Gardendale School Board Explores Cost-Cutting Measures While Debating Next Legal Step

Gardendale City Schools Superintendent Patrick Martin, board President Michael Hogue and Vice President Karen Malone confer at a special called meeting Feb. 19 2018. (Source: Robert Carter)

Members of the Gardendale Board of Education met Monday night in special session, getting together for the first time since losing a decision on their efforts to form a separate school system.

The city has been trying for more than four years to break away from the Jefferson County Schools, but their effort has been blocked by federal courts, which agreed with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s argument that there was racial motivation behind the proposed split.

In the latest ruling, a three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week struck down the earlier court ruling that had approved the split.

The board met Monday in an extended executive session with its attorneys, but before that, it approved two steps to save money while awaiting the next move.

Members voted unanimously to authorize Superintendent Patrick Martin to negotiate an early termination of the lease for the board’s office suite, which is in an office complex on Sharit Avenue. The lease is scheduled to expire July 31, but board President Michael Hogue said Martin would try to get out of it sooner, if possible.

“It’s in our best interest to utilize taxpayers’ money as efficiently as we can,” Hogue said.

When the board employees leave their suite, they will move to a new space that’s part of a Gardendale city facility, Hogue said. He also emphasized that all the system’s staff will be retained.

“We are not cutting down operations, as some people on social media have said,” Hogue said.

In addition, the board voted to terminate a contract with the Serve Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The center had been sought to help with the transition of the two elementary schools from county hands to the city’s. U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala initially approved the city’s taking over those schools, but that decision has been overruled by the appeals court. Since the schools will not be moving to city control by the 2019-2020 academic year, the transition assistance will not be needed.

Community Comments

Hogue told those in attendance that part of the reason he called the special meeting was to get feedback from them. A handful of attendees spoke up, generally split on whether to keep pursuing the court case or give up and stay with JefCoEd.

Brian Hall told the board that he originally voted for the additional property tax that was required to fund the city system, but he now thought it was time to end the effort.

“Seeing what has happened now, and the amount of tax money that has been spent and wasted in court on this, I would like to recommend that it’s time for us to stop,” Hall said. “We do not need to waste any more of Gardendale taxpayers’ money. We are trying to fight something in which, it appears to me, that we don’t stand a chance.”

Dan Headley disagreed and wanted the fight to continue. “I think you need to exhaust every option,” he said. “Push it as far as you can go.”

The board has two options at its disposal in the federal courts, and it may take both at once.

Gardendale may request an en banc hearing before all of the judges in the 11th Circuit, or it may petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The board has 21 days from the date the appeal decision was published, which was Feb. 13, to seek an en banc hearing, and 90 days to petition the Supreme Court.

In other business, the board elected its newest member, Karen Malone, as its vice president. Malone was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Clayton “Dick” Lee, who died in September.