Pelham leaders talk possible city school system with business owners
By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor
Pelham’s leaders shared differing opinions on a possible city school system during an April 23 meeting with Pelham’s business owners, but said they will thoroughly review a feasibility study on the matter before taking action.
During the business council meeting, which was held at the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena, Pelham Mayor Gary Waters and several City Council members discussed their recent decision to authorize a Pelham school system feasibility study.
The study likely will be completed and returned to the council sometime in May, Council President Rick Hayes said previously.
During the business council meeting, Hayes said he believes Pelham currently sends “one, two, three or four million (dollars)” more to the Shelby County School System than the county spends on Pelham schools.
“We are losing our young families with disposable income. If we don’t address the issue, we will fail eventually,” Hayes said. “But if we can’t provide a much better education and provide a much improved asset to the city, I don’t think we should (separate).”
Hayes said Pelham’s tax base is larger than Alabaster’s, despite Alabaster’s larger population. Alabaster voted in 2011 to form its own city school district, and could finalize its split from the Shelby County School System in July.
Hayes also said about half of the county’s current 30 mill property tax would come to Pelham, and Councilman Ron Scott said state funding would follow the students if the city decides to create its own school system.
“The dominoes are beginning to fall,” Scott said of Alabaster’s decision to split with the county school system. “If we are not on top of this and looking at it aggressively, we are remiss in what we should be doing.
“We are going to have plenty of opportunities in a public forum to discuss this,” Scott added.
Waters and Councilwoman Karyl Rice said they will need to be “convinced” to support a Pelham split from the county school system.
“We are not wholesale ready to form our own school system. This is truly a fact-finding opportunity,” Rice said of the study. “I don’t want us to start a school system and not be able to make it the best in the state.”
Waters said he supported the decision to authorize the feasibility study, but said Pelham currently has multiple outstanding debt obligations at the Civic Complex, the Pelham police building, the city sewer system and other city facilities.
“My personal opinion is that the city is facing enough financial obligations already today,” Waters said. “If we talk at the same time (as we consider a city school system) about retiring some of our city debt, I’m OK with that.
“At the end of the day, we are going to make the decision about what is right for our city,” Waters added.