FOLEY - One Foley city official recently said the city could possibly look at a split from the Baldwin County School System, but city leaders and school officials were quick to say the city and school system’s partnership continues to be strong and that no such split was being seriously considered.
During the Foley Woman Club’s annual Kick Off Meeting held Monday, September 11 at The Gift Horse Restaurant in Foley, speaker Jeff Rouzie, Director of Economic Development for the city, discussed the possible future scenarios for Foley schools.
After Rouzie noted the importance of adding housing to the city in response to a rapidly rising population, a concerned audience member asked, “For all these people that are going to move in, the schools will be a drawing point, because these people are younger and will have children in schools. Can our schools accommodate the influx?”
In response, Rouzie said that although his children are grown, when he and his wife were younger their first priority when moving somewhere new was considering the school system. With the largest elementary school in the state located in Foley, the influx of people raises questions about the other schools in the area.
“Baldwin County is so diverse, and so big and you’ve got so many different areas,” Rouzie said. “It’s going to be harder and harder for the county school system to do the things they need to. Not that they don’t want to, but to address the issues everywhere … That’s going to be challenging.”
Rouzie then described multiple ways the city could deal with the rise in the school-going population.
“What would be the perfect case scenario would be to build a regional high school that would accommodate Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Foley,” said Rouzie. “And then also a technical school combo for the same areas, but that one having different areas of education. If we put our resources together and find what you’ve got when you’re working with Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and Foley, it’s major. You’re looking to build just about anything that you want.”
A new school system formed from multiple municipalities would be a first in the state, and would require approval from the Alabama Legislature and state school board, which several local elected officials said would not likely occur.
“At some point in time we’ve got to come together, and work together and make those things happen,” Rouzie said. “Look at how much money we send to Montgomery. It’s pretty staggering. I mean, we support a lot of school systems in this state. That was a great question, and it’s been on my mind, Mike Thompson’s (Foley City Administrator), and the mayor’s (John Koniar), everybody’s mind. It’s just, how much can you afford, how do we do it, and how does that all come together?”
One audience member said that recently, there has been discussion within the City of Gulf Shores proposing the city split from the Baldwin County School System and implement their own city school system. When asked if Foley may eventually decide to have their own city school system, Rouzie replied, “I would think, down the road.”
He confirmed afterwards that there has not been any immediate talk or official discussion about whether Foley breaking away to form their own school system will happen, and that if that move were made, it would be well into the future.
City and school officials were made aware of the statements and questions arose in the days following Rouzie’s statements to the club.
Foley’s Baldwin County Board of Education member JaNay Dawson said she was shocked to hear such statements given the city and school system’s continued partnership on issues facing the schools within the city.
“It was a surprise coming from our last meeting with school and city officials where we were all on the same page,” Dawson said. “We have a very strong partnership going here. We’re looking at a brand new elementary school south of town to alleviate our overcrowding at the current elementary school, as well as other issues facing the community that we can work on together.”
Dawson said she felt the partnership was on track but after hearing about Rouzie’s statements, she felt the need to contact Koniar and see what was happening.
“I did call the mayor immediately and asked him if there was something I didn’t know or a discussion that was taking place,” Dawson said. “He assured me in our phone conversation that is not a practical move for Foley and he would not consider that and that the city and school system were moving ahead with our new school and joint projects for Foley.”
Dawson said Koniar told her he was as surprised by Rouzie’s statements as she was, but after talking to Koniar and two Foley City Council members, she felt assured the city and school system were still working together and that no split would be coming soon.
“We are all on the same page,” Dawson said. “The relationship is strong and intact between Foley and the school system. Any talk of separation is incorrect.”
Koniar echoed Dawson’s statements, and confirmed that there would not be any split between the city and the county.
“Foley is always evaluating our education programs and appreciates the efforts that the BCBOE has done in our community. The teachers and administration are doing good things for our children. Do we have challenges, yes, but we are working together to address them.”
Koniar also stated that even though Foley has looked at the city system, the city members all agreed that it would not be beneficial for Foley.
“Like many communities we have looked at a city system. We do not think it is financially viable for Foley. The taxpayers have spoken on numerous occasions their opposition to additional taxes. We feel that working with the BCBOE is our best option … The council will continue to do what they feel is best for our community and our children.”