The Talladega City Board of Education has taken no steps toward school consolidation in several years, but according to Board Chairman James Braswell, it will have to happen some time in the near future.
During a debate Wednesday night regarding principals’ contracts salaries, Braswell once again pointed out that “juggling principals” would largely be pointless because “we’re going to have to consolidate in the next year or so.” Board members Sandra Beavers and Chuck Roberts both objected to this statement, saying the board had not taken any steps toward actually closing and consolidating any schools.
“You have to talk to the community, the stakeholders,” Beavers said. “You can’t even talk about this without talking to the parents. You need to put the documents and the forms out there, and you need to include the parents and the people first, not afterward.
Braswell, who is the longest serving member of the current board, said that the issue had been studied extensively in 2007, 2008 and 2009 with everyone from members of the public to professional architects.
“But this is just your opinion,” Roberts said. “This is not something this board has discussed or is planning to do. It’s old history. I don’t want to put that fear in anyone’s mind.”
Superintendent Tony Ball said “had COVID-19 not happened, the central office and the board would have taken steps to develop several different plans. We have a population survey that shows we are losing adults, and when we lose adults they take their kids with them. You need to look at employment and quality of life issues. (Consolidation) is a major undertaking. I’ve been part of it in another system.”
He added, “It’s something that’s been talked about, but there is no formal plan.”
Said Braswell: “Yes, the need for consolidation is my opinion. We need to solve the problem of (declining enrollment) and we need to either solve it or go broke. We have a lot of facts and a lot of data available since 2007.”
Board member Allison Edwards asked what schools would be on the list for closure.
“We talked about going to a central elementary school,” Braswell said, “but then we were shown the cost. Not only was it too expensive, but it was not popular, either. Then we looked at doing something like Sylacauga, where we have one K-2 elementary school and one 3-5 elementary school, but that was also expensive and unpopular. We looked at moving sixth grade into the middle school. The middle school would move from Zora Ellis, the oldest building in the system, to Houston, which is the newest and the biggest. The students from Houston would go to Salter, Young and Graham. We thought that wasn’t doable because we thought Ellis was a historic site, but it turns out it's not.”
He went on to say that maintaining so many school buildings with dwindling enrollment meant high utility and maintenance costs.
“The more we save on utilities and maintenance costs, the more we have to spend on students,” he said.
The plan was last discussed in any detail in 2009, “right before we ran off that superintendent,” Braswell said. “If we could keep a superintendent for more than three years, we might be able to have gotten this done by now.”
During the same meeting, the board also approved a slate of personnel actions by a vote of 3-0 with two abstensions, Beavers and Edwards. Theses actions included:
—Hiring Haley Ginn as a guidance counselor at Houston and R.L. Young; Jamey Hamby as a kindergarten teacher at Houston; Mary Ostrander, second grade teacher at Houston; Kimberly Reynolds, reading and language teacher at Houston and Robyn Whittingham as guidance counselor at Graham/Salter.
—Accepted the resignations of Emily Arrington and Alyssa Prater, kindergarten teachers at Houston and Salter Principal Phillip Jenkins.
—Hired Katie Johnson and Sandra Best as summer school special education teachers.
—Accepted the resignations of Kyrel Keith and NaShonda Whitson from their athletic supplements.
—Terminated the athletic supplements of Samuel Green, Alexis McKinney and Martee Pope.
—Non-renewed custodian Antonio Tanner.
—Hired Angela Curry, Robin Dates, Jewell Monroe, Charlyndrea Roberson, Rhonda Stringer, Renee Humphrey, Carla Simmons, Gail Montgomery and Bernadine Swain as special education instructional assistants for summer school and reading camp.
—Were presented with an unqualified audit with no finding by Chief Financial Officer Leslie Bollendorf.
—Observed a moment of silence for a bus driver who had recently died.