Orange Beach completes split with Baldwin County Schools in just 12 weeks School Board names Randy Wilkes system’s first ever superintendent
Orange Beach City Schools Board of Education President Robert Stuart made an emotion-filled recommendation during the board’s June 7 special meeting to approve a contract for Randy Wilkes to serve as the new city school system’s first superintendent. It was unanimously approved by all members at the meeting. The teary-eyed motion was completely understandable as it was the culmination of 12 weeks of an unprecedently fast and intense process to guarantee separation from the Baldwin County Public School System on July 1. From the City Council’s vote to break away from the county system on March 15 to appointing board members on April 5 to Dr. Robbie Smith stepping up to serve as acting superintendent on April 12 to amazingly smooth negotiations with the county – leading to the final signing of the separation agreement on May 23, and finally to Wilkes signing his contract, the future continues to get brighter for Mako Nation thanks to countless hours of hard work and dedication to the children of Orange Beach. “There are many people to thank for making Orange Beach City Schools a reality so quickly,’’ said the Marc Anderson, the city’s special projects coordinator. Those people include Mayor Tony Kennon and City Council members Jeff Boyd, Annette Mitchell, Joni Blalock, Jeff Silvers and Jerry Johnson; school board members Stuart, Nelson Bauer, Shannon Robinson, Tracie Stark and Randy McKinney; acting superintendent Dr. Robbie Smith, school board attorney Nash Campbell and chief school financial officer Ford Handley; Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler, the Baldwin County school board; city staff and the Orange Beach community. After the school board’s unanimous vote, Wilkes shared the following: “Thank you so much, board members, for the trust and confidence that you are placing within me and really within this entire district. You are going to find that participatory leadership is my style. I like to gather a lot of input from all of the stakeholders so I look forward to meeting people and greeting people and getting things underway here. I also want to thank Dr. Smith. She has done a fantastic job. I’ve been able to talk to her several times, and I don’t know if you’re the type of people to give a round of applause, but I really think she deserves that this evening. “So thank you for what you’ve done and mayor, sir, and city council, I’ve been watching from a distance and I said to a certain realtor in town who is working with my family now currently. Two years ago, I said I’d love to be your superintendent one day. And very little did I know that I would be standing in front of you. “So for the vision to create this wonderful school system, kudos. And for the pace with which you did that and the rigor it’s taken to do that, I’m glad it’s fast paced. I really appreciate that guys. Congratulations. Thank you so much. “So I will just say a couple of things. You gave me a mic so I may just talk a little while. Cut the air off and I’m finished though. So keep the air going. “I want to just say that a priority with me, first and foremost, would be that of safety. I know that’s on the frontal lobe and Dr. Smith has a lot of great ideas and I know you guys have probably talked about that. But we are certainly going to incorporate that in everything that we do. “That’s first and foremost. After that every decision that we make will be based upon what’s best for students, what’s best for the children. “Second, we’re going to look at evidence, we’re going to look at best practices, and we’re going to look at research. And third, and I’ve learned in 33 years of being in education and 11-plus of being superintendent, the importance of being good stewards of the public’s money. So we will absolutely be frugal with what we do. It is a beautiful city because of the people, first and foremost, and there are tremendous resources here but I promise, mayor and city council, board, taxpayers, I will be absolutely frugal with what is given to us. And I’m just really, really excited; my family is. We look forward to coming down and getting involved in the very near future. … But, again, thank you so very much.” Wilkes will officially take the helm on July 1st but will serve as a consultant, working with the board and Dr. Smith, until that time. Stuart said Wilkes rose to the top of the candidate pool. “It was clear to us, after our interviews, that we had found our person and it’s only been confirmed to me through our discussions here in the last couple of days in talking with Dr. Smith,” Stuart said. “We are ready to make this happen. I call them ‘foxhole friends’ and I feel like we’re now all foxhole friends. We’re ready to go to battle for the kids of Orange Beach.” Wilkes comes from Phenix City Schools, where he served as superintendent since 2014. His resignation from Phenix City School will be effective June 30. Stuart said Wilkes led an effort that saw every Phenix City school STEAM certified during his tenure, and that was a major criteria the Orange Beach board was searching for. “When you go over his resume, it’s very impressive considering when he first came into Phenix City schools and where they wanted to grow, so when he left, all of his schools were STEAM-certified, which is huge, and that is one of the big items on our list that we wanted to see for that,” Stuart said. “It’s always easy to answer questions, the easy questions, the softball questions, but when we asked him some of the harder questions, it was seamless. His answers were seamless, and you could tell his passion and conviction and his answers just sold everyone.” Prior to Phenix City, Wilkes was superintendent of Crenshaw County Schools from 2011 to 2014. While Orange Beach is projected to have just over 1,000 students among its elementary school and middle/high school this coming year, Phenix City’s enrollment was 7,067 this past school year with its 13 schools, including one high school and a freshman academy. Wilkes earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree (mathematics and history education) from Troy State University in 1989. In 1993, he earned a Master of Science degree (mathematics education) from Troy. In 1996, he earned a Education Specialist degree in educational leadership from Auburn University of Montgomery. Additionally, from 2003 to 2010 Wilkes served as supervisor of Crenshaw County Public Schools in Luverne; from 1996 to 2003 he served as principal of Highland Home School in Highland Home and he served as assistant principal there from 1995 to 1996; from 1993 to 1995 he was a teacher at Luverne High School in Luverne, where he taught applied physics and physics, and was the defensive coordinator for the varsity football t eam. He also worked as an adjunct instructor at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Greenvill from 1993-95 and was an adjunct instructor at Faulkner University in Enterprise. From 1989 to 1993, he was a teacher at Charles Henderson Middle and High Schools in Troy, where he coached football and was the girl’s varsity basketball head coach. The public school boards of Orange Beach and Baldwin County reached a separation agreement last week that aims to have the emerging city board operating independently by July 1. The document, signed by both parties and awaiting the approval of State Superintendent Eric Mackey, stipulates provisions including the transfer of students, staff and facilities, while it also spells out Orange Beach’s funding distribution. The agreement recognizes the removal of certain county students from the city feeder pattern is not in the best interest of either party, and allows for the grandfathering of all students currently enrolled or pre-registered in Orange Beach as of July 1 to remain in the city system. Afterward, each board is expected to adopt an out-of-district attendance policy. Further, all students currently enrolled in the county’s South Baldwin Center for Technology and Aviation Center will be allowed to attend through graduation, while any Orange Beach student currently enrolled in an individualized education program (IEP) outside the city shall be allowed to continue for one year. For the conveyance of facilities, the city will pay the county board $32.4 million for Orange Beach middle and high schools as well as the Performing Arts Center. The elementary school will cost the city another $3.09 million, while the city will also assume some $2.5 million in debt service for recent improvements. All furniture, materials, equipment and supplies, including textbooks, will also be conveyed, but the county will retain all teacher and staff Apple MacBooks assigned to Orange Beach schools, and pay the city $600 each for their return. The State Department of Education is responsible for dividing school buses, and assures Orange Beach will receive an equitable pro rata share. The Orange Beach system will be largely funded by a 3 percent local lodging tax, but the agreement also sets terms for the division of countywide ad valorem taxes, sales and use taxes, and district ad valorem tax, as well as miscellaneous revenue such as from “Helping Schools” license plates, tobacco and alcohol sales, and registration fees for mobile homes. Mayor Tony Kennon said the city school board is still awaiting final funding guidance from the state, but because of the city’s high property values, it may not qualify for full funding from the Education Trust Fund. The initial investment of more than $30 million for the school buildings will be paid out of the city’s reserves, he added, while the City Council is contemplating a $50 million bond issue to shore up start-up costs. “We’ve worked hard over the last 10 years to get ourselves in a great financial position to do whatever we needed to do as far as the school system or any other capital projects we may come across,” Kennon said, adding the city’s reserves, before the purchase, are at nearly $100 million. “We’re looking at a lot of different angles, but the money is there. We made the commitment, we feel like it’s the right thing for our community and our kids, so we’re prepared.” Wilkes, who in 2019 was named Alabama Superintendent of the Year, was selected from 21 applicants, five of whom were interviewed for the position. “I’m 33 years in education now and I really feel like I’m at the apex and in my prime, so coming and starting just really made a lot of sense and a lot of things in the end just really fell into place for us,” Wilkes said. “Making sure that we work with the state department to make sure that the funding is secure that we’re supposed to be receiving here,” Wilkes said. “Also, making sure that we have people in place. We’ve got to look at our human resources department and make sure that every position is filled and then we’ll work on some other things. They’ve got a good start already on board policy and so forth, so really we are in the short rows already and getting ready for school.” Wilkes will receive a base salary of $260,000 a year. Pictured: School board member Shannon Robinson, Board President Robert Stuart, Superintendent Randy Wilkes, Board Secretary Tracie Stark, and Board Vice President Nelson Bauer.