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City schools

350-page feasibility study completed, delivered, being studied

News Staff Writer

Note: This week’s article is the first on a planned three-part series on the city schools feasibility study, its positives and negatives, and the questions that still remain regarding formation of a municipal school system.

Finally, more than a year after the anticipated completion of a city-sanctioned study to determine the feasibility of forming a three-school municipal education system, the study has been completed and delivered to Atmore officials.
The complex analysis of tax trends, revenue streams, expected expenditures and other data stretches to more than 350 pages. Mayor Jim Staff said he hasn’t studied the report in depth, that he is waiting for City Attorney Larry Wettermark to give his opinion of the document.
The most glaring fact included in the study, which was conducted by Vestavia Hills-based Dr. Ira Harvey, is that start-up costs and operating expenses would apparently require at least $2 million, maybe as much as $3 million, and would experience a slight shortage in revenues required to fund yearly operations.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Staff said this week of the $60,000 feasibility report. “One thing that stands out, though, is that it looks like it’s going to take some money up front to get it started, and some extra money to keep it up and running.”
The mayor said he was awaiting Wettermark’s opinion before sharing the detailed document with city council members. His initial impression, he added, is that the study leaned toward the negative side with respect to the funding of a city school system.
“I haven’t gotten an answer back from our lawyer, and I don’t want to go through it with everybody until I know what I’m talking about,” Staff said. “But none of it looks good. The city doesn’t have that kind of money; we’re still paying on Rivercane.”
Loumeek White, president of Atmore Citizens for Change, said he and members of the pro-city system group are anxiously awaiting a public explanation of the study and its findings so that they can decide in which direction to go next.
White said he isn’t sure the study was based on all available data, and Harvey points out in the report that there were figures he requested that were never provided by county school officials.
“Now that the feasibility study is back, hopefully it will show us what we need to do to be able to create and sustain our own school system,” White said. “Now that we have partial results — because we don’t believe all funding and resources were accounted for in this study.”
White said he understood that Atmore City Council members would ultimately make the decision on whether to request from the Alabama State Department of Education a formal separation from the Escambia County School System as a prelude to formation of a new system.
“The decision rests with our elected officials and the City of Atmore to decide how much they care for our children and our future. If Atmore wants a brighter future, now is the time to seek and demand change.”
Next week: A look at the funding issues confronting the City of Atmore and organizers of a movement to form a city school system, along with comments on other aspects of the study.