Fairhope schools by the numbers 2,025 students enrolled in Fairhope Schools live outside city limits Total estimated state funding: approximately $15,456,803 $5,452 per student in state funding Total …
About 40 people filled the Fairhope High School library at the Fairhope Public Schools Commission’s monthly meeting on Sept. 7. Buzz and chatter rang through the air as members prepared to discuss several routine topics as well as the non-routine possibility of breaking away from Baldwin County Public Schools to create their own Fairhope City Schools system.
“There has been a discussion going around town, and there are a lot of factors to look at,” said Fairhope resident Jonathan Gray, who led the meeting. “We became overwhelmed with the rumors, and wanted to put a presentation together to see what this would look like.”
Gray, who owns a public relations firm, works as a political strategist and has several clients throughout Alabama, including Baldwin County Public Schools.
In addition to Gray and the commission members, Baldwin County Board of Education Chief Financial Officer John Wilson, principals from all Fairhope schools and several parents were in attendance.
Wilson presented several sets of data at the meeting, explaining that based on state, federal and local funding, if Fairhope were to split into their own school system it would likely impact the city in a negative way financially.
Wilson also explained that Gulf Shores contributed 6.94% and Orange Beach contributed 3.56% of the county district's enrollment before they split into their own school systems.
“It is a common misconception that all the taxes raised in a city system go to that system,” Gray said. “Baldwin County would still receive 81% of the countywide taxes raised in the (theoretical) Fairhope City School System, and y’all don’t have a lodging tax, which is what saved them (Gulf Shores and Orange Beach).”
Wilson also presented data that showed that while the current 3-mill tax revenue for Fairhope is at $3.5 million, if the city were to create its own school system that revenue would decrease to $2 million.
Wilson said that in order for a Fairhope City School System to match the BCBE PPE funding, the city would need to increase to 13 mills.
In 2019, Fairhope and Spanish Fort residents voted to implement a 3-mill property tax to support the schools in each city’s feeder pattern. At the time the tax was passed, it was estimated to bring an additional $2 million to Fairhope schools annually.
Wilson wrapped up his presentation by showing the future projects that have already been expensed and planned for Fairhope schools as a part of the county’s pay as you go (PAYG) program. Those plans include a 16-room addition at Fairhope High School, a Fairhope High ninth grade academy, Fairhope Intermediate/East addition and gym and additional capital building enhancements on all campuses.
Wilson also said there are plans for a new gym, multi-purpose athletic facility at Fairhope High School and significant paving projects to accommodate these additions. The total estimated cost for these renovations is $28-$30 million.
“It’s not always better. There are great reasons (to create a city school system), and if it’s going to make it better I am all for it, but when you start talking about ‘I’m going to go knock on my neighbors door and say hey I’d like for you to raise your taxes 13 mills to get what we have right now,” Fairhope High School Principal Jon Cardwell said. “Do we have problems? Yes. Does every school in Alabama have problems? Yes.”
Cardwell also said he is opposed to splitting away from the county school district and is against the idea of becoming a more exclusive school system.
“I don’t want that, that is why I am so opposed to this. Barnwell kids are the heart of my neighborhood, and that is a part I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to cut somebody out; it makes me ill.” Cardwell said. “We keep talking about ‘Oh everybody is welcome,’ but if everybody was welcome we wouldn’t still be discussing this.”
“I just want to make my stance clear, and I can’t speak for the other principals, but they probably feel the same way. You have to bring me more than control and growth. You have to bring me ‘What are we going to do?’ We are talking about lives here.”