A consultant hired by Decatur City Schools presented a report Thursday that outlined a dozen options.
While the various options in dealing with falling enrollment and aging school buildings are complicated, the underlying question is not whether Decatur will do something to improve its school system.
Even before Steve Solomon’s presentation, most Decatur residents and DCS officials knew there were problems. Solomon confirmed it.
Our high schools are more than 50 years old, and they show it. Two of the three middle schools are more than 40 years old. One elementary school was built in the 1940s; five were built in the 1950s. All of the schools — especially the middle schools — are below capacity, creating expensive duplication in administration costs. Especially in ninth grade, a disturbing number of students are fleeing the system.
The most direct consequence of these problems is that the education of our children suffers. The learning environment in many schools is poor, and the age of the buildings limits DCS in the programs it can offer.
Indirectly, the condition of Decatur schools has a profound impact on the city’s growth.
This was most apparent in the recently completed Base Realignment and Closure process, which added thousands of employees at Redstone Arsenal. Decatur officials expected an influx of new residents. Indeed, they worked hard to sell prospective Arsenal employees on the benefits of living in Decatur.
The effort flopped. Families flocked to Madison and Limestone counties. Many chose Priceville and Hartselle. Few ended up in Decatur.
The harsh fact is that the school system — especially the age of the buildings and test scores — posed a major obstacle in recruiting new residents.
Decatur has seen similar results in industry. Few cities in the state can match Decatur’s success at industrial growth. The high-income employees — the ones that would most benefit the city’s tax base and housing market — consistently locate elsewhere. They prefer a long commute to living in Decatur, and their perception of the school system is a major reason. While DCS enrollment drops, that of neighboring communities rises.
The precise method of change is now the issue. Solomon liked the idea of a new, consolidated high school for grades 10 through 12 — with an estimated pricetag of $45 million — and a separate ninth-grade academy at what is now Austin High School.
He presented many other options, however, and there may be others he did not consider.
The issue now is whether Decatur prefers the status quo. Can residents embrace the idea of improving the schools, both for the sake of the students and the city? Or are we content with dropping enrollment and a stagnant population?
Both for Decatur residents and their elected officials, now is the time to decide.
Not registered? Click here
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|