School board chief blasts Ward 4 exit idea in meeting

The leader of Anniston’s city school board blasted efforts to deannex the city’s Ward 4 in a school board meeting Thursday night.

Robert Houston compared the proposal to racially divisive moments in the state’s past, including the beating of marchers in Selma and the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston.

“Alabama has a dreadful history of human rights abuses that has not gone unnoticed,” Houston, the board president, said.

A group of residents in Ward 4, on the east side of the city, earlier this year began campaigning for a bill that would, through legislative action, move that ward out of Anniston and into neighboring Oxford. 

Proponents have said they want out of the city largely because of low property values in Anniston. Opponents say an exit by the mostly-white Ward 4 would be racially divisive and could bankrupt the city’s police and fire pension plans.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has said he’s asked legislative staff to look into the proposal, though he hasn’t endorsed it.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston — who was in the audience at Thursday’s school board meeting — said if anyone does introduce such a bill, it won’t pass. She said she’s opposed to a deannexation.

“It can be stopped in the House and it can be stopped in the Senate,” she said.

Houston’s speech capped a brief, vacation-week meeting in which the board of education largely took on housekeeping items. The board agreed to seek a contract extension with Criterion K-12, the consulting firm that has been auditing the school system’s finances. Superintendent D. Ray Hill said he expected the contract to cost the school system about $30,000 once negotiations are complete, with the state education department picking up much of the tab.

“That role has fallen to me, but they’re helping,” he said.

Hill said there are 21 applicants for the CFO position. Board members discussed holding a work session on Nov. 6 to talk more about the search and about the possibility of bringing in the Association of Alabama School Boards. They didn’t bring the matter to a vote.

In other business, the board:

  Expressed condolences to the family of Noa Vera, the 4-year-old who died in accident at Children’s Hospital. Hill said the child was a student in the Anniston’s pre-K program.

 Heard a presentation from Boyd, who granted the school system $6,000 from her legislative discretionary fund. Some of that money, she said, will fund tours of the Capitol by fourth-graders at Randolph Park, Golden Springs and Tenth Street.Boyd was one of the first lawmakers to lead the fourth-grade tours, now a widespread practice.

  Heard a presentation from Anniston City Councilman David Reddick about the JaMakin Me Run 5K, a Caribbean-themed race set for Nov. 2 in the Randolph Park area. “We want to show people who don’t live in west Anniston how friendly west Anniston can be,” Reddick said.

Board members said they’re prepared for serious discussions about what can be learned from the school system’s 2018-2019 test scores. Hill said those scores are in and the school system is simply waiting for the state to officially release them.

He said that release will happen in coming days, possibly as early as Friday.