Pelham residents, mayor offer split opinions on school system

More than 300 people packed the Pelham Municipal Courtroom during a June 17 public hearing. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

More than 300 people packed the Pelham Municipal Courtroom during a June 17 public hearing. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A handful of Pelham residents voiced support for Pelham forming a city school system while Mayor Gary Waters said he is not convinced the move would benefit the city during a June 17 public hearing.

Though the majority of the about 25 speakers at the standing-room-only public hearing spoke about possible Chelsea school rezoning issues, several Pelham residents offered support for a separate Pelham system.

“The pride and commitment they have in their schools, that’s what I felt for a long time as a Pelham Panther,” Pelham resident Rick Rhoades said in reference to the Chelsea parents who spoke during the hearing. “I think that has slipped a little.

“Is this the best we can do for our young people? If the answer is yes then we should just go home,” Rhoades added. “If not, we’ve got to have the courage to step out and make a change.”

The public hearing was the second since Dr. Ira Harvey with the Decision Resources firm unveiled the findings of a Pelham school system feasibility study.

Pelham City Council President Rick Hayes said if Pelham splits from the Shelby County School System, he would like to see a new kindergarten-fifth-grade school built on Shelby County 11, and said he would like to see Valley Intermediate School expanded and repurposed to serve as a “much more centrally located” middle school.

Hayes said he would like to look at the possibility of selling the current Riverchase Middle School property if Pelham forms its own school district.

Waters said he is not in favor of Pelham breaking away from the Shelby County School System.

“Right now, without a school system, we have $45 million worth of debt. I don’t want Pelham to live up to its credit rating, I want Pelham to live within its means,” Waters said.

Waters also said the city may face additional expenses in the future, as infrastructure such as aging PVC water pipes need to replaced throughout the city.

“I am opposed to this because of our debt load and our unfunded infrastructure needs,” he said.