Baldwin County, Gulf Shores school officials meet to talk separation

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 2/4/18

Officials from Baldwin County Public Schools and Gulf Shores new city school system held their first separation meeting last week and began with a sticking point that was not resolved - whether or …

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Baldwin County, Gulf Shores school officials meet to talk separation

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Officials from Baldwin County Public Schools and Gulf Shores new city school system held their first separation meeting last week and began with a sticking point that was not resolved - whether or not Gulf Shores has to have a superintendent to begin negotiations.

Attorney Donald Beebe, who represents the Baldwin County Public Schools, said it was the system’s position that no negotiations could take place without a superintendent in place in Gulf Shores.

“Without a superintendent, we can’t really enter into any meaningful negotiations,” Beebe said.

Attorney Bob Campbell, who represents Gulf Shores, disagreed.

“There is no law that says a superintendent must negotiate a contract for the separation,” Campbell said, adding that Satsuma and Saraland did not have superintendents in place when separation negotiations began there.

Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler explained he and other county school officials were concerned that Gulf Shores bringing a superintendent in during the middle of negotiations could create problems if the new superintendent requested changes to matters that were already settled.

Beebe said the system’s reading of the law required a superintendent in place for negotiations to begin in earnest.

“We’re going to comply with the state law,” Beebe said. “We can sit here and debate all we want, but we’re not going to negotiate without a superintendent.”

Gulf Shores School Board President Kevin Corcoran said he and Gulf Shores team members just wanted to continue to move talks along and find ways to agree on issues.

“What I’d like to do is make progress,” Corcoran said. “This is going to happen, but we all want to be civil and we all want to keep the children in the forefront of everything we do. If we can have discussions about numbers or whatever else we can talk about, that would be wonderful.”

With regards to the necessity of a superintendent for their system to continue negotiations, Corcoran said it was a difference that could be tabled to allow the two groups to move forward.

Gulf Shores’ educational consultant Suzanne Freeman discussed how the two groups could cooperate on communication, including the possibility of joint press statements regarding any conclusions reached during the discussion process.

“It’s a real courtesy for families and communities so that they can know what is going on,” Freeman said.

Freeman added there was a sense of urgency to the talks as Gulf Shores would like to start its system in time for the beginning of the next school year in August 2018.

Beebe said he wasn’t sure that ambitious timeline was possible.

“We don’t see how that can happen,” Beebe said. “There’s so many other issues involved. We’re not sure that’s in the best interest of the students in the Baldwin County system - so that’s something we can reasonably disagree on.”

Corcoran asked the Baldwin County system to provide details on what issues they saw with Gulf Shores starting in August.

“If we can understand what the obstacles are to a 2018 start, maybe we can help remove them,” Corcoran said. “Speculation is the worst thing that can happen.”

Corcoran said Gulf Shores had consulted with several experts familiar with the separation process who felt the Aug. 2018 timeline could be doable.

Tyler said one such issue that would have to be addressed would be where Orange Beach, Ono Island and Fort Morgan students could attend school in 2018. While Baldwin County Schools have announced a new school to be opened in Orange Beach, the timeline for completion is not until 2019 and ground has not yet been broken on the project.

Tyler mentioned other issues in a press conference following the meeting.

“There are so many things involved in separating from such a large system,” Tyler said. “There are taxes, which sometimes you want to glaze over, personnel, facilities, debt, special education, transportation, technology. We have a lot of consider that they don’t really have to consider.”