Superintendent Joan Frazier spoke to the crowd about why the system needs to reorganize. The system’s five elementary schools vary widely in enrollment from an official count of 355 at Tenth Street, the largest elementary school to 154 at Cobb, the smallest elementary school.
The system will have to at least rezone the attendance lines of the schools in order to even out the attendance. But the system could do more. It has experienced falling enrollment. Since 1998, enrollments declined by 1,020 students. The number of schools, though, has remained constant since the system closed Norwood School in 2001, Frazier said.
Frazier noted that systems with many more students are not operating as many facilities as Anniston.
Cutting facilities could help the system provide more for its students, Frazier said.
But parents at the meeting were concerned about how the reorganization would affect their students. Several parents mentioned concerns about class size.
“You gave us the breakdown of the students at each elementary school and me personally of course I like the numbers,” said one parent. “Because the smaller the class the better.”
Another parent asked if the system would lose special education teachers in a consolidation.
Frazier said she didn’t think class size would increase.
“The teachers will follow the students,” Frazier said.
It is the infrastructure of the system that would be reduced –- things like bus routes, lunchroom personnel, administrators, maintenance and utilities –- and less money spent on infrastructure means more money to be spent on students, she said.
Wherever the children are moved to, that school would add teachers to teach them, Frazier said. The conversation quickly turned to money. For years, the Anniston school system has received little local funding beyond what the city is required to collect on its behalf. That means the system gets by mostly on state funding, which is based on system enrollment, Frazier said.
“The state funding program ... provides the foundation,” Frazier said. “Most of our neighbors, particularly if they are a city system, get a huge sum of money from their city.”
That money can be used to fulfill local wishes within the system such as adding technology to the classrooms, adding teachers or adding extra curriculum such as languages, advanced classes, art or music.
“We don’t get a check written to us for whatever amount of money –- like neighboring systems get –- to run programs, add programs, develop programs, hire teachers,” Frazier said. “We do not and have not for quite some time.”
Anniston schools have four or five teachers paid through local funding. This year, the Anniston City Council did give the system some money it requested to add some vocational programs. It also recently passed a one-cent sales tax that will begin on April 1 which it designated for a number of purposes. The members have yet to actually decide how to divvy up the money, though. While the system is grateful for that, it’s far less than what neighboring cities have done, Frazier said.
Board Member William Hutchings also weighed in on the issue.
“The election is coming up and you’ve got kids in this system, I don’t care if you’re a councilman, a woman or anything, if they cannot support education, do not vote for them,” Hutchings said. “We’ve been lacking for years in this city and the mayor has never given the school system any money.”
He received applause and murmurs of agreement during his speech.
Board President Mary Harrington also told the crowd that, while money isn’t everything, it can affect the quality of their children’s education.
“The more money that we are able to save, allows for the programs, allows for the technology,” Harrington said.
For instance, she said the state gives its school systems $15.88 per textbook. The cheapest textbook she has found was $45, Harrington said.
“Money matters,” Harrington said.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.