City schools study results expected soon
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The consultant hired by City of Atmore officials to determine the feasibility of forming a three-school municipal education network has received all requested data needed to finish the study, which he started in April 2019 with a four-month completion target.
City Clerk Becca Smith confirmed that she received last week an email from Dr. Ira Harvey, (CEO of Decision Resources LLC) who is conducting the study, informing her that he had received the requested data from county officials. City staff had compiled and furnished several months ago all the information requested of them.
In that email, Harvey let Smith know that Superintendent of Education John Knott had sent all the information requested of school officials. Though they weren’t specifically mentioned, the consultant apparently also received the data he had requested from Escambia County Tax Assessor Thad Moore Jr. and Tax Collector Tim Pettis.
Harvey told the city clerk in the email that “we are full steam ahead to finish the study.”
In a January 9 conversation with Atmore News, the Vestavia Hills-based educational consultant announced that he received half his $60,000 fee in November. The payment was made despite that the contract he signed on April 13, 2019 stipulated that he would receive no payment until bound copies of the report were hand-delivered to Mayor Jim Staff and members of the city council, and the results of the study were made public.
City Attorney Larry Wettermark suggested in a November 7, 2019 letter to Smith that, due to the fact that Dr. Harvey had “run into a stone wall in getting information from certain public agencies,” Wettermark’s opinion was, “there is justification for an early partial payment rather than a lump-sum payment at the end.”
Harvey said on January 9 that despite the 50 percent advance on the fee, he had reached a frustration level that prompted him to consider dropping the project and moving on to other, less troublesome ones.
“I’m about at that point now,” he said in response to how long he would wait before calling it quits. “I do have half the study done, but I only have half the data I need. I’m very puzzled; I never expected it to be like this. It’s been an awful long time.”
The school superintendent had said on many occasions that he had not been formally asked to provide any information for the feasibility study. Finally, Staff hand-delivered a copy of the request to Knott, and Wettermark did likewise to Brewton law firm Thompson, Garrett & Hines, the county school board’s legal representative.
The delay made some of the city data irrelevant, and Harvey has notified Smith that he would require updated files with “final 2018-19 values.” Once he has that, he said, he can wrap up the study and make a final determination on the feasibility of organizing a city school system.
“The majority of the study is laid out already,” he said. “The main piece I had to have was the school financial statements, and I now have them. Hopefully, it won’t take much longer.”