You’ve probably received countless phone calls and emails lately, and heard more online and on the news of our ever-growing problem of over-crowding in our local Baldwin County schools. But do you really know the facts? Do you know what’s being done and/or proposed? This blog won’t try to sway you one way or another, but instead, give you a few facts that you possibly haven’t been made aware of yet. Sure, Baldwin County has friendly, southern hospitality and growing industry in our area (not to mention our perfect beaches!), but we must be able to accommodate our children in their daily quest for education. Let’s take a look before the March 31st vote…
According to www.BuildBaldwinNow.com, “Baldwin County is now the fastest growing county in the state. Nowhere is that fact more apparent than in our public schools – where enrollment has increased by 25% over the past 10 years.” That’s a growth of over 6,100 students since 2004. Sure, many of Baldwin County’s new residents since that time moved here for the simple fact that our schools have a reputation of being high quality. Some of those new residents came to us as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But the last facility to be built by the Baldwin County Board of Education (BCBE) was Fairhope Elementary School in 2010. Since that year, more than half of the schools in the BCBE have grown to exceed their own capacities, making over-crowding a challenge for students and teachers on a daily basis. Many now find portable classrooms their daily home, with over 100 temporary classooms located outside of the main school structures currently being used in the county.
Many new residents of Baldwin County, though, are often surprised to learn that “Baldwin County ranks 97th out of 136 school districts in the state in property tax millage collected for education. Add in massive, recession-driven cuts in state funds and the result has been a complete suspension.”
Here are some growth stats for you:
- Spanish Fort High School opened in 2005 and has seen a 71% enrollment increase
- Gulf Shores High School feeders of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan has seen a 40% increase
- The Foley High feeder areas of Elberta, Mifflin, Bon Secour, Magnolia Springs and Summerdale has seen a 36% increase
- Fairhope, Daphne and Robertsdale increased by approximately 20% during the said time period
- In Central Baldwin/Robertsdale area, nearly one-third of the entire growth occurred in the past year alone
- Bay Minette area schools are the only district to not experience growth in this time period
Students are suffering because of these numbers. Robertsdale High School Principal (and former Daphne High Assistant Principal) Joe Roh stated, "Our enrollment is up by nearly 200 this year. We’ve had to go to four lunch waves with the last one beginning (as late as) 1:15 pm. We can no longer have school-wide assemblies since everyone can’t fit into the gym at one time.”
BCBE is well known for being a technologically advanced school system, outfitting thousands of students across the county with MacBooks. But in such an advanced time, even technology is suffering because of the growth. Daphne East Elementary’s Principal Mark Doherty shockingly stated, ”Because of enrollment growth, we received an additional teacher unit a few weeks ago. To make room for the new class, we had to disassemble one of our computer labs.”
Marty McRae, principal at Spanish Fort High School explained the extended transition times between classes (between end-of-class and late bell), "The transition of students between classes has become a challenge. The hallways are very congested. Over the past couple of years, we have had to increase transition times from 3 to 5 minutes an extra 12-15 minutes of reduced class time.”
So what do these facts and numbers all mean? In order to properly get the point across without the possibility of losing importance, I’m going to share the stats directly from www.BuildBaldwinNow.com...
“If local revenue for building the space we need does not emerge, the number of classroom portables in use by 2023 will increase from the current 100 to approximately 450. At $35,000 each to purchase, this would constitute a $17 million cost rather than the long-term investment permanent facilities represent.
The following chart details student enrollment, space availability and portable classroom allocations in each high school feeder pattern at present, in five years and by the 2023-2024 term.”
To see more detailed information about your feeder area, go to www.BuildBaldwinNow.com > The Issue > Your Community (chose your feeder school).
Have you seen the plan? Baldwin County Board of Education has approved a monumental plan for creating and building new facilities in our feeder areas. “A resolution adopting the plan was approved by the BCBE on Thursday, November 13, 2014, and the first public presentation of the proposed $350 million initiative took place immediately afterward at the 2013 Baldwin County Education Summit held at the Daphne Civic Center.”
BCBE Superintendent Robbie Owen and members of the BCBE staff “outlined the buildings to be constructed, the district’s current inability to fund an aggressive construction plan adequate to address current overcrowding and especially continued, projected growth. Finally, a proposal was introduced that would give Baldwin voters an opportunity to consider an 8-mill increase in ad valorem (property taxes) in a 2015 referendum for the purpose of funding new construction. The additional revenue would stay in Baldwin County and would be used for the expressed purpose of building facilities to accommodate students and maintain the facilities.”
BuildBaldwinNow.com continued by saying, “the first long-term Capital Construction Plan to be brought forward by the school district in more than a decade is the result of a comprehensive facility capacity study conducted during 2013-14 by a nationally recognized growth consultant. Extensive collaboration with city and county leaders and input from citizens across the county has also informed the proposed plan.“
I chose to highlight the statistics given on BuildBaldwinNow.com because I personally believe in the information they are providing to me, a resident of Baldwin County and parent of two of it’s students (high school and middle school aged). Although my daughters will personally be alumni of the system in one and four years respectively, I take this plan very seriously, as it builds a basis for the future of our community, the people we bring in as future residents, and the industries that chose to make Baldwin County their home (and employing many of our residents). (See the Economic Impact Analysis published by BCBE and Semoon Chang, Director Gulf Coast Center for Impact Studies® here)
Check out how we, as residents of this great county, can help this initiative here. And follow all updates on Facebook, as well. Also, if you would like to view the sample ballot you can do so on the Build Baldwin Now website.
Listen to the phone calls and voice mails being shared with you, read the emails that are being sent to you, take the online pledge Brick by Brick challenge, and believe that YOU have a voice that matters! Also, be sure to check to see when YOUR local education summit is scheduled prior to the March 31, 2015 vote. Together we can help Build Baldwin County Schools better!
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