There is no single reason why Anniston City Schools suffer from financial pain, post unremarkable academic results and operate too many facilities for a system of its size. Blame is widespread.
For several decades, seemingly everything that could go wrong has done so. Court-ordered integration in the early 1970s heightened the growth of private segregation academies that siphoned white students from Anniston’s rolls. Other middle-class families, black and white, moved so their children could enroll in other Calhoun County schools. The city’s roster of troubles -- Fort McClellan’s closing, the burning of Anniston Army Depot’s chemical-weapons stockpile, the publicized cleanup of west Anniston’s environmental pollution, the rise in violent crime in certain neighborhoods -- reduced Anniston’s population by a third and made it difficult for economic developers to replace what had been lost.
Today, Anniston City Schools has too few students and too many facilities, not enough cash-reserve money and a dynamic between the city’s black residents and white residents that is detrimental to progress. These ailments didn’t manifest themselves overnight.
We recount that difficult story to say this: hiring a new superintendent isn’t a cure-all solution. Many will expect the candidate the Board of Education selects to produce instant miracles. That’s impossible, of course, and unfair to former Superintendent Darren Douthitt’s successor. While there’s no doubt the system needs a strong-willed, progressive and persistent chief executive, we urge Annistonians to realize the difficulty of the task.
Two distinct issues swirl around Anniston City Schools: money and academics. One’s in short supply, the other isn’t good enough. And this editorial board blames the Board of Education -- this one and several of its predecessors -- for much of those woes. That’s especially true regarding the system’s finances.
Since the regrettable decision to build Anniston Middle School north of downtown in the late 1980s -- a compromise decision, since the board couldn’t decide which ward should get the new facility -- the system has increasingly suffered from a glut of classroom space. That space eats into finances. Declines in the city and system’s populations worsened the pain. The incremental closings of a few elementary schools haven’t solved the problem, instead only delaying the inevitable.
Anniston’s contraction cries for the board to embrace a sweeping overhaul of its physical sites. Widespread consolidation of campuses and reducing its footprint to a size comparable to the city the system serves should be this board’s overarching goal.
Anniston’s system today needs what its needed for some time -- change-agent leadership, on the board and the superintendent’s office, that’s forceful enough to force all of us to accept this truth: status quo isn’t acceptable.