Calera hears results of feasibility study to form city school system

Published 12:22 am Tuesday, June 4, 2024

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By MACKENZEE SIMMS | Staff Writer 

CALERA – The Calera City Council received the results of the city school feasibility study on Monday, June 3. Compiled by Ira. W Harvey, the feasibility report investigated the city’s resources to determine if a separation from Shelby County Schools is a viable option for Calera.

The city council approved the feasibility report in November of 2023. Six months later, Harvey presented the 256 page document to the city and the public, detailing Calera’s demographics, taxes, student enrollment and more.

In his report, Harvey concluded that while there are benefits to forming a city school system, it is up to the city of Calera to determine if the benefits outweigh the cost.

“All in all, it’s a mixed bag,” Harvey said. “It’s a political decision of what (the community) thinks is worthwhile to attempt for the long term growth of the city.”

The potential benefits that come with creating a city school district is that the Calera City Council would be able to exercise greater control over how city taxes contribute to the schools and allow the city appropriate funds for use of a local school board.

According to Harvey, this autonomy is a major benefit to developing a city school system.

For example, the city school feasibility study deemed that the infrastructure of Calera schools are in very favorable condition compared to schools across the state of Alabama. According to Harvey, Shelby County Schools is currently under no obligation to fairly share local tax revenue to maintain these buildings.

“Frankly, Shelby County has been an above average steward of resources to all sides of the county… but there is a distinct advantage of accountability and autonomy that a city board has that a county does not guarantee for the school sites within the community,” Harvey said.

And while there are benefits to forming a city school board, it also places significant fiscal responsibility on the city.

“The county will still get all of the money for the kids that it has,” Harvey said. “By forming a city board of education, you on the other hand, you undertake an additional financial obligation. There is no other way to say it. But that is the leverage that a city has.”

Any potential strain placed on the city of Calera would be exacerbated by a three month gap where the scholastic year starts in June, but before the state’s fiscal years begins in October, so the newly formed Calera school system would not have any state funding.

During those three months, the total cost of operating the four school sites in Calera and the other administrative services is estimated to be $4.3 million. The first fiscal school year would cost $6.3 million for the months of July 2025 through September 2025.  While state funding will become available, if those estimated costs carry into fiscal year 2026, the total expenditures would be approximately $25-30 million.

The total estimated revenue for the 2023-2024 school year was $45.1 million for a proposed Calera city school system. The revenue per Average Daily Membership was projected at $13,790.30

Shelby County Schools had a budgeted revenue of $331,692,868 this past year with a revenue per ADM of $15,869.71

That leaves a negative gap of $1,914.60 per ADM for Calera to make up should it start a new school system, meaning less resources in the current planned model.

The feasibility study laid out two possibilities for increased funding to help make up that gap.

Those two suggestions were a 1 percent increase in sales tax from 9 percent to 10 percent. Currently, Calera sales tax includes 4 percent to the state, 1 percent for the county and 4 percent for the city to make up 9 percent. The increase to the city sales tax to 5 percent would bring the total to 10 percent and give that funding to Calera City Schools.

A 1 percent sales tax increase would generate an estimated $3.6-$4 million for the proposed school system.

The other possible option would be a 5 mil increase to the city’s property tax. Currently at 10 mils, that would increase the millage rate to 15, which would put Calera 1 mil ahead of Pelham (14).

This would generate an extra $1.8 million annually according to the feasibility study, which said it would undoubtedly be more due to the delay before actual collections begin.

The new school system would also mean taking on any debt that Shelby County Schools currently has related to schools in Calera, which is currently estimated at $30.5 million. That would mean approximately $2.95 million in payments from fiscal year 2026 through fiscal year 2031 before the total drops down to $586,000 per year.

In addition to deciding how the city would cover this gap, other decisions regarding the creation of the school system include which children would be enrolled in the school system.

Calera’s city limits are quite ragged, so decisions would need to be make about zoning and then bus routes would need to be planned if the Calera school board would provide transportation. The report estimated 3,273 potential students for the city school board, including 147 students from Chilton County.

In addition, demographics and property wealth per capita are also considerations in fiscal feasibility.

According to Harvey, the demographics of the city are very favorable to support a school system, with an ideal number of residents aged 30 to 39, but Calera’s property wealth is slightly less than the rest of the county and less than other cities in Shelby County that have their own city school boards such as Pelham and Alabaster.

“Given the circumstances, the evaluation of property within Calera is not quite as favorable as Shelby County overall, but it’s within very close distance,” Harvey said.

During his report, Harvey wanted to remind Calera residents that forming a city school system does not obligate the city to secede from Shelby County Schools when the time comes.

“Please, get this straight,” Harvey said. “The fact that your city council could create a city board of education does not mean that you have separated from the county. It simply means that you have filed for divorce. You’ve created a legal authority to represent the interests of the citizens of Calera, and then you begin the process of negotiation in the divorce settlement.”

Ultimately, Harvey believes that the decision to form a school board is entirely a matter for the city of Calera to consider, but advised that if the city were to start a school board, they should start planning immediately. If the council took immediate action, the estimated start date for the Calera school system would be July 1, 2025.

To view the full city school feasibility report, click here.