Alabaster considering city school district

Published 10:23 pm Thursday, March 31, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Alabaster City Council likely will decide during its April 21 meeting who it will hire to conduct a feasibility study on an Alabaster city school district.

The announcement came during a March 31 council work session, during which the council members in attendance expressed desire to establish the city school district. Ward 4 Councilman Rick Walters was ill, and did not attend the meeting.

Alabaster’s six schools, which are Creek View Elementary, Meadow View Elementary, Thompson Intermediate, Thompson Sixth Grade Center, Thompson Middle and Thompson High, currently are in the Shelby County School District.

If the council one day voted to establish a city school district, city leaders would decide how to establish a school board, which would operate as a separate entity from the city government.

“I think it’s time that we really take a hard look at (creating a city school district) again,” said Ward 6 Councilman Scott Brakefield. “I think we have a tremendous opportunity before us.”

A few council members expressed dissatisfaction with the county school district. Shelby County School District Superintendent Randy Fuller previously said the county possibly could construct a new intermediate or middle school in Alabaster, a plan Brakefield said he questioned.

“The Board of Education does have a plan to put a new building in Alabaster. In my opinion, it’s the wrong one,” Brakefield said. “I’m very proud of our county school system. But if you ask me if I think we can do it better, I think we can do it better.”

Ward 3 Councilman Adam Moseley said he would like to have discussions with the county school board before making any decision about a city school district.

“My first choice is to work with the county school board,” Moseley said. “But we’ve brought things to their attention over the years, and I can’t think of anything they’ve ever addressed. And that disappoints me.”

Alabaster Mayor David Frings said Fuller was invited to the work session, but did not attend.

Brakefield said the city’s education advisory committee has discussed a 1-cent sales tax increase in the city, the revenues of which would be earmarked for city education.

Frings, who said he was “on the fence” regarding city school district, and the council members said they would like to speak with officials in cities such as Trussville, Leeds and Hoover, which already have city school districts.

However, Alabaster City Administrator George Henry told the council they may have to raise the city’s property taxes to be able to provide long-term funding for a school district.

“If you want to be in the peer group you’re talking about, keep in mind that you are about half of where they are (property tax) millage-wise,” Henry said. “That peer group has been doing it for a long time, and they have determined that’s where the millage rate should be.”

If Alabaster decided to establish its own school district, the City Council would have the authority to pass a sales tax increase. However, it would take a public referendum to raise the property tax millage.

“If we are going to have a better school system than what we have, we are going to have to pay for it,” said Ward 7 Councilman Tommy Ryals. “You have to get people on board with paying a little more money to make the schools a lot better.”

When contacted after the meeting, Shelby County Schools spokeswoman Cindy Warner declined to comment on the matter, and said she would speak with Fuller April 1 before releasing a statement.