Orange Beach puts dollars behind commitment to make its schools top notch
By John Mullen
Educational opportunities continue to grow in Orange Beach and the city council continues to provide a helping hand with programs for the local school which is part of the Baldwin County system.
During the May 15 meeting, the council voted to give Orange Beach Elementary School $54,500 to expand its Guided Reading Program. During the same meeting, the council also voted to spend $175,000 to fund the city’s free afterschool program Expect Excellence through the end of the year. That program provides tutoring, athletics and instruction in more than 20 fields at the Recreation Center.
Both actions come on the heels of a groundbreaking for the new seventh-through-12th-grade school on Canal Road in Orange Beach on May 11. The city donated 40 acres the city says is valued at $5 million to the Baldwin County Board of Education.
Mayor Tony Kennon said its all a part of the city’s ongoing commitment to make Orange Beach schools top notch. He was ready to move forward immediately on the reading program, one he hadn’t known about.
The Guided Reading initiative began in 2016 by the Baldwin County School Board as a District-wide literacy initiative. The district has provided all start-up materials and provided multiple, intensive professional development opportunities for teachers, according to Orange Beach Elementary Reading Specialist and Curriculum Coach Jeannine Noonan.
The Baldwin County School board continues to support the initiative, which is an integral part to the district’s current four-part academic plan. The district continues to train more teachers each year and data indicates high levels of student success due to the initiative, Noonan said.
“I don’t want anybody to have anything we don’t,” Kennon told teachers and school officials in the audience. “The fact I just found out we don’t have this bothers me because there is no reason for anyone to have a leg up on our kids anywhere. I did not know we didn’t have this so I apologize.”
Kennon told the school officials to come forward with any needs at the school and he and council members would try to address them.
“I’m giving you permission to call us and say ‘mayor we haven’t got the money for this,’” Kennon said. “We need to know what we need in our schools because we’ll make up the difference. I think this council is committed to doing it. We can debate whether or not we need to do it but every minute we debate the kids lose out.”
Councilwoman Annette Mitchell, also chair of the Finance Committee, pointed out the city budgets $100,000 a year for education need. This year $15,500 is going to the summer program for the Sea, Sand and Stars Museum and another $50,000 is going to the Pre-K program at the school.
“So, if we fund this we will be over budget by $20,000,” Mitchell said.
“Only 20?” Kennon asked.
The total cost of the program expansion is about $70,000, principal Ryan Moss said. The Baldwin Coastal Educational Enrichment Foundation, a part of the Baldwin County Education Coalition, contributed $5,000, the school provided $5,000 from its budget, $2,000 was raised at the Kids Win Fishing Tournament and a PTO Kickball Tournament raised $3,500. That left the program short $54,500 which the council quickly approved on a 5-0 vote.
OBES Reading Specialist and Curriculum Coach Jeannine Noonan said the program was a great success during the first year or 2016-17 school year.
“We have 10 teachers who have been trained and approximately 70 percent of the students in their classes met their end of the year growth gains in reading in our end of the year accountability testing,” Noonan said. “With the materials, we are getting through this program we are getting exactly what children need and that’s how we make so much progress so quickly I think. It’s based on individual student needs and most importantly it helps students understand the pleasure and the power of reading without the stress of learning.”
In the past few years the council has spent money for a Pre-K playground, security upgrades including panic buttons and cameras, funding for the Leader In Me program at just under $150,000, three years of funding for the summer program at Sea, Sand and Stars at about $15,000 a year, the afterschool program and the recent land donation for the new school. Additionally, the council provided $10,000 toward the coast of a $30,000 new driver’s ed technology at Gulf Shores High School.
The council also declared several items as surplus and will sell those at govdeals.com. Included is the vintage fishing boat, Sea Duster, which the city hoped to refurbish as the city yacht.
“It’s just sad,” City Administrator Ken Grimes said. “We truly wanted to preserve a true piece of Orange Beach history but sometimes the odds are against you.’’
The city recently agreed to pay $6,500 for the boat from Earl Callaway with plans to refurbish the custom 1935 vessel built on Terry Cove as a charter fishing boat for Rufus Walker.
“As we worked with Resmondo Boat Works and got into the hull the extensive rot and decay on the 82-year-old vessel is just too much to repair,” Grimes said. “It would require major rebuild from the ground up and just can’t be seaworthy again.
“The wood was so soft and deteriorated that we don’t believe it can be lifted by a crane either to put on a trailer without major stabilization.”
Other surplus items include two vehicles, a 2000 Ford Crown Victoria and a 1994 Chevy C1500 pickup truck, a track hoe, a harrow and nine scoreboards from the parks and recreation department. Office items available include a scanner, a combination scanner/copier/printer and a folding machine.
Also, during the meetings, the council:
• Approved a special liquor license for Gilbey’s for the weekend ball drop event on Friday, May 25 to kick off the Memorial Day weekend at The Wharf.
• Authorized spending $25,000 for a commercial grade walk-in cooler for the food bank at the Christian Service Center in Gulf Shores.
• Authorized paying Harbor Communications $3,820 to connect fiber to the Medical Arts Building.
• Discussed paying Thompson Consulting Services $7,500 to update the City’s Disaster Debris Management Plan.