By NICOLE SMITH
Daily Mountain Eagle
Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Adkins told the Rotary Club of Jasper Tuesday the county school system has made great financial strides in …
By NICOLE SMITH
Daily Mountain Eagle
Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Adkins told the Rotary Club of Jasper Tuesday the county school system has made great financial strides in the past few years.
Adkins said when he took office in 2011, the school system’s fund balances were negative $1.2 million, and have now grown to $10.2 million. He said many hard decisions had to be made to strengthen finances, but adjustments have paved the way for new opportunities for students.
He said a major detriment to the school system’s budget was the expense of locally funded units, which were greatly reduced. Seventeen jobs alone were eliminated at the board’s central office.
“There were over 80 locally funded units. Multiply that times $70,000 for salary and benefits — some more, some less — and you can see what kind of expense that was,” Adkins said to Rotary members at Bevill State in Jasper. “We kept some. Our system, as a rule, can hold about 40 locally funded units.”
He said the school system has lost 150 to 160 students each year since 2011, which has also resulted in fewer teaching units and less funding.
Adkins said the school system discovered errors in their child nutrition program, which had also resulted in troublesome finances.
“Our child nutrition program had not been profitable since 1998,” he said. “We found out that we had two schools in the Walker County Schools system that every meal they served for the entire school year cost 52 cents. ... That’s hard to fathom. They were over $1 million in the hole.”
The school system also closed schools to improve their financial status, which helped allow for Sumiton Elementary School to be built.
“We closed two schools, moved personnel around, built a new $9 million elementary school and put about $1 million in the general fund. So those are the types of things where you have to be willing to take that bullet and do it,” Adkins said. “We don’t have any bad schools. We don’t have kids in undereducated places because of those decisions, and we made sure that we took care of them and hired people from those communities that worked with them to go with them and make sure they’re OK.”
Once the school system’s finances were stronger, Adkins said it was important for him to ensure students had stimulating learning environments.
“I wanted to spend some of that money on some of these students that have never had anything but the bare minimum, and we began to do that, but we still have more money than has ever been in the Walker County Schools system to do things like we’re doing,” he said.
According to Adkins, since he has been in office, $32 million in facility upgrades have been made in Walker County Schools, with more to come.
Carbon Hill schools are getting a new concession stand, where all four ball fields can be seen from the top floor of the stand. When Adkins took office, he said the schools only had one ball field. The high school will also receive a multi-purpose athletic facility.
Modular units have been removed at the Curry schools’ campus, and four new classrooms have been put in their place.
The elementary/middle school lunchroom kitchen has also been expanded.
Oakman High School’s new lunchroom has been completed over the summer, along with field house renovations, and the school’s new multi-purpose facility will be constructed soon.
All high schools in the county system will eventually receive a multi-purpose facility for athletics. One of the facilities has been built at Cordova High School.
Adkins recognized the need for a new Dora High School, saying it is the oldest high school building in operation in the county. Dora High School has received a new field house and agriscience facility, and a new parking lot will be realized, along with a multi-purpose facility in the coming months.
Nearly $12.5 million was spent on upgrades at Dora/Sumiton schools, over $3.7 million at Oakman schools, just over $3.6 million at Curry Schools and over $1.7 million at Carbon Hill and Cordova schools.
The school system has also invested $2 million in technology upgrades across the system.
Ten new Pre-K programs have been implemented, dual enrollment has proven successful, the school system has the highest graduation rate in history, a reading initiative to help children with dyslexia is in place, special education referrals are down from 200 last year to only eight this year and the school system’s AP program continues to thrive, Adkins said.
He added that Walker County Schools technical education program is serving as a model system in the state, and 30 career tech programs are being offered to students, in collaboration with Jasper City Schools.
“We went from being talked about at conferences to speaking at conferences. ... We’re changing the conversation about the school system,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with the Walker County Board of Education.”
Adkins left Rotary business leaders with a question at the end of his speech.
He said, “If you could pay $200,000 in your business and know that you were going to get 1,000 percent return on your investment, and that your budget would go from negative $1.2 million to $10.2 million, would you do it?”