Gulf Shores City Council votes to break from Baldwin County School System
No citizen vote necessary, as city plans to use surplus funds, not a tax increase, to fund it
By Fran Thompson
As expected, Gulf Shores City Council voted on Oct. 9 to form its own school system. According to John Sharp’s report that evening on al.com, applications to become a member of the five-person board will be available on Oct. 16. The new school board, appointed by City Council, will be in place and tasked with hiring a superintendent in November.
“It’s unchartered territory,” said Angie Swiger, a Gulf Shores resident and a member of the seven-member Baldwin County School Board.
Swiger voted against funding a new middle school for her own constituency in Orange Beach last month. The Baldwin County School Board voted 5-2 to approve the new middle school. Scheduled to open in August of 2019, the building can now be used for that city’s high school students.
The new Orange Beach school would have allowed the overcrowded Gulf Shores Elementary School to utilize the adjacent Gulf Shores Middle School building and alleviate what everyone agrees is a case of severe overcrowding at GSES. The elementary school currently uses 11 portable trailers as makeshift classrooms.
Gulf Shores will not increase taxes to fund its school system, so a citizens’ vote for approval is not necessary. Instead, the city will dip into its surplus funds to pay for its schools.
Gulf Shores residents have overwhelmingly rejected all votes for increased taxes to pay for K-12 education in the past.
“At some point, when we need a new high school, and that is a ways down the road, it may need another vote,” said G.S. Mayor Craft in Al.com. “But we believe with our project growth and management of money, we have enough to meet our short-term needs.
“With city schools, once they get established, the vote is much easier to pass. We are going to prove we can be better and offer something more significant for our kids.”
Funding for new school buildings was overwhelming shot down by voters throughout Baldwin County in a 2015 countywide referendum, as was an earlier referendum to form a joint Island School System with Orange Beach.
Baldwin County School District Superintendent Eddie Tyler questioned the numbers from a study the city commissioned from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.
“Had they come out with a plan to be the best funded, best staffed system in Alabama, then I would be applauding them and excited for what they can do, but that is not what they have shown,” Tyler said in a statement. “While I have hope, and I wish them well, I am also concerned for these families and their future education.”
The Gulf Shores City Council said from the start of the breakaway school system campaign that the push for a new school system would have to come from its citizens. Apparently the $12,000 raised by the Island Education Task Force to help fund the PARCA study and a city council chamber full of parents in favor of the breakaway was deemed such a mandate.
“We are seeing growth in all of our academic sectors. Our teachers are excited and signing up for additional professional development,’’ said Tyler. “Our graduation rates and our college scholarship awards are higher than they have ever been. Our funding has stabilized and we have more construction underway now than we have had in the preceding 10 years combined. Though we wish Gulf Shores well, we are excited at the opportunity to have more time to focus on the remaining feeder patterns in Baldwin County.’’