North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

August 23, 2013

Nowlin says he hopes Gardendale doesn't break away from county school system

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

BIRMINGHAM — Residents of Gardendale have yet to officially make their feelings known about forming a new city school system. But Jefferson County School Superintendent Dr. Stephen Nowlin is hoping that the city stays right where it is now — a part of the county system.

“We really don’t want them to pull out. They are a valuable part of our school system with a great tradition,” Nowlin said in an interview after Thursday evening’s regular meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Nowlin, the board’s attorney and board member Oscar Mann, a Gardendale resident, met with city leaders in April. Mayor Othell Phillips said Friday the meeting came about when it became clear that there was serious momentum behind an effort to form a new system for the city.

“It was pretty much a courtesy meeting to let them know where we were headed,” Phillips said.

The superintendent had minor quibbles with the study commissioned by the city and prepared by consultant Dr. Ira Harvey.

“I thought the study did a good job in identifying the revenues, but I think it was incomplete on the costs and expenditures,” Nowlin said. “I think there’s going to be several areas of expenditures that are going to be much more, or where the study was unclear. I think there’s going to be some surprises.”

Nowlin also made it clear that if the breakaway were to take place, he would want to make sure it was done without cost to his system.

“As superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools, it’s my job to see that — the way I put this to them [Gardendale officials] — was that they have a right to pull out, but we don’t think your pulling out should cost us money. We have quite a bit of capital investment, especially in the new high school — about $48 million.”

For instance, programs such as vocational education based at Gardendale High are used by students from other schools like Fultondale, Mortimer Jordan and Pinson Valley. If Gardendale broke away, the county would have to build new facilities for those programs.

Then there’s the question regarding whether residents of unincorporated Mt. Olive would vote to annex themselves into Gardendale for the purpose of staying in the GHS feeder system. If they do not, those students would possibly be required to attend school elsewhere. That figures into plans the county board has to make for renovating or replacing the aging Fultondale High School.

But Nowlin sees that there is definitely sentiment building toward a break between Gardendale and the county system.

“We respect the right of this to happen, though. It’s kind of like the thing to do, especially in some cities,” he said.

Phillips said that the city was a couple of weeks away from setting a date for the first part of the process, a referendum to establish a property tax. It’s the start of a procedure that will be lengthy.