Some Daphne city leaders had words for Superintendent Eddie Tyler and the Baldwin County School System during the council’s meeting Monday, as they feel Tyler’s recent letter to the city’s …
Some Daphne city leaders had words for Superintendent Eddie Tyler and the Baldwin County School System during the council’s meeting Monday, as they feel Tyler’s recent letter to the city’s planning commission was uncalled for.
Tyler sent the letter to the Daphne Planning Commission highlighting his concerns about a potential new 900-home neighborhood that’s planned to be built along Highway 181 and Austin Road in Daphne.
In the letter, Tyler lays out the system’s opposition to the planned development, saying it could place undue strain on the schools in the Daphne feeder pattern, even with the recent groundbreaking of an addition at Daphne East Elementary School.
Tyler also questioned why the school system was not informed about the development until they heard it was going to be on the planning commission’s agenda.
“We only learned of this project because of an inquiry from local media,” Tyler wrote. “Think about that. Here we are announcing an expansion to resolve current overcrowding and no one mentions the application for the largest neighborhood in Baldwin County, second only to Lake Forest. Had we learned about this project a few months back, even a month ago, we could have considered the expansion project, delayed it or altered it to prepare for additional growth.”
Tyler said the Eastern Shore feeder patterns’ schools are all nearing capacity and with a new neighborhood like this one potentially coming on line, the system would likely have to adjust feeder pattern lines in those areas.
“The law requires us to balance attendance zones through redistricting as necessary to meet growth,” Tyler wrote. “This process is usually tumultuous, as it can impact families by being moved from one school location to another.”
Daphne Councilman Robin LeJeune said he felt that portion of Tyler’s letter was a threat to the city.
“He made mild threats to the citizens of Daphne that if this went through no one is safe at where they’re going to school,” LeJeune said. “He said they would look at redistricting everyone if this move forward.”
This exchange also came at a time when Daphne has been exploring a study about possibly breaking away from the county school system and exploring creating its own city system, which LeJeune said is still in the works.
“We want to look at everything,” LeJeune said. “We want to take the information we have and look at future information. We are not going to make rash decisions. I just want the community to know we are trying to do what’s best for the citizens in our community.”
Councilman Doug Goodlin said he and others just wanted to see the study’s information before any decisions would be made.
“We haven’t even had a study,” Goodlin said. “We haven’t seen any numbers, so we don’t really know what we’re dealing with yet.”
LeJeune said he and other city leaders would like to work with the school system to address the issues of growth and expansion, but that making threats was not the way to do that.
“We’re not going to sit here and make threats about what we can or can’t do,” LeJeune said. “We want to work with the school system. This is not an us versus them, but we are going to look at future development and future buildings. We’re not going to make off-handed threats about moving citizens around.”
In a statement to The Baldwin Times, Tyler said he was sorry his words were perceived as a threat, as they were meant to be more of a "cry for help."
"The letter was not intended to be a threat to anyone. In fact, it was a cry for help and understanding. We have no ability financially or operationally to keep up with the monumental growth being proposed across the Eastern Shore, unless we are brought into the planning conversations far enough in advance that we can incorporate additions and changes within the limited construction budgets we have.
"The taxpayers have been very clear not just in the build Baldwin now vote but also in the failure of the tax renewal. The fact of the matter is there will be no new taxes for Baldwin County schools in the near future unless they are done on a local district level.
"Without additional funding for new construction and without the ability to plan in advance for growth changes, the only solution we have would be to locate new students moving into an existing district to schools in areas of Baldwin County where we have capacity.
"This is not just a matter exclusive to Daphne but rather one we are having to look at with regards to growth all over Baldwin County. This is absolutely not a threat. As a matter of fact, this is the last course of action I have any interest in pursuing but somebody has to look out for the quality of education of the families and students currently attending these schools. I am not going to overcrowd existing schools where we are doing great education work when we have other schools in the county under capacity.
"Everybody wants to support growth and we do, too, but we also have to look out for the people who are already here, balance growth with what we can handle and try our best to work together.
"I'm sorry some considered the letter a threat but I specifically asked for their help in directing new development and new projects to come speak with the school system and get us on board with the future plans as soon as possible. I have hope that in this way we can avoid redistricting all together."
While approval for the new subdivision passed the city’s planning commission unanimously, the city council will likely not take up possible approval until a May council meeting.