Calera City Council unanimously approves feasibility study to leave SCS
Published 1:04 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023
By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer
CALERA – The Calera City Council voted unanimously to approve a feasibility study that will investigate the city’s potential separation from Shelby County Schools during a regularly scheduled city council session on Monday, Nov. 20.
A public hearing was held during the session on the topic of the feasibility study and members of the audience were allowed to speak openly on the subject.
At the beginning of the session, and prior to public comments, Calera Major Jon Graham spoke in length regarding the potential vote and what it would mean for the city going forward in the event of its passage.
“This is an opportunity for us, the city, to afford a study that would indicate whether or not—and also to help formulate a plan—to move forward with forming a city of Calera school system,” Graham said. “If the city of Calera were to move forward beyond this study, we would incorporate all of our school facilities in the city that are (at this time) operated by the Shelby County Board of Education. At this time, the only thing we are talking about is a feasibility study.”
Graham went on to clarify that in its current state, the study is expected to take at least four months of in-depth work to complete, but in his own estimation stated it could possibly take six months at the longest provided unforeseen circumstances. Graham was also straightforward in his assessment of what the potential outcomes of the study might be in the event that it were to move forward.
“If the feasibility study comes back and says, ‘You don’t have the funds,’ it’s a no brainer, we go back and try to deal with what funds we have available,” Graham said. “If the feasibility study comes back and says, ‘Yes, you can afford this.’ Then we bring that back to the public and the council gets to make that decision. All of this takes time.”
Once the floor was open to public comment, a number of individuals approached the center of the room to have their voices heard. While several voiced their hesitancy to support a separation from Shelby County Schools and a select few expressed their strong doubts that the city had the economic base with which to support such a separation, a strong majority were in favor of at least pursuing the feasibility study to find what options were available to the community.
Ashley Burks, a mother of three children who attend Calera schools, was one community member in favor of the feasibility study.
“I think the finance director spoke many times on where those funds would come from,” Burks said. “I think that if we’ve trusted the finance director all this time, and she has stated where those funds are going to come from, I don’t understand the issue of not giving citizens the options. It’s a feasibility study, we’re just trying to see what it is that we need to do.”
Burks went on to say that even if the study comes back with information that suggests Calera should not move forward with its own school system, it will be worthwhile to know the answers and information moving forward and to discover what aspects might need to be improved in the city if they ever wish to do so in the future.
“I have a senior, I have a ninth grader and I also have a second grader,” Burks said. “Whatever your decision is, it is going impact me and my family. We’re just asking for the option.”
During the meeting, council members made critiques and brought up several questions regarding the move.
Councilmember Turner asked why the committee had only presented the city with one quote and potential study, rather than a multitude of choices. It was a question that received a number of responses from committee members and other city officials.
“When you look at Dr. Ira Harvey’s resume it is extensive,” Calera Parks and Rec Director Seth Gandy said. “He blew us away with his knowledge (on the subject) and he came highly recommended by multiple sources, including Satsuma.”
Gandy went on to detail the long list of sources that recommended the services of Dr. Harvey, which included Alabaster Mayor Scott Brakefield, and several school systems that have utilized his services in the past. As a result of these recommendations, and from meetings with Harvey, the committee determined he was the best choice.
“I believe when you’re doing something of this nature, that you get what you pay for,” Gandy said. “I personally don’t feel like we should go with the cheaper or lesser person if we’re not getting the same level of expertise.”
Kelly Ellison, Calera’s finance director, echoed this sentiment and further established that the decision to go with Harvey’s study was backed by his already extensive coverage and study of Shelby County.
“It’s very important to use someone that’s done a study in Shelby County,” Ellison said. “There’s only been three studies done in Shelby County and we’ve diligently looked through all three studies and came to the conclusion on Ira Harvey (due to) studies that he did at Pelham and Alabaster—because he already has knowledge of Shelby County.”
As members of the public continued to speak, there appeared to be a clear line of support for the feasibility study, albeit not as universal as the public turnout during the Nov. 6 session.
“The main concern for us is education,” Shamel Young said. “Our kids are failing so much in school, you’d be surprised how much they are failing at school. We need this study done.”
Other speakers expressed similar concerns, with another voicing that while he did not believe Calera’s schools were terrible in relation to the schooling he had received growing up in southern Alabama, they could easily be better and that the community wanted them to be better. Another speaker voiced her opinion that regardless of the study, the community should take more upon themselves to support and volunteer as a community in the schools to pick up slack wherever it exists, especially in the time between the vote and the potential study’s conclusion.
However, while every other comment of the night came from adult members of the community, which included local residents, business owners, volunteers and parents of students, the standout comment came from the sole student of a Calera school who elected to speak.
Aubrey Stewart, who is a senior at Calera High School, vocally lent her support to the feasibility study as other students cheered her on from the back of the audience.
“I know that I’ve heard multiple times that we need to email the board as a community and the school to try and make a difference for our community, but as a student—and all of us in the back two rows there, we’re all students—we email, we’ve sent our concerns and no one responds,” Stewart said. “We sit there and we need a change because there is nothing happening. Nobody is listening to us, nobody is doing anything.”
Stewart went on to cite her feelings that Calera’s students were being ignored in the current situation and that quick and urgent change is needed moving forward.
“This study needs to happen for us to have a change because there is nothing happening,” Stewart said. “There’s no difference and it’s hard for us to be in this school. As a senior, I’ve been in Calera since I was born, I was raised here and been in school here since kindergarten. There’s no difference, there’s nothing happening when we email. I just think this study needs to happen.”
Stewart’s words were met with loud applause from her classmates and members of the audience, and served as a natural conclusion to the public hearing which was ended following her statement.
Following Stewart’s comments, the Council voted unanimously to approve the funding for the feasibility study, which amounted to $85,000.
In other news the City Council also approved the following:
- A resolution awarding engineering services for State Road 25 Railway Highway Grade Separation Project FY22RCE
- Authorized the acceptance of a grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to construct sewer improvements in the city limits.
- A proposal for streetscape improvements in downtown Calera.
- Authorized the application and acceptance of the Shelby County Commission Department of Development Services Park and Recreation grant.
- Appointments to the Zoning Board of Adjustments