Madison County Schools Board of Education turns away from new school

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - The Madison County Schools Board of Education voted on a capital plan for 2018-2022 that does not include the proposed new Monrovia-area high school.

Board members approved the plan in a 4-1 vote Thursday.

The board already missed one deadline to file a capital plan with the state of Alabama, and their new deadline is November 9. It was a vote that Superintendent Matt Massey said needed to take place tonight.

Now, they will submit a capital plan that takes the $43 million in BRAC funds and allocates it to other capital projects instead of the high school previously planned.

These projects, still listed as unfunded, plan the path forward that the board decided is best. It involves the renovation, upgrade, and expansion of the existing Sparkman High School as line item 1, listed for $22 million. There are also security upgrades, roofing, and safety upgrades on the list throughout the district.

We have listed the top 5 items in the long capital plan here:

  • Sparkman High School - Renovation, Upgrade and Expansion, $22 million
  • Madison County School System- Security upgrades for safety glass; keycard controlled access and intercom paging systems; $750,000
  • Madison County School System- Gym bleacher upgrades to meet ADA, $470,000
  • New Hope Elementary School- Roofing on elementary wing, $520,000
  • Hazel Green Elementary School- Roofing on Pre-k and special needs wing, $300,000

Not listing the new high school is a dramatic move, following years of struggle and strife surrounding the project. This capital plan vote means the board has turned away from the previous commitment to build that school in favor of spreading the money throughout the system instead.

"We have listened to hundreds and thousands of folks. And everyone who has added their input, we listened to you, on both sides of the issue," said Massey. "But in the end, we are all going to be able to come together. This is something that's going to be good for everyone."

He added, "I think it is a turning point for our board and it's something that is going to benefit all of our students. This is going to be the biggest system-wide improvement we have ever done."

In the previously proposed plan involving a new high school, some current Sparkman High School students would have been zoned to attend a 1600-student, state-of-the-art new high school on Pine Grove Road. There was an agreement, board members say, with the Madison County Commission to use the total $46 million in BRAC funds to build the school.

Later, the board learned it would take more than that to build the school as-proposed. The remaining $43 million would only cover the cost of a 900-student school with no auditorium or athletic fields.

After several capital plan versions failed in the past months, Superintendent Matt Massey proposed a revised capital plan on Thursday that did not include the new school. It passed 4-1, with Shere Rucker as the lone dissenting vote.

At Thursday's meeting, Rucker noted that she was concerned because she felt the board was obligated to build the new school. She said the capital plan Massey proposed made "no sense," later mentioning legal concerns, including a possible lawsuit, if the school system does not build the new school as it previously agreed.

We asked Massey if the board is at legal risk.

"We'll have to see on that," he said. "I don't think so. I think we're going to be able to work with our stakeholders. Everybody understands the situation where we are," he noted.

Massey says he believes this plan is what's best for kids, although it is a pivot from where the board previously stood on the issue.

Board members have said that lately, they had concerns about whether the new school was the best option for the school system. Massey said Thursday that the capital plan without the new school will benefit all the students in the system. The board also believes that there were multiple capital improvement projects, including roofing, security upgrades, and bleacher upgrades needed at other schools that could no longer be pushed to the side.

"We have a lot of the deferred issues we haven't fixed. This is going to allow us to catch up," said Massey.

Of the Sparkman renovations proposed in the new capital plan, he said, "Sparkman is our oldest high school. We have had major renovations to New Hope, Madison County High School, Buckhorn and Hazel Green. Sparkman is over 20 years old and we haven't touched the school since then, so they need a boost."

The capital plan passed on Thursday can still be revised, so it does not entirely kill the new school proposal from years ago.

"It's a five-year-plan," said Massey, "and so now we have a direction and we can start to move on and look at other things. We have a lot going on."

This is similar to ideas that Massey has been proposing since before he was elected. In 2014, he proposed a different capital plan to that board that did not include the new school, but instead funded other projects. The board, at that time, continued with plans for the school.

He said Thursday that this isn't about him, but about what's best for the system.

"When I came into this position as Superintendent, this was really to advocate for our students and for our community. That's what really, the goal is all the time," he explained.

The school system is currently going through the process of coming out from under a federal desegregation order that has been in place for decades. It must prove to the DOJ, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and a federal judge that its school system is racially, socio-economically, geographically, and academically balanced.

Court documents reveal that this week the school system submitted its annual report to the court for review.  Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala has also recently toured schools as part of the long process.

The board had formed a zoning committee and created zone lines for a new high school that it had submitted to the court for approval. Massey said lots of work went into that, but now they can move past that and on to the other issues they want to address.

"We have worked hard to make things fair," he noted. "This is almost a wellness check, like, 'Hey, let's get you out from under this order.' So that's the goal that we have here."

During this same meeting, two parents got up to address the board about concerns about something separate-- the Hazel Green High School gun incidents in October. They said that they applaud the school system on many things, but the Hazel Green incidents are not something they can be proud of. They demanded change, and said they as parents want to be a part of the conversation.

Massey says that the school system's capital plan, passed Thursday, includes security improvements.