BY GENA HUFF, Editor
The closing of the Aliceville Middle School has been a subject of great contention after Pickens County School Superintendent Jamie Chapman recommended the school’s fifth and sixth grades be moved to Aliceville Elementary School and the seventh and eighth grades be transferred to Aliceville High School due to declining enrollment numbers and funding issues stemming from those numbers. This will essentially shut down Aliceville Middle School.
The magic number here has always been 250. It is this number of students, enrolled during the 20-day period immediately following Labor Day, that discerns the amount of state funding the school will receive for the next year. To receive funding for an assistant principal, a counselor, and a librarian, middle schools and high schools need an enrollment of 250 students. These positions are essential in providing proper monitoring and opportunities for enrolled students.
Because Pickens County schools are under the Lee v. Macon act, parents of Pickens County school students have a group of plaintiff attorneys in Montgomery to represent their interests. The Pickens County Board of Education and the plaintiff attorneys must agree on any decisions concerning the reconfiguration of schools. If they do not agree, a court hearing must be held.
The parents of Aliceville Middle School students, concerned Aliceville citizens, Chapman, lawyers for both sides, and a Pickens County Board of Education representative were in Birmingham, July 2, for a hearing in Federal Court. At the hearing, the judge urged representatives of the school board and the city of Aliceville to meet and try coming to a consensus concerning the future of the Aliceville city school system.
This meeting was held on July 5. It was a closed meeting and not publicized. Press was not notified as it did not meet requirements for the Open Meetings Act since only two members of the school board attended. Lawyers were not present either. Obviously, when other parties found out about the meeting, there were some unhappy citizens.
On July 9, the Pickens County Board of Education called a meeting for July 10. This was an official meeting and press was notified although there was little time to publicize.
After an executive session in which Ray Ward, counsel for the board, briefed the members regarding the Federal court hearing in Birmingham, Ward spoke on what had led to the official meeting.
In his statement, Ward said he had received a written order from the Federal court the Friday before (July 6) stating the Board of Education, Superintendent Chapman, and concerned Aliceville citizens should meet officially. “And so, with that, we’re here,” Ward told attendees. “As a lawyer, I want to sit down and not say anything. This is a meeting with you and the Board of Education and Mr. Chapman. I don’t think I misstated anything.”
Superintendent Chapman took the floor. “Okay, we followed the judge’s order and we met last Thursday,” he said. “It was six community people and six of my staff. We had conversation in this room. And first thing, we really couldn’t agree on what the judge had ordered. I had a perception, Mr. (Herbert) Lavender appeared to have a perception. But the judge’s order says, ‘After receiving the objections to the plan for the citizens of Aliceville, the court held a hearing on July 2. The court defers ruling on the motion to allow for discussion between the Pickens County Board of Education and the concerned community members of Aliceville. The court encourages the two groups to explore any viable alternatives to the proposed restructuring of the Aliceville school zone and/or specific steps that would alleviate the community members’ concerns regarding seventh and eighth grade students moving to the high school.’”
Chapman went on to say the judge had encouraged the groups to get together to discuss and find a way to work with one another. Fred Young, the incoming principal of Aliceville High School, laid out a plan of how the seventh and eighth graders would be monitored at the high school. This seemed to alleviate the worries regarding that situation, but in turn called the facilities of the high school into question.
Several options were put forth by the community, one of which was to put the seventh grade with the elementary and send the eighth grade to the high school. That plan was not feasible as teachers for math, science, history, and English in those grades are one in the same. That would mean another set of math, science, history, and English teachers would have to be hired. So, although the enrollment numbers would be better, it would still be a funding issue because of the teacher units.
See complete story in the Pickens County Herald.