations to be candid. But their attorney afterward said ‘boy, I don’t know how all the press got here.’ Maybe it’s because the superintendent released a press release to the press announcing the date and time and location of the meeting.”
On the superintendent issue, the county’s press release cited the school separations of Satsuma and Pike Road, both of which the release contends later hired superintendents who had been involved as consultants in the negotiations.
Not so, Corcoran said.
“It turns out that our team lawyer, Bob Campbell, wrote the Satsuma negotiation agreement,” Corcoran said. “He said, ‘here it is. There was no superintendent in place and no superintendent signed.’ It was signed by Paul Sousa, educational consultant. Their lawyer said, ‘who went on to be superintendent of Satsuma,’ meaning Sousa. No, he did not. He was never a candidate. Dr. Joe Walters became superintendent of Satsuma.”
Pike Road’s first superintendent, Dr. Suzanne Freeman, who has since retired, is serving as a consultant for Gulf Shores during the negotiation process.
“Pike Road schools’ agreement was negotiated without a superintendent,” Freeman said. “Dr. Ed Richardson, who was the state superintendent at the time also, served as an education consultant for the Town of Pike Road. He and Pike Road legal counsel Doyle Fuller were the primary negotiators with Montgomery Public Schools. I was also a consultant to the Town of Pike Road, but my primary focus was on board training.”
She said after an interview process involving two other candidates she was hired as superintendent in February 2014, three months after the Pike Road separation agreement was signed.
Tyler was quoted in the press release as saying his team believes it would be illegal to sign an agreement without a Gulf Shores superintendent in place.
“We’ve said since the beginning that we would start negotiations when they had a board and a superintendent in place,” Tyler said. “Recent news articles have suggested that they intend to move forward without a superintendent and we have told them that we have a problem with this. Our lawyers and our consultants have told us that state law says only a superintendent can execute agreements, and without one we are not comfortable moving forward.”
Tyler also made a strong point in the release about not opening Gulf Shores City Schools until the 2019-20 season. The county plans to open the new Orange Beach grade 7-12 school to start that same term.
“We’ve got to get our construction done and they’ve got to identify improvements they want to make before school starts in 2019,” Tyler said. “We just need to get started talking because there is so much work to be done in just a year, from interviewing and hiring personnel to dealing with financial transfers and budgets.”
On Monday, Baldwin County Schools sent out an email about pre-K registration for the 2018-19 school year and included Gulf Shores Elementary as one of the zones where students are eligible for the program.
Corcoran was asked if he considered the county’s stance on having a superintendent hired before negotiations could start was a delaying tactic to push the opening of Gulf Shores schools back a year.
“I can’t figure out what other purpose it would serve,” Corcoran said. “It just made no sense. I’ve gotten calls from superintendents around the state today and they said ‘well that’s crazy. We did ours without a 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.