TALLADEGA — The Talladega City School Board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to take another week to weigh its options on school consolidation before voting at a meeting called Monday at the former Northside Hal Henderson Elementary School.
The two dissenting votes came from council chair Sandra Beavers and council member Allison Edwards, who both said they were ready to vote on a recommendation from the superintendent. Quentin Read right away.
“We gave the community ample time to comment,” Beavers said. “We have to let the state know what we are going to do.”
Edwards agrees: “Everyone has had a chance to speak.”
Tuesday’s meeting was first convened as a working session to allow community members to air their thoughts and concerns. Only two community members actually registered in advance to speak on the board (for three minutes each), and when the room was reopened no one else volunteered to speak despite a large crowd.
Lee offered five consolidation options to the board, though he has yet to make a recommendation. As noted in a meeting last week, Lee said the first plan involved doing nothing.
The downside of this plan is that enrollment in the school system has been on a downward trend for years and doing nothing at this point could result in the loss of up to 20 publicly funded teaching jobs.
The second option would be to close Graham Elementary and RL Young Elementary and move students currently at those schools to Evelyn Houston and CL Salter Elementary. In this scenario, Lee said, the system would still lose two pre-K classes and eight to 15 teachers.
The next option would be to close Salter and consolidate those students to Young and Graham. This would save teaching positions, but would still cost the system a pre-K classroom and leave the system with a nearly new, empty gym that is still paid for.
The next option would be a system-wide reorganization of elementary schools, with Young housing all kindergarten and kindergarten classes; first, second and third graders would go to Salter and fourth to sixth graders would go to Houston. Graham would close as a school, but take over as the system’s central office.
This plan saves all pre-kindergarten classes but presents transportation challenges for parents with students in multiple schools.
The final option is to rezone all existing elementary schools and move special education programs back to their base schools rather than having them all in Graham, where they currently are.
Both speakers at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern about the possible closure of Graham Elementary.
Attorney Jon Adams said he had dated Graham himself and had two children who work in the system as educators.
He decried community leaders who do not send their own children to city schools, citing this as one of the factors behind declining enrollment in the system. He warned of community outcry if schools were closed or reorganized, and pointed out that Graham was established in 1909, Young around 1924, Salter around 1959 or around 1959. Houston was the newest and largest system school.
He began correcting underscores in math and science when his time ran out.
“I’m against everything that’s happening now,” Adams said. “You need to file this and let more people talk.”
The other speaker, Jennifer Pinson, said she had been a teacher in the municipal system for 14 years and currently teaches at Graham.
“For us, it’s not just a building. It’s like our family, it’s our home away from home,” she said. 100 years of history there. Yet we’ve also had plenty of updates over the past few years, including a new gym, voice system, and new lobby.
“And,” she added, “it’s been a tough few years. I would like you to consider this too.
Lee was sympathetic, but added that he had been studying the issue since before he even began his term as superintendent in July.
“We all agree that we want our kids to have the best,” Lee said. “All these proposals come with challenges. At the moment, we have classes with 29 or 30 students and other classes of the same level with maybe ten. We have some schools with only one class at one grade level. We have improvement programs, but we must work to take these programs to the next level. Since I arrived here on July 1, all decisions have been made with boys and girls in mind. They deserve the best, they deserve the best, they deserve the best.
He went on to explain that if any action was to be taken to preserve teaching jobs this year, the state council should be informed by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the system continues to face other unexpected problems, including the recent theft of a catalytic converter from a school bus, which will cost about $5,000 to replace. Upgrading the security system could cost around $3,000 more.
The system is also slated for state compliance monitoring next week, Lee said. “The longer we wait, the quicker we have to act,” Lee said.
Board member James Braswell, along with Chuck Roberts and Jake Montgomery, said the board should stick to the earlier commitment to let Tuesday’s meeting be reserved for public comment and consider the options further next week.
“It’s something we’ve needed to do since 2007,” Braswell said.
—Unanimously approved a resolution condemning the Parents Choice Act of 2022 in sometimes scathing terms. The bill, which would divert money from the education trust fund to private and parochial schools and homeschoolers. The bill has already passed the state Senate and is up for a vote in the House.
—Heard Lee congratulates the Talladega High School girls’ basketball team.
—Announced an e-learning day on Friday.