Rumors had been circulating for months about the future of Parrish High, T.S. Boyd Elementary/Jr. High and Sipsey Elementary/Jr. High schools. Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins addressed the rumors by presenting the facts before an audience of 40-plus.
Adkins said his words and comments had been “twisted” and “taken out of context,” so he wanted the chance to speak to the public with the board present to discuss the possible closings.
The reasons Adkins said the closings were up for discussion included economics, the individual student and the entire system as a whole.
Adkins said since 2008, K12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) in Alabama decreased by 21.8 percent in the entire state. Dollars per child decreased by $1,242.
“That’s the highest reduction per student spending in the nation for the second consecutive year,” he said. “In February it [sales tax] decreased in Walker County $236,229.52 alone. ... Do you cut academic programs or do you cut busing?”
He continued to say it’s a national situation, not just a state, county or city situation.
“Locally funded units are a tremendous burden to school systems. ... I think it’s without question to say economics drives a lot of the decisions that you’re making. You can ignore and pretend like it’s not there, but I don’t see any changes,” he explained. “ ... The county is losing student population, so as a whole, that means we lose funding. We’re suffering and we’re barely getting by.”
He added, “We’re on track to losing half a million dollars.”
Adkins then brought to the public’s attention about the new Sumiton school. “It is true that we built a new school in Sumiton, and it’s true that the payment is going to be about $500,000 a year, but that’s not the reason why we’re having to do this. I never said that. I said that it was an expense that we have to incur, and I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’ll be transformational for East Walker County to come to a state-of-the-art place. They’ll all move as one herd, and I promise you over time you’ll see the results in a positive way at Dora High School.”
He touched on the Accountability Act, a controversial bill allowing students in failing schools to claim tax credits for use toward private school tuition. No Child Left Behind gave schools the Alabama High School Graduation Exam to base a student’s educational performance on, and now students are having to prepare for the ACT, which Adkins said is a potential “train wreck, when it becomes the accountability measure.”
He went on to talk about trying to implement Advanced Placement classes and how it would be “impossible” to do that at Parrish High School. Adkins added that the school can’t obtain all the extra programs like art, chorus, ensemble, AP classes, etc., because there is a lack of funding.
“I think to make things work, you have to be altruistic and you have to be transparent and you have to lay things out there on the line so people can understand you,” Adkins said. “Nobody has to like you, nobody has to agree. We [the board] do, and that’s yet to be determined, but I think the proof is there. ... Truth and acceptance are two different things.”
A meeting will be held on April 3, where two representatives from each community will be allowed to speak for a limited amount of time on the schools’ behalf. Those representatives will need to let the board secretary know at least three to five days in advance of the next meeting in order to be placed on the agenda. Adkins said a meeting on April 10 will be held where they will possibly reach a final decision.
“It has to be done in a certain context. The days of the ‘Jerry Springer’ situations are over with, and at that point, if anything like that happens, of course, they [board members] have been instructed, and they have instructed me, to make sure things get shut down, and we don’t want to get into that,” Adkins said. “We just can’t tolerate it. Times have changed. We want to make sure everybody handles themselves in a professional manner as much as they can. We understand there is going to be some emotions involved in that, and we accept that and that’s fine, but we’re not going to tolerate a lot of foolishness while the process goes on.”
Adkins said the reason behind the early morning meeting Tuesday was because the current director of the WCCT, Debra Ellis, is planning to retire soon, and her replacement would need guidance before coming in and taking over. Therefore, there was an 8:30 a.m. meeting planned ahead of time at the board of education, and a board member suggested to meet at 8 a.m. instead of coming back and meeting at 4:30 p.m.
Adkins said there will be no decisions being made at the April 3 meeting. He requested that people who have concerns, comments or questions to email or call and he, or someone at the board of education, would reply in a timely manner.
He also mentioned the reduction in force policy, which he said has changed since they last enacted it.
Josiah Robinson, a senior at Parrish High School, thought the meeting was handled well and that Adkins made some good points; however, Robinson does not agree that the school should be shut down. “I think the meeting was beneficial. It was definitely good to have some clarity and to finally have the superintendent address us directly. It was good to clear up some rumors rather than letting them fester,” Robinson said. “There’s always been rumors of Parrish shutting down every year. We like to joke and say ‘Parrish has been closing down for 40 years,’ but probably around mid-January is when everything came up and then there was some Facebook drama with some things that Dr. Adkins had said. Whether we know if those are true or not is to be determined. He cleared that up, and I appreciate him doing that.
“I’m not trying to bash him in any way, but it was great of him to address and kind of clear the air and just be frank with us. We appreciate him shooting it straight.”
Currently, there are less than 275 kids at Parrish High from grades 7-12. Adkins said the board has been looking into closing Parrish High for the past 12 years, “We (the board) want to do right by that [the individual] child. That takes precedent over the tradition and history of any one place.”
In other business, board members:
•approved the minutes to the Feb. 18, 2014, board meeting.
•approved the financial statement and bank reconciliation for February 2014.
•approved the regular list of resignations and leaves of absences. Board members approved an amended professional list after removing an Oakman Elementary teaching position from the list, which should be posted by the next board meeting.
•approved a large list of school trips from Oakman High, Carbon Hill Jr. High and Carbon Hill High, Lupton Jr. High, Sipsey Elementary/Jr. High, Dora High and the Walker County Center of Technology.
•approved a non-faculty coach for Cordova High School.
•approved a HeadStart waiver for weather days that were missed within the past few months and HeadStart report/training and information.
•approved the payment of fire dues to the Oakman Volunteer Fire Department.
•approved payroll to be issued on March 21, 2014, due to the week of spring break, which is scheduled for March 24-28.
•approved the bids on telephones, switches and wireless service for schools in the system.
•approved lease renewal to the Boots & Saddle Club Walker County Chapter, Inc.
The next meeting will be held Thursday, April 3, at 4:30 p.m. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be Thursday, April 10, at 4:30 p.m.