Councilman Palmore floats idea of new middle school for Anniston
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Oct 27, 2011 | 4094 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston Board of Education members, surprised by Councilman Herbert Palmore’s proposal that the city build a new middle school on the high school grounds in return for ownership of the existing middle school, want more details, they said Wednesday.

At the end of the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Palmore announced a Ward Two meeting on Saturday at 10 a.m. to discuss the proposal with his constituents. He said he wanted community input about the proposal.

“We’ll cooperate with them and get them a middle school,” Palmore said after the meeting. “In exchange, we’ll get the area to develop economically.”

According to Palmore, the city can take out a bond to finance construction of the new middle school and develop the current middle school property using a 1-cent sales tax increase to finance it. The property is located directly across Alabama 21 from McClellan’s Summerall Gate entrance.

The board members, though, say they don’t know the details and aren’t sure they can support the proposal.

They are looking out for what is in the best interest of the students and that may or may not be a new middle school, said board member Bill Robison.

Board Chairman Richard Hooks agreed. Hooks pointed out during the meeting that the system has many needs in both capital projects and programming. The system has suffered under funding cuts from the state and the high school has not made adequate yearly progress, according to federal standards, for six years. The board would like to be able to invest in intervention measures at the school, Superintendent Joan Frazier said.

“Funding is something that we’re going to have to consider from other sources to support the institution,” Frazier said.

Getting a piece of that 1-cent sales tax could help finance some of those measures, she said.

Although there has been some fleeting informal talk about the proposal, Palmore hasn’t given board members the details of the plan to allow them to even get started looking into it, they said. Robison suggested the City Council and the board members have a meeting to discuss the proposal to see if it is even feasible.

“Let’s not tippy-toe around,” said Robison, who was Anniston’s mayor when the current middle school was built in 1986 and opened in 1987. “Let’s save a lot of time and keep the rumor mill to a minimum and keep the citizens informed to a maximum as we go down that trail.”

There are a lot of steps down that trail. First, the board of education would have to approve a plan to close or consolidate a facility or facilities, Frazier said.

But even before that could happen, there would have to be public hearings and staff input, she said. Then there would have to be plan on where the displaced students would go, Frazier said.

After the comprehensive plan was approved by the board, the members would have to petition the Lee v. Macon attorneys, who review all school changes that might affect desegregation, she said.

Once all that was approved, the system would have to put the facility up for sale and determine a closing date, she said. Then the system would have to rezone the school system.

“You have to rezone to make sure the elementary schools were about even,” Frazier said. “You wouldn’t want 225 (students) in one and 460 in another.”

An out-of-balance school population is a problem the system already has, with two elementary schools falling below 200 students.

All of this has to be approved by attorneys and then, finally, the system would get to make the changes. Frazier estimated that, if the system started working toward the goal of closing the middle school tomorrow, the plan wouldn’t come to fruition for two years. The 2013-14 school year would be the earliest term that could operate under such an arrangement.

The system does need to consolidate, Frazier said, for it has been experiencing declining enrollment for years. Enrollment dropped another 120 students this year, she said, more than it has in several years.

“We have got to consolidate facilities; there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “I do not want to wait until the state makes us do this and we can’t have any local discussions and proper decision-making opportunities.”

The board recognizes the need, but member William Hutchings said the City Council should not try to dictate how the school system consolidates.

There are a number of ideas the board members have tossed around to consolidate facilities and they have to decide what is the most financially feasible and what is best for the students, Hutchings said.

“It’s for the board of education to decide for the kids, not no politician,” Hutchings said.

However, he does believe the city should pass the sales tax. The city owes it to the students and the parents, Hutchings said.

“The school system should get the bulk of the money because for many years, they (the City Council) haven’t done anything,” Hutchings said.

The board members will discuss the issue further at a work session in early November. Hooks suggested writing a letter to the City Council with a prioritized list of the system’s needs. Frazier said she will suggest the system have the 24-year-old middle school building appraised by a commercial real estate appraiser.

If the system has to build a new school, she doesn’t know how it can do that and not get out of the building what it’s worth.

In other business, the board also discussed what measures the school system might be looking at to help it make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law. Federal regulations require that the system seek outside help because of its sixth year not making adequate progress. The board will discuss its options at the work session in November.

The board received some good news, however, from the review committee of AdvancED, an accrediting agency: The system will be recommended for accreditation.

AdvancED praised the system for the expertise of its principals, involvement of the parents and community partnerships. The system could improve, the agency said, if it would more precisely define its leadership roles, strengthen its internal communication and develop a single vision for the system.

AdvancED is an accrediting agency that serves the same purpose the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools once did.

Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.

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