By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — Now that Gardendale voters have approved a 5-mill property tax earmarked for a new city school system, the work of establishing that system begins in earnest.
Mayor Othell Phillips said Tuesday that the next step is for the city council to pass a resolution that officially announces their intention to separate from the Jefferson County School System.
After that, the council will take applications to form the first Gardendale Board of Education. Phillips said the city will solicit applications for the board, and will then accept 10 of them.
“They will go through a training course, and after that, five members will be appointed to the board and five for a citizens’ advisory board,” Phillips said. “We want the board to be well-rounded, to get a good cross section of people with different backgrounds.”
Phillips said that board members will serve six-year terms as prescribed by state law. The terms are staggered, so among the inaugural membership, one member will only serve two years, another for three, and so on. They are paid a maximum of $600 a year.
Once the board is installed, it will take over nearly everything regarding the new school system’s start-up, including the important task of selecting its first superintendent. Then the superintendent and board will begin negotiations with the county system on the details of the separation agreement.
Those negotiations will include whether or not current students in the Gardendale feeder pattern from outside the city limits will be grandfathered into the system, or whether the Mt. Olive community will have to be annexed into Gardendale.
“About 500 students feed into Gardendale High from Mt. Olive,” Phillips said. “Our intention is not to kick kids out of the school, but the attendance policy will be set by the board. Historically, other systems that have broken away have allowed their students to finish wherever where they are. That will also be negotiated with the county system, because it affects funding for both systems — the money follows the kids.”
Phillips said their goal is to have the system up and running for the 2015-16 school year.
Tuesday’s vote was a first for Phillips, he said. “It’s the first time in my life I have ever voted for a tax increase of any kind.” (That includes the 1-cent sales tax increase that is set to expire in January.)