The Northport City Council has canceled the pre-meeting before its assembly Monday night to allow Mayor Donna Aaron and other elected officials to address a meeting of the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education.
The council typically gathers to conduct the business of the city twice a month with an hourlong pre-meeting to allow for in-depth discussion of the agenda before they vote on its contents.
This week, though, the council will forego the pre-meeting to attend a meeting of the county school so they can address plans about the future of schools in Northport.
“We felt like we needed to get on the agenda and make all the board members aware of where we stand and how we feel, to appeal to them and try to slow this project down until we have a chance to look at it further,” Aaron said Thursday. “Surely there are more viable solutions out there other than the two plans they’ve submitted to us.”
In short, the school board is considering how to handle booming population growth in Northport over the next decade, which will leave Tuscaloosa County High and the schools that feed into it with student populations that exceed their intended capacities.
County School Superintendent Walter Davie said Thursday that the working plan is to build a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders in Northport somewhere near County High and to turn Collins-Riverside Middle School into a second school serving the same age group.
In this scenario, all fifth- and sixth-graders in Northport would attend one of those schools, transfer to Echols Middle School for seventh and eighth grade and move again to County High in ninth grade.
Mayor Aaron, City Councilman Lee Boozer and others in Northport have said they will not get behind a plan that requires Northport students to attend at least four different schools before they earn their diplomas.
“This is a plan we cannot support,” Aaron said. “But we have no control over the county board of education, and at the end of the day, this is their call to make. They’ll do what they think is best and what they have the money for.”
Davie said the board has heard concerns from residents for several months and has tried to alter their plans in ways that address those concerns, but said no one is really bringing new ideas to the table anymore and eventually those involved will have to agree to disagree.
“We’re not going to be able to make everyone happy, we don’t have the resources or the funding to do that,” Davie said. “But we will not be accused of not listening. We have made a concerted effort to listen very well and make significant adjustments based on the concerns.”
Northport residents have also criticized the board for spending limited capital funds on new schools in Holt and Buhl when the vast majority of the system’s 10-year growth is expected to occur at County High and the schools that feed into it, but Davie defended the board’s decision-making, calling TCSS “a very large school system with a lot of needs.”
He said the new Holt High School will replace a 73-year-old building and that Sipsey Valley Middle School had more portable classrooms than any other campus in the system when they decided to build a new school in Buhl.
He also contested the assertion that the board does not spend enough money in Northport. Since 2006, Davie said, TCSS has invested or will invest more than $71 million on projects there -- $24 million on the planned fifth- and sixth-grade school, $13 million at Northport Elementary, $5.6 million on the stadium at County High and more.
The board will take no action on the Northport issue at its meeting Monday, but Davie said they have been considering options their options for dealing with growth for a long time and their decision will be coming soon.
”I do plan to make a recommendation for the board to vote on by the end of November, early December at the latest,” Davie said. “The growth in Northport is coming, we know that, and it takes two years to build a school, so we need to get a plan in motion.”
Reach Stephen Dethrage at firstname.lastname@example.org or 722-0227.