Baldwin County Education Summit Recap

‘Building a Brighter Baldwin’ and ‘Hold Me Accountable’... My Notes on Making Our Schools Stronger.

Last week the mood was lively, proud and inspiring at the Daphne Civic Center as the crowd gave Robbie Owen, Baldwn County Board of Education Interim Superintendent, a standing ovation at introduction.  The videos created by the Baldwin County Education Coalition were professional, and poignant, yet brief.  The school data was presented in an organized fashion.  The headings I noted above represented the themes of the evening's meeting.  Each heading was on two different stickers handed out at the door – the first given to educators and the second given to residents and parents. The crowd was encouraged to join the online conversations using #buildbaldwinnow during the meeting.

Each “feeder pattern” represented by the crowd was introduced and each stood and cheered for their area; it was like a community-wide school system pep rally!  Bay Minette was very well represented (with Fairhope not as much due to the Lighting of the Trees downtown that same night).

Three videos were then presented. The first, Owen said, describes where we are now as a school system in our "Pursuit of Excellence"

  • We currently have over 30,000 students from over 30 countries in Baldwin County schools
  • Our county is highly progressive, especially in the use of technology.  We have the first virtual school in the state of AL right here in Baldwin County
  • Our graduation rates have increased from 74 to 80% in the most recent years
  • We have over 1,000 more students taking AP (Advanced Placement) courses, earning college credit, than we did in just 2012
  • The Aquaculture Science program at Fairhope High School shows students how to raise marine organisms and how to collect and analyze lab data about marine organisms in our local habitat
  • We are comprised of strong, proud communities that were established by diverse groups (Czechs in Silverhill, Germans in Foley, Italians in Daphne and Greeks in Malbis, for example)
  • It is our schools now that build our strong communities

“Strong Schools Build Strong Communities” -

  • Over half of our teachers in Baldwin County have at least their Master’s Degree
  • We are the 9th fastest growing county in the entire United States
  • The Baldwin County population is expected to reach 200,000 by the end of 2014, this year
  • Our job growth rate is at 30%
  • The quality of our school system is a major draw to new residents and employers. It is the cornerstone for employers as they consider their workforce
  • Schools today impact all of us in the next 10-15 years

Owen then introduced Video #3 with news for us all: The secret is Out! Baldwin County is a great place to live!  “Growing Pains in Baldwin County Schools” -

  • We have gained 3,569 students in Baldwin County since 2007
  • Foley Elementary was built in 2009 – brand new – to hold 1,200 students. Today - just 5 years later - they already are beyond capacity, with 1,390 students
  • There are currently 25% more students in Baldwin County than there were in 2004. This school year (2014-2015) there are 30,463 students enrolled.  There were 24,485 enrolled ten years ago in 2004
  • With additional students, there becomes a need for additional services and many additional rooms
  • The challenge of portable classrooms was described by one teacher interviewed on the video. "Inclement weather is our biggest challenge – having to go outside to the get to the classroom."  Also, the students feel disconnected from the other classes and students. Many stated that they feel like a "target," since they are outside of the security of the main building.  One young girl described her portable classroom, saying “It’s Loud!” 
  • 24 out of 45 of our schools are overcapacity right now
  • At Foley Elementary, a lunch is served every 5 seconds for 2 straight hours every day to students
  • At Spanish Fort High School, the class change times had to be increased from 3 to 5 minutes due to clogged hallways. This reduces their overall daily class time by 12-15 minutes per day

The Capital Plan 

The Baldwin County Board did not create their capital plan behind closed doors. It is not a product of 5-6 folks sitting in a room coming up with what they “think” the county will need.  It is a result of many meetings with community groups, parents and mayors in these towns.  The Capital Plan is for the whole of Baldwin County residents.

The Board knew they needed to make projections for their capital plan based on data.  The Board hired a nationally-recognized school growth consultant from Atlanta. His grandkids go to school in Arkansas, so he they figured he’d have the most objective data. They evaluated seven “feeder patterns” and looked at current data, projections for five years from now (2018-2019 school year) and 10 years from now during the 2023-2024 school year. 

Using slides, Russ Moore, the Assistant Superintendent, and Owen presented the data that can be seen here . First, they showed a county-wide Summary With No Capital Improvement Projects.  They showed the data in the form of a Capacity Issues Table.  The county wide capacity issues table showed that we currently have 1,818 classrooms in use in our County, and we currently require 1,883 classrooms.

They addressed the seven feeder patterns in ABC order last night, starting with Bay Minette:

1. Bay Minette 

  • The Bay Minette high school, properly named Baldwin County High School, doesn’t have any capacity issues currently.  However, they need a new BCHS Career Tech addition, as the students currently have to be bussed to these programs at other schools
  • They need a new Bay Minette Elementary School because the current building was constructed in 1921, was given a recent building quality grade of a “D” and these young kids have to walk in outdoor open-air hallways.  Owen made a reference to Forest Gump here, asking the crowd if they had seen the “sideways rain?”

2. Daphne

  • The Daphne feeder pattern has had a 19% growth increase in seven years. While the opening of Spanish Fort High School in 2008 helped Daphne High School, they are already short on classrooms
  • They will need 65 additional classrooms to handle the elementary students that they project within Daphne for the 2018-2019 school year
  • The next 3-5 year plan is for a new wing at Daphne High School. Fortunately, the land is already there. They also need to add a wing to Daphne Middle School as well as Daphne Elementary School.  Again, the land is already there for these additions and they are grateful
  • They see the need for a new Daphne Elementary school in the Belforest area.  Their plan includes a K-6 school there. In the long range planning, they mentioned they even see Belforest becoming a feeder pattern in and of itself

3. Fairhope

  • Fairhope Elementary School needs space.  Fairhope High School is the second largest school in our county with 1,469 enrolled, and they too need more space.  In the short term plan, the County needs to add a wing to Fairhope High School to remove seven portables, and also add a wing to Fairhope Middle School
  • The Capital Plan calls for them to renovate and re-open the K-1 Center in downtown Fairhope. They recognize this building has a lot historical significance and he outlined how the building had been used in the past.  He said they will keep the traditional building in the front part, but do away with the old buildings surrounding it.  They do already own a small bit of land there in downtown they can build on

4. Foley

  • Foley has had a 36% increase in the past 10 years.  That is an increase in 1,800 students.  They need 36 total new elementary classrooms alone, and they project 1,000 more students in the next 10 years
  • Foley Elementary School has the most elementary students in our system at 1,300  
  • The Board needed additional land, so they went to the neighbor next to the existing Elementary School. He has 13 acres, and when he listened to the school board describe their situation, he offered to sell his 13 acres to them for $1,000 per acre!  There were cheers and claps for Mr. Parker all around the room
  • Once they build, the Board plan is to divide the Foley Elementary student population into two K-6 elementary schools
  • Foley High School is the largest high school in Baldwin County. They plan on relieving Foley by expanding Elberta schools. The Elberta Elementary School would get an additional wing, going from being a K-3 school, to a K-6 school.  Elberta Middle and High School would go from a 4th through 8th grade school to a 7th through 12th grade school.  They already own land next to these schools, so it makes sense to expand Elberta.  They have space for athletic competition facilities there, as well
  • Expanding Elberta schools will relieve 450 students at Foley High School.  Then they plan to build a wing onto FHS because they project it will grow to 1,950-2,000 students within the next five years alone

5. Gulf Shores

  • Gulf Shores has seen an increase of 841 students in the past 10 years time.  That is a 40% increase
  • Gulf Shores Elementary is short 24 classrooms today, and there is no room for the portables!  The teachers and students there are "making it work," doing all they can to provide for the students despite the space constraints.  In five years, Gulf Shores Elementary will be short 48 classrooms by themselves. Russ Moore said, “if they don’t have space for 24 portables today, they surely won’t have space for another 48 classrooms in five years”
  • They have planned on making an addition to Orange Beach Elementary for 7th and 8th grades.  This would turn Orange Beach Elementary into a K-8 school.  The Orange Beach City Sportsplex has agreed to provide facilities for the athletic competitions.  That helps with those constraints there in a big way
  • Gulf Shores Middle School will then move into the old High School building
  • A new, state-of-the-art Gulf Shores High School is planned for north of the Beach Expressway.  This is part of the long-range capital plan and will serve the whole Baldwin Coastal area

6. Robertsdale

  • This feeder pattern has seen an 18% increase in the past 10 years, amounting to 711 students
  • Half of Elsanor school is in portables today.  Half!
  • They have looked into adding onto Robertsdale High School on Hwy 59.  Their cafeteria is too small and they need band practice facilities, as well.  They can build on top of the existing parking lot, and then would build a new parking lot on the field. They would then add a practice field for band practice facilities
  • Central Baldwin Middle School’s addition would replace six portables
  • Elsanor addition of 10 classrooms would replace seven portables

7. Spanish Fort

  • They knew beforehand that Spanish Fort had seen an increase in students.  It turns out that increase has been 71% in the past nine years.  That translates to 1,465 more students in the past 10 years in their schools.  There are 3,515 students currently enrolled in Spanish Fort schools
  • This year they added 20 classrooms to Rockwell Elementary School.  Next year, they are already going to need additional portables!  The data projection shows a need for 43 classrooms in the next nine years between Rockwell and Spanish Fort Elementary Schools
  • Spanish Fort High School was built with 47 classrooms and opened in 2008.  It was built to house 900 students.  In the next nine years, the student population will grow to over 1,700 students. They will go from needing 47 classrooms to 88 classrooms
  • 115 additional classrooms will be needed in nine years in this feeder pattern, according to projections
  • The possibility of a Spanish Fort High School addition was studied – the challenge is that of the topography/land.  As a result, they plan for a two-story addition and gymnasium, with the current gymnasium becoming more classroom space.  The band will also get a new practice field
  • Spanish Fort Elementary School needs renovations of it's older buildings on campus.  They also experience "sideways rain" there, as well. The plan includes squaring in the walls. 
  • The 3-5 year plan for Spanish Fort includes a new elementary school on Highway 31.  They have acquired 40 acres for this school

The Board outlined a long term plan (7-10 years) for a new feeder pattern called “The Golden Triangle.”  The Golden Triangle is land bordered by Highways 31 and 59 and I-10.  This feeder pattern would include the proposed elementary school, a proposed middle and a proposed high school.

County Wide Summary

  • Currently there are 100 portables in use today for classrooms in Baldwin County Schools
  • If the County goes on without any capital projects they will require 345 portables in five years and 447 portables in 10 years
  • Portables are not leased. Each portable costs the County $35,000.  The County would still need to spend about $17 million on portables even without capital projects
  • They have already been looking to cut spending on anything and everything they can

Funding the Capital Plan 

(Presented by John Wilson, Chief Finance Officer)

Baldwin County gets 12 mills of ad valorem (market value) property tax for education. How does that compare?  Here are some examples of counties we often compare ourselves to:

  • Mountain Brook: 52.9 mills
  • Hoover: 46 mills
  • Huntsville: 27.5 mills
  • Shelby County: 30 mills

At 12 mills we are less than half of nearly all other counties. Of the $42.2 million that the Board gets in, $36.8 million is restricted by the State as part of equity funding provisions.  So $5.3 million is what is available.

  • There has been a 22% decline in ad valorem revenue since 2008
  • In 2008 $1,128 per student was cut pre-recession
  • In all the United States, Alabama ranks #1 for per student cuts pre-recession
  • The 1% penny tax expires in May 2018.  It was intended to simply replace what was cut.  It doesn’t represent additional revenue
  • 518 locally funded staff are being funded via the penny tax.  That expense is $27,688,922 per month
  • When you multiply the $1,128 cut per student times the student count now (30,643) that means the County is getting $34.5 million less than it received in 2008
  • The current debt service being paid by Baldwin County lasts from now until 2037
  • The Board is currently paying for 2002 – 2010 projects
  • 2009 was the last time a new school was built

They had architects estimate what it would cost to address their needs:

  • 1-3 years: $130-140 million
  • 4-6 years: $60-70 million
  • 7-10 years: $150-160 million
  • TOTAL: $350 million

An 8 mill increase for Baldwin County schools would create a long term stable funding source that would generate bond capacity to borrow funds for capital projects.

An 8 mill increase would stay in Baldwin County.  Anything over 10 mills stays in the County and does not go to the State.

The Board would see to it that by law the revenue from an 8 mill increase would be exclusively and solely for education capital improvement and maintenance.

Baldwin County would collect a total of 20 mills.

 

What does that look like?  How could the Board reach the $350 million needed for capital projects?  They looked at for the average home value in Baldwin County, which is $184,900. So a homeowner for a home valued at $184,900 would see the following difference in property tax if the capital plan was implemented:

  • $148 per year, or $12 per month, $0.41 per day increase in property taxes
  • This would be an investment in our County to benefit all of our communities
  • It would mean no more unsafe portables
  • It would allow them to address the capital needs now before it becomes a problem for the future

The Baldwin County Education Capital Plan is outlined here.

The Baldwin County Board of Education has agreed on a resolution to request that the Baldwin County Commission hold an election in March 31, 2015.  The election would provide an opportunity for Baldwin County voters to vote on the expiring mills and additional mills needed to fund the capital plan.  The resolution can be seen here.  

You can watch the Baldwin County Education Summit video here.

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