School board declines to take action on school closings
by David Lazenby
Mar 11, 2011 | 6197 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students and parents picket the possible   closing of Townley and Farmstead schools    outside the Carl Elliott Building in downtown Jasper Thursday night before a meeting of the Walker County Board of Education. The BOE did not vote on the closings during the meetings. Photo by: James Phillips
Students and parents picket the possible closing of Townley and Farmstead schools outside the Carl Elliott Building in downtown Jasper Thursday night before a meeting of the Walker County Board of Education. The BOE did not vote on the closings during the meetings. Photo by: James Phillips
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Prior to the start of Thursday’s meeting of the Walker County Board of Education, students, parents and other citizens concerned about the possible closing of two county schools picketed the Carl Elliott Building in downtown Jasper where the school board meets.

In the boardroom, which could not hold all of those in attendance, several people who are anxious that officials are deliberating on the closure of Farmstead and Townley elementary/junior high schools spoke out on the matter.

The speakers spent the better part of two hours attempting to convince the school board officials that shutting down the K-8 schools is a mistake.

When the meeting concluded, the activists still had no answers on the fate of the two schools, which may be closed eventually in an effort to reduce costs for the struggling school system. The county school board members declined to vote on the matter during Thursday night’s meeting.

Some of those who appeared before the board had more questions for the school district officials than comments. While responding to Mark Hudson, a trustee at Farmstead who asked why his school may be closed, school board Chairman Brad Ingle explained that it was due to low enrollment.

The school’s custodian of funds, Margaret Scurlock, added that Alabama officials recently declared proration of 3 percent, meaning all public school systems in Alabama will again see a decrease in state funds.

“That will create a (budget) deficit,” she said. “We’re looking at a loss of about $4.7 million next year, and no, I do not believe there is much we can do except cut, and make drastic cuts.”

The school officials also faced tough questions from William Miles, a trustee at Townley whose inquiries implied a conflict of interest between Ingle’s position on the school board and his job with Drummond Company, Inc., which is rumored to have an interest in the Townley school property.

Ingle emphatically denied the insinuation. “They do not overlap,” he said.

Bennett also asked Superintendent Jason Adkins about campaign contributions he received from the coal company during his recent bid for election. Adkins denied the company had helped sponsor his campaign.

Townley principal Karen Atkins implored that school board members say “no” if Adkins recommends the schools be closed.

She also suggested other ways the school board can reduce expenses while keeping Farmstead and Townley open.

A recommendation made by Atkins and others who spoke out at the meeting was trimming the budget of all the county schools, rather than closing the two K-8 schools that are in jeopardy.

Miles compared the school system’s situation to his parents’ struggle to put food on the table for their seven children.

“We didn’t tell the two small ones they couldn’t eat,” he said.

Miles added that the school system did not get into a financial mess overnight — nor can it escape the quagmire overnight.

“But we can get out of it — and we can take care of all these schools,” he said.

A few of those who spoke questioned why officials weren’t looking into closing Parrish High School, which also has a lower student population than other Walker County High Schools.

A wave of grumbling went through the crowd when Adkins explained that he did not want to close any high schools because of stronger connections between those schools and their communities due to programs such as athletics and band.

Adkins and Ingle said they appreciated the comments made at the meeting as well as calls they have received from concerned citizens since last Thursday when the school board officials announced it was looking at shutting down the schools.