Eddie Tyler says the Baldwin County Board of Education is negotiating from a position of strength in separation talks with the Gulf Shores Board of Education. The groups have met twice and have several more meetings scheduled as Gulf Shores works to become the first independent system to break away from the 30,500-student county system.
“We’re working real hard to not be the bully,” Tyler said in a report in the city of Orange Beach’s weekly newsletter Oct. 4. “No matter what we feel like is best for children, not only there but here, it’s going to be perceived by a lot that: ‘Well, it’s just because it’s what you want’; ‘You’re bigger’; ‘You’ve got deeper pockets’; ‘You’re going to push your weight around.’ Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth because we stated, from the beginning, it’s all about children.”
Tyler said it’s mostly been a “lawyerfest,” with legal representatives from both school boards and the state Department of Education on hand during negotiations.
“We felt good about it coming out, like I’m sure they felt good coming out, I’m sure, on some things,” Tyler said of the second separation meeting. “But nothing was decided other than to continue to move forward. There are more meetings coming up here real soon.”
Gulf Shores Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin said the two sides are communicating in between meetings — again, mostly through legal counsel.
“At this point nothing has formally been agreed on, but there’s been a lot of discussion in and out of meetings,” Akin said. “Most of that is attorney to attorney. We’ve talked through some things and we’ll make suggestions.”
Akin says inroads are being made in some areas but the sides are far apart on some of the bigger questions.
“There’re big issues — they’re all important issues — but there are some big issues that have sticking points and some small issues that I hope we can come to a pretty quick agreement on,” Akin said. “We were instructed ‘don’t report on it until it’s approved by the state superintendent.’”
In the Orange Beach newsletter Tyler said the county’s position on high school students living outside Gulf Shores finishing there is not a new stance.
“That’s our position and that’s been out there publicly, six to eight months, 10 months,” Tyler said. “If you’re going to be a rising sophomore and junior, you’re going to be a junior and senior next fall at Gulf Shores High School.”
An ambitious goal of getting the agreement in place was set for the end of October but that’s unlikely to happen. State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey, Akin said, wants an agreement in place before Christmas break.
“He’s been clear that his deadline from the first time we met was to have it done by the end of the first semester or the middle of December, basically,” Akin said. “I do firmly believe that Dr. Mackey’s not going to let us go home without something done by the end of the semester.”
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