Editorial: Knowing when to say no — Anniston’s decision to back off middle-school deal makes fiscal sense
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 06, 2014 | 2315 views |  0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City officials recently decided they will not make an offer to purchase Anniston Middle School, disrupting the Board of Education's reorganization plan for the district. Photo by Joey D'Anna.
City officials recently decided they will not make an offer to purchase Anniston Middle School, disrupting the Board of Education's reorganization plan for the district. Photo by Joey D'Anna.
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Mayor Vaughn Stewart and the city of Anniston have big plans for retail development. That they’re not willing to overspend on those plans is a decision residents should support.

Late last month, the city told the Anniston Board of Education that it no longer was considering buying the Anniston Middle School property on Alabama 21. It was, according to City Manager Brian Johnson, a matter of economics, not education — a price tag (an estimated $6 million just for site preparation) too high for the city’s fiscal health.

Call it what it is — a seismic shift in the city’s plans, the education board’s reorganization plans and the future of the city’s middle-school students. Among those factors, everything affects everything.

This editorial board still believes closing the middle school as part of a system-wide reorganization makes sense for Board of Education. The land on which the school sits remains valuable and should be attractive to developers, especially when Veterans Memorial Parkway is completed in 2015. Anniston, meanwhile, still has too many schools and too few students, and the city’s decision doesn’t solve the school system’s under-populated campuses, including the middle school.

Nevertheless, we applaud Stewart, Johnson and the City Council for including fiscal prudence in their plans for widely expanding the city’s retail-development efforts. Residents who voted largely in favor of competence in 2012 should welcome such logical and practical thinking.

That said, the school board is in a pickle. Today it sits in the same position both it and its preceding board has for some time — that is, not within sniffing distance of a resolution to a decades-old problem. History shows that multiple school boards have voted on the school’s future only to have a change in plans or weak leadership get in the way. Several current board members have told The Star there now is no reason to close Anniston Middle School, and that the board will need to develop a new consolidation plan that only includes the city’s elementary schools.

This winter, Annistonians wait to see if the school board proves feckless (and unable to smartly navigate through this process) or efficient (and able to devise a doable consolidation plan).

As for Anniston Middle School property, we’re disappointed that it no longer is on the city’s wish list. But that doesn’t soften our support for City Hall’s smart decision.
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