Pelham forming city school system

Published 7:20 pm Monday, September 9, 2013

The Pelham City Council voted to form a Pelham Board of Education during its Sept. 9 meeting. (File)

The Pelham City Council voted to form a Pelham Board of Education during its Sept. 9 meeting. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Pelham City Council voted unanimously to form a five-member Pelham Board of Education and create a city school system separate from the Shelby County School System during its Sept. 9 meeting.

As a result of the resolution, the City Council will now move forward with accepting requests to serve on the city’s school board, and will interview applicants before appointing the school board members. Members will serve staggered terms, with one term expiring each June.

According to city documents, the resolution to form the city school board will go into effect on Sept. 14.

Following the vote, the crowd of about 50 gathered at Pelham City Hall applauded the decision.

The vote to form the school board came about a month-and-a-half after the council voted to raise Pelham’s sales tax by 1 cent. Proceeds from the 1-cent sales tax increase, which went into effect Sept. 1 and is expected to raise about $4.8 million-$5 million per year, are feeding a Pelham education fund, which will support the schools in Pelham’s city limits.

“We have the opportunity and the resources we need to be the top school system in Alabama,” Councilwoman Karyl Rice said after the vote.

During a Sept. 9 pre-meeting work session, the council reviewed “pro forma” budgets for the proposed Pelham school system. Pro-forma means “forward looking,” and the budgets projected the revenues and expenses of a separate Pelham city school system if the system existed today.

Over the past several weeks, Councilman Maurice Mercer expressed reservations about supporting a city school system, but said he changed his mind after seeing the pro forma budgets.

According to the pro forma budgets, a Pelham school system would have roughly $6.8 million more in revenues than expenses if it operated the schools as they exist today, and would have a roughly $2 million revenue surplus if it funded debt payments on $40 million in capital improvements, teacher raises and more teacher units.

“My decision tonight is not based on what Shelby County has or has not done,” Mercer said. “It’s based on what we can do for the students in our corporate limits.

“The money we can invest in our students, we must spend it wisely,” Mercer said.

Before the vote, Pelham Mayor Gary Waters distributed the results of a phone survey of Pelham residents performed by the New South Research company. Through the survey, which Waters said was not funded by taxpayer dollars, the company called about 750 registered voters in Pelham and asked if they would support a Pelham school system.

Forty-seven percent said they would either strongly or somewhat support the system, while 24 percent said they were somewhat or strongly against the idea. Twenty-nine percent said they were unsure.

“What I expected to find, I didn’t,” Waters said of the survey. “Sadly enough, there was 30 percent that were unsure or don’t care. That bothers me the most.”