Growing trend: Alabama cities forming own school systems

There is a growing trend in education across our area. A number of cities are breaking away from their county school systems and forming their own. The latest city to consider a split is Pelham.

Pelham will hold the first of several public hearings Monday night on its feasibility study.

"We have an opportunity, if we are able to make the commitment to our schools to do things they are not in position to do," Pelham City Council President Rick Hayes says.

Hayes says, if the city breaks away from Shelby County, it can use the money to improve test scores and support newer facilities.

"The schools that have been built have been built outside of our area," Hayes says.

But can Pelham afford the split like its neighbor Alabaster?

"I predict that their outcome would be very similar to that of Alabaster," Ira Harvey says.

Birmingham-based consultant Ira Harvey conducted the feasibility study. The results determine whether a city's tax base can support a separate school system. Harvey says{}two reasons for the growing trend{}are population growth and voters' willingness to support possible tax hikes, if the money goes directly to their schools.

"Cities are a little bit different in that because they have greater flexibility for the types of taxes and the purposes they can be levied," Harvey says.

Dr. Stephen Nowlin--superintendent of Jefferson County Schools--worries about Gardendale's potential departure from the county. The city just conducted a feasibility study, which found it can support its own school district. Nowlin says affording it and sustaining it are two different things.

"I think sometimes the local control matters more," Nowlin says.

Plus, he says the break could hurt the county, which is already cash-strapped.

"We've lost about $4 million annually from the state each year{}for transportation funding," Nowlin says.

Hayes says he has heard concerns as well. But he is waiting on the feasibility study's results.

"Let's understand the details. Let's look at what our options are," Hayes says.

Shelby County Spokesperson Cindy Warner says superintendent Randy Fuller won't release a statement until after hearing the results of the Pelham study. He, contends, however the County has been cooperative with Alabaster's transition.