Madison City Board of Education takes steps to ease elementary school overcrowding

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT)-- Portable classrooms are coming to Mill Creek Elementary School as part of a solution to an overcrowding problem that school board members in Madison say has reached a tipping point.

Superintendent Dee Fowler expects elementary schools in Madison to be at 95% capacity next year. That means there are very limited spaces for new students, but Madison in comparison is growing rapidly. New families mean more students, said Fowler. And that means something has to give.

That's why he recommended, and the board approved, the use of portables at Mill Creek.

"We consider this to be the best of bad solutions," said Fowler.

He did say the plus side is: "Nobody moves. Everybody stays where they are," he said, explaining this way students don't need to switch schools. But he understands other concerns related to portables. Fowler said security will be a priority, considering portables are detached from the main school building.

Weather is also a factor. During severe weather threats that may happen during school time while students are using portables, "We need to bring kids in and put them in a safe area," he said. "We'll be working with our safety plan to work on where these children can go."

But Fowler said leaders in the school system believe the portables are just a temporary solution. As Madison grows, the school system will need to seek others. He's planning on assembling a committee to work on more long-term solutions.

One of those may be a curb on annexing residential property into Madison.

David Hergenroeder appeared before the Madison City Council Tuesday saying, "We'd like to see a moratorium on annexation of non-commercial property and a moratorium on rezoning to residential property until we can figure out a new income source, working together."

The Board of Education also passed a resolution Wednesday, urging the city council for this.

"We're just saying we need a time to catch our breathe to make sure of our funding situation."

Council members at Tuesday's meeting expressed understanding that growth is a problem.

Some, like Mike Potter, support the board in their annexation concerns. Potter said, "The good news is we're growing, and we're strong, we've done a lot of good things. The bad news is our credit card is already maxed out," he said. "I totally support holding back on annexations. And the reason I do is not because it's going to be a cure-all, I don't think it will. But I do think it will send a psychological message to our legislators who are working on the tax issue."

Potter also explained that he hopes the council taking a stance on annexation shows taxpayers another option that can solve the funding problem.

"I also think it will be a wake-up call to our citizens to re-evaluate whether or not we need to go back and look at raising our taxes," he said. "I really think the citizens of Madison need to soul-search about how are you, how are we, going to pay for our future."

Other council members said refraining from annexation may sound great, but Madison still has room to grow within its current boundaries.

"There's a lot of land out there that's already been annexed and already been zone, that we can continue to build on," explained Tim Holcombe. "Stopping annexation is not the golden goose." He said raising the millage could help. "I moved here from Vestavia... Vestavia had 77 mills when we moved up here. When you start comparing the property tax and what you pay, you've got a bargain in Madison. Our taxes seriously are low for what you get, for the quality of the school system, for the quality of the city."

Steve Smith added, "The whole thing really emphasizes the need for people to spend their money in Madison."

The council plans to discuss more about annexation and rezoning at its next meeting in June.


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