MADISON, Ala. - During his State of the Schools address on Tuesday, Superintendent Robby Parker outlined his path forward during a time of explosive growth within the community.
As new development projects are announced and Madison's population grows, so too does its student population. Parker said within 5 years, many schools will be over or approaching capacity. In 10 years, they will need to have a plan because most if not all schools will be there.
Parker said his plan involves building several new schools. He thinks it should happen in several steps:
- Transforming West Madison Elementary from an elementary school to a Pre-K center
- Building a new elementary school to be finished in 2021 with a 900-student capacity and $34 million price tag
- Building a new middle school to be finished in 2023 with a 1200-student capacity, a performing arts center, and a $61 million price tag
- Adding on to existing high schools or building a new high school
Parker spoke a lot about his plans for Pre-K in the school system. He said he wants to make it available to every student. Currently, there is a lottery system. But he recognizes the benefits of Pre-K for a child and said they need space to give all children better futures through it. He said a new Pre-K center where the current West Madison is located will supplement the program at Rainbow Elementary and completely fill West Madison.
For the high schools, Parker said there is a choice. Adding on to James Clemens High and Bob Jones High would cost an estimated $18 million and add a 500-student capacity to each school. This would need to be done by 2026. Parker said building a new high school could cost $120 million.
Parker said it may be difficult to hear, but rezoning is an important part of the plan.
"I want everybody to understand that rezoning is necessary," he said.
He said rezoning is to fill seats in schools, and also to make sure every school is academically and demographically equal.
"It's hard on me. It's hard on children. But it's the best thing for children. It allows them to go to an 'A' school," he stated.
The district wants your voice to be heard as they continue assessing the options. There will be a series of open meetings where you can give your thoughts and ask questions.
But most importantly, the district and growth committee must come up with a plan to pay for the new school buildings.
Parker said Madison City Schools maxed-out its ability to borrow money to pay for schools. They can not finance new buildings with a bond issue until 2034, Parker explained. That leaves other options on the table, including increasing taxes.
He said, "Nothing is off the table. That is certainly an option right now. We can't go back to the bond market until 2034. I'm not trying to be coy. I can tell you this: the numbers showed that we are going to far outgrow our capacity. We know we can not borrow any more money to build schools, so we have got to find an alternate income source."
Parker said the growth committee will now take the reins.
"We are giving [the growth committee] this data, saying, 'This is what we've got to have and this is how much it's going to cost.' And they are looking at all options for us," said Parker.