Alabaster forms new school district, other cities consider

Over the years, many cities in Alabama have broken away from county school systems and formed their own school districts. Alabaster, in Shelby County, is the latest to do so. Two other area cities are considering the same path.

School administrators say there are so many moving parts, such as setting up a new computer network and finalizing bus routes.

But Alabaster is starting from scratch July 1. That's when the new superintendent officially takes over, and Alabaster City Schools will be recognized as its own school district.

Principal Rachea Simms at Meadow View Elementary has her hands full. She's been holding leadership meetings with her staff and taking questions from parents, which are all part of the school transition.

"The anxiety that some people might have...primarily questioning, 'Will my children be able to attend the same schools based on zone questions,'" Simms.

Alabaster City Schools administrators say the zones will remain the same this upcoming school year. Simms says, beyond that, she and her staff are preparing all necessary paperwork, including consolidating school records.

Preparations are also underway at the central office. Dr. Wayne Vickers will take over as superintendent in July. Vickers is leaving his post as superintendent of Saraland City Schools to come to Alabaster. He knows what he's getting into. His district broke away from Mobile County schools four years ago. Vickers says he understands the challenges moving forward.

"You want the bus routes to run well, you want the academic program to not only be as good as what they've had, but you also want to make some improvements so that we don't have hiccups in the general operations," Vickers says.

Alabaster City Schools interim superintendent Dr. Phil Hammonds says the main issue is the budget. He and his staff are working to put it together by July 1. Hammonds says the new school district's main source of funding will be the city's one cent sales tax, which generates about $300,000 each month. Hammonds contends all spending will be conservative, especially starting out.

The city of Pelham is in the beginning stages of considering breaking away from the Shelby County Board of Education too. A feasibility study on the possibility of Pelham having its own school system should be ready for discussion in early June.

City leaders hired Ira Harvey, an educational consultant in Birmingham to conduct the study. Harvey has done several others. He expects to complete Pelham's on May 31st.

Focus @ 4 recently got this "What's up with That?" question on our Facebook page from Brad Rodrigues. He asked: "Is Gardendale really going to create their own school system? Will it actually be better?"

Focus @ 4 reporter Marissa Mitchell says they certainly can't judge whether it would be better academically but a study finds Gardendale is in a really good financial situation to make this happen if that's what the citizens want.

Here's what Ira Harvey, the consultant, who crunched the numbers says.

"They come out in a very advantageous position on revenues and in terms of the debt that may accompany school sites in the school system for the new Gardendale school system. There is extreme low debt when it comes to buildings," Harvey says.

A lot of points in favor of Gardendale being able to afford its own school district...perhaps the most powerful one is that the city would keep almost $6 million from ad valorem taxes, taxes based on property, that would transfer from Jefferson County Schools.