By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Five members of the Escambia County Board of Education took care of two housekeeping items during a special meeting held Monday, October 17, at Flomaton High School. But there was only one item discussed during the work session that followed.
The five BOE members (District 2’s Danny Benjamin and District 1’s Kevin Hoomes were unable to attend) listened as solutions were offered to one of the school system’s biggest problems — the overcrowding of Flomaton’s two public schools.
Assistant Superintendent George Brown, who was sitting in for Superintendent of Education Michele McClung, Deputy Director of Operations Shaun Goolsby, Chief Schools Financial Officer Rochelle Richardson and principals Courtney McBride (Flomaton Elementary) and Randall Jackson (Pollard-McCall) took part in the discussion.
Goolsby pulled no punches, telling board members that the time had come to move, if they felt a new elementary school was the answer to ending a situation that has reached crisis stage. Dozens of prospective students have been turned away because Flomaton Elementary had no room for them.
Making room for those who have already been enrolled has created numerous problems that have led to temporary fixes that negatively affect the classroom space at Flomaton High.
“We first talked about the future of Flomaton Elementary School about a year ago, and we had come to the conclusion that (the possible solutions offered) were just a band-aid,” the deputy director of operations said. “I need a decision from the board — do we build a school, or do we do anything? I need some direction from the board – Whichever direction you go will take the pressure off the middle school and off the high school.”
Brown, who was principal at Flomaton High for several years before being promoted to his present position, agreed the previously offered solutions amounted to little more than putting a band-aid on a deep wound.
“We’ve already lost four legitimate classrooms (at FHS), not counting the PreK,” he said.
District 4’s Cindy Jackson recommended that the board consider consolidation of all students in PreK through third grade at Flomaton Elementary and all students in grades 4-6 to Pollard-McCall, which presently includes grades K-8 and which will be 100 years old in November.
District 6’s Sherry Digmon suggested the use of portable classrooms as a possible temporary solution to the overcrowding problem, but Goolsby said there is a shortage of such structures.
“We would have to find them first,” he said. “When Mrs. McBride asked about that last year, we couldn’t find any.”
Goolsby again proposed that building a new school was probably the most prudent move, and the board members seemed to agree. He said the time for such action is now.
“It will be at least a year before we even start building,” he explained. “If we started now, it would take two years — a year to get everything together and a year of building.”
Talk got around to the possible relocation of the system’s Career Readiness Center, currently situated in Brewton, to Flomaton, since land had been found on which a new center could be built.
Board Chair Coleman Wallace pointed out that moving the career center to a central location would heighten access to it by students from Atmore-based schools.
“Kids from Atmore are limited in their access to our readiness center,” he said. “T.R. Miller (a part of the Brewton City School System) has more access than our kids.”
Getting back to the question of a new school, representatives of Lathan Associates Architects projected during a September BOE workshop that the cost of a new elementary school would be “around $33 million.” Goolsby said he had found a much better deal.
“I found another source who says we can build a school for $15-18 million,” he pointed out. “So, for $33 million, you can build a career tech and a new elementary school.”
Goolsby then asked for permission to begin negotiations for the land.
“I suggest you go ahead and buy the property,” he said. “I’d like to move forward, put in an offer.”
“Why don’t you come back with two prices, for two pieces of property?” asked Wallace, indicating that the board plans to proceed with the construction of two new schools. (Votes on such issues can only be taken during a formal meeting.)
During the brief (10 minutes) special meeting that proceeded the workshop, the board heard from Richardson that the system’s salary schedule had been revised to include three pages explaining how employees can determine their salary schedules. BOE members also selected Wallace as the board’s delegate, and Benjamin as alternate delegate, to the annual Alabama Association of School Boards Conference.