North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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October 10, 2013

Residents ask plenty of questions over proposed Gardendale school system at forum

GARDENDALE — Members of the Gardendale City Council, Mayor Othell Phillips and consultants hired by the city had their first chance to be questioned directly by city residents, as well as those from unincorporated Mt. Olive, about the proposed new Gardendale school system.

The first of two forums attracted about 160 attendees to the Gardendale Civic Center’s main auditorium Thursday night. Among them were roughly 20 wearing neon-yellow T-shirts supporting MO Matters, a group of Mt. Olive residents supporting the new system and possible annexation into Gardendale.

The forum, which lasted nearly three hours, went through a host of questions relating to the costs of the new system, the taxes needed to fund it, and what would happen to various programs if Gardendale goes through with separation from the Jefferson County Schools.

Aside from Phillips and Council President Stan Hogeland, attendees had their inquiries addressed by Dr. Ira Harvey, the consultant who prepared the initial feasibility study about how a separated system would work and should be funded; Dr. Keivan Deravi, a professor of economics at Auburn University-Montgomery who studied the economic impact on the city of a separate system; and Jason Harpe and Brian Barksdale of Carr Riggs and Ingram CPAs, who presented pro forma budgets, revenue and expense estimates for the proposed system.

Deravi told the crowd that a new system would increase property values at a higher rate, based on similar new systems in other Alabama cities. His estimates showed that the average home value would increase to $203,000 in six years with a new system, compared to $183,000 without one.

Harpe said that a 10-mill increase would give a new system a net surplus of about $2 million a year if current staffing and class levels remained as they stand now. He also showed a budget that would increase teacher staffing by 10 percent, leaving an annual surplus of about $570,000 annually.

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