MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - The Madison County School Board Tuesday night shot down superintendent Matt Massey's plan for a new 11-12 grade school. He had originally proposed making Sparkman High School into a 9-10 school and creating a new 11-12 school.
Massey said this was the most fair option because it meant everyone would be able to go. He said it also allows the school system to better maintain extracurricular activities.
But this vote Tuesday means the board will move ahead with plans for a 9-12 grade school.
The Madison County School system, still under a federal desegregation order, must submit the plans for the 9-12 school, along with zone lines, to the Department of Justice for approval. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is also a plaintiff and must agree with the plan.
Board members talked about the sense of urgency for this - while they are convinced BRAC funds allocated to the school system are secure, they know time is still of the essence and the debate has lasted long enough.
"This project has been on the capital plan for well over 10 years," said Jeff Anderson, a board member who represents part of the Monrovia area. "I'm so glad the board has finally been able to take a vote and move forward to build a high school."
Anderson said that after a period of community meetings and public comment, the public spoke. The board learned a lot, he said, and listened to them.
"I think we are served best by two smaller schools," he explained.
"We'll do the best we can with the 9-12 and we'll make it work," said Superintendent Matt Massey. He argued that they would still be able to offer robust programs at a 9-12 school, but keeping the 11-12 was the most practical due to funding constraints.
He said regardless of what the constraints may be, "What the priority is, is going to be doing what's best for the kids. That should drive everything that we do... And that's my focus, that's my agenda is to give those kids those opportunities." He mentioned that the strength and excellence of the students and staff will carry them through the process.
Now the grade configuration has been decided, it's a question of who will get to go to the new school. A zoning committee had previously recommended several options. Now, the board will have to agree on zone lines. The superintendent must recommend his choice to the board before a decision can be made. Anderson said any way you slice it, someone is bound to be disappointed.
"You will never draw a zone line that makes everybody happy, and that's just a fact," he explained. "The zone lines will be made to where they make the most sense and they provide both schools the opportunity to be great schools. And I think they will be great schools."
The zone lines could be presented as early as May 19 at the board's next meeting, said Massey. Any plan would need to be submitted to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Department of Justice for approval.
Anderson said he expects the zoning committee's recommendations and also the public to play a role in what zoning decision is made.