In a statement released Feb. 14, Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler said he and his team would be ending negotiations on the split of the Gulf Shores City School System and would leave the deal in the hands of state officials moving forward.
Tyler’s statement reads as follows:
“After three weeks of talks with representatives from Gulf Shores City Schools, we are disappointed that they have refused to negotiate in good faith and we have agreed to submit our concerns to the State Superintendent for resolution.
“Gulf Shores has refused to respect our sincere concerns regarding the serious consequences of a rushed split this summer, leaving only a matter of months to prepare.
“While we have raised the question of rushing this matter in every meeting, we have yet to hear from them why they think rushing is better than taking just one year to properly plan this out. They always answered our question with a question – asking us why we were opposed. You can't make progress when the answers to legitimate questions are only questions back.
“At our last meeting, we proposed engaging an independent mediator to try and speed up talks and make meaningful progress. The City of Gulf Shores representatives told us they would go back to meet with their board and get back with us the next day. Instead of getting back with us, they put out a press release to the public offering to take students from outside their city limits into their school system, so long as they are paid for doing so.
“Previously we raised concerns about the legality of not having a superintendent and instead of simply informing us of their intentions to resolve this matter, they again went to the public with their actions in some condescending tone about the legitimacy of our concerns, even though the law is clear on this matter.
“It is our belief, for these and other reasons, that Gulf Shores has not been negotiating in good faith. I do not believe they intend to negotiate in good faith but only act in a selfish manner to accomplish the goals they first set out – which is the opposite of negotiating.
“I have made the decision that we cannot continue to work with a group who cannot be trusted to work in good faith. Therefore, I called last week to set up an appointment to talk with State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson, asking him to take up the disagreement on the start date. I spoke with Dr. Richardson yesterday during Mardi Gras break and he has agreed to take up the matter and render a decision.
“I made it clear to Dr. Richardson that it is not in the best interest of the 580 students, who live outside the city limits, to be subjected to an untested, undefined and unknown new school system. These children deserve better. I will keep my conversation with the State Superintendent confidential but I am pleased to report that he shares our position concerning what is in the best interest of all students. After our talk, I am very comfortable placing this decision in his very capable hands.
“Gulf Shores has continued to say this can be done and that we are just over reacting. With a June 30 separation date to start school, this would be completed in less than six months from when we first met on January 24 and that has never been done in Alabama. We reviewed the splits across Alabama in recent history and none have ever been done in the six months Gulf Shores has suggested, though they have stated numerous times that this has in fact been done before.
“Gulf Shores' demands to start in 2018 are ridiculous knowing that their reason for leaving was spurred by our decision to build new facilities in Orange Beach. They knew that these facilities would be complete and ready for students in August 2019. To know this from the beginning and still demand a 2018 start date is disrespectful at best. Again we continue to ask, what would be the harm in waiting one year to be sure everyone can start with the best opportunity and the least disruption?
“To be clear, compare the dates of when systems were formed by the city councils and when the state approved the split, not some suggested date of when people may or may not have started fantasizing about the future. And in all of these splits, has there ever been one this complicated? Our students are currently studying in a one-to-one computer setting. Our technology standards are very high, our curriculum interfaces with our classroom education. This is a split district, with a history of political differences. We have advanced placement students studying in other schools of Baldwin County. We have special education children that they will be required to educate but for which they will need to prepare facilities and resources. Baldwin County has never faced a split and we want to ensure this one is done right – and why wouldn't we? I think we owe these families the opportunity to start off with the likelihood they will succeed.
“Let me be clear again, as I have stated numerous times, we have celebrated their decision and look forward to their future. We have zero intention of preventing them from completing their split; in fact, we believe that their exit will allow us to focus more resources on the remaining students in the nearby areas and the rest of Baldwin County. This isn't to say we don't love these kids and wish them the best – in fact, that is why we are fighting to be sure that this can be done. We want them to have the best chance at success – long term success, not some silly goal of setting a new state record for creating a new city school system.
“The offer by Gulf Shores to accept students in the feeder patter, while impressive on the surface, is yet another empty commitment.
“First of all, this is a standard practice to allow students who are already in the graduation pattern to stay in place and finish where they have attended the majority of their schooling. We have always expected that those children who want to graduate as a Dolphin, would be allowed to graduate as a Dolphin. Again, look to other splits which took place in Mobile County and others across the state.
“Second, we have no idea what their school system will look like. What kind of educational standards do they intend to implement? Will they use computers in a one-to-one environment as we do? What will their curriculum be? Will it transfer easily back into where we are currently with our students or will they be behind when they transfer back in? Will they hold the same holiday and school schedules to accommodate families with children in both the Orange Beach Elementary school and the new Gulf Shores School? Will they use the same uniforms or require parents to purchase new ones for one year before returning to the Baldwin County system?
“Third, there is a financial motive for this. Many have wondered how Gulf Shores can operate at the level they have suggested without any new taxes. This was the dilemma in Saraland, Satsuma and Chickasaw where the systems opened with no new taxes only to have tax votes almost immediately following their first years. By including an additional 580 students, Gulf Shores would receive nearly $3.5 million more in funding for the first year, while their additional expenditures would be minimal.
“Fourth, they have appointed an interim superintendent, who was released from her contract as the Trussville City School superintendent. This is likely why Gulf Shores has gone out of their way to be clear that their new interim superintendent is not being considered for any permanent position.
“Yet, they expect everyone to jump on board with their vision, a vision with no leader, no plan, inadequate funding and not enough time to work out the problems that are inherent in starting a new school system with 2,000 children across city lines with the highest technology demands of any in Alabama.
“Offering a free cruise isn't worth much if you don't know where the cruise is going, what kind of ship you will be traveling on or what you are going to be asked to pay for once you get there. This is how I feel about the actions of Gulf Shores. There has been a lot of 'talk' about their vision and their hopes but they have yet to offer anything of any substance on how they will do this, including the simple question I have asked in every meeting – how are you going to get this started in just a matter of months? More importantly, aren't these children better off if we take a year and properly plan this out and prepare for the best transition we can provide the students, parents and teachers?
“I do not believe the representatives from Gulf Shores are focusing on the right people. I believe they are more interested in doing what they said they were going to do at the beginning and are determined not to change their plans. My focus is the same today as it was when I started in education 42 years ago and that is the best interest of the children. That is where I will make my stand, regardless of whether these children reside in the City of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach or other surrounding areas.
“I have made the decision that we will no longer meet with Gulf Shores and we will submit to the will of the state superintendent to determine what is the best course of action.”
Gulf Coast Media reached out to Gulf Shores City School System officials but has yet to receive a response. This story will be updated as more events occur.