Two years ago, Baldwin County school officials claimed they were blindsided with the approval of a massive new 900-lot subdivision along Alabama State Route 181 in Daphne.
Already grappling with soaring enrollment and jammed classrooms, school officials made a plea: Include us is these development talks.
“We had not been invited to any planning commission meetings about growth,” said Superintendent Eddie Tyler. “We’d hear about it whenever we saw shovels and bulldozers moving dirt.”
A new piece of legislation, which is expected to be publicly introduced this week, could address those concerns.
The bill applies to Baldwin only, Alabama’s fastest-growing county since 2010. It would require a developer petitioning for a multi-family housing project of more than 100 units or a residential subdivision of more than 100 lots to submit the following to either the Baldwin County or Gulf Shores school superintendents: – A copy of map or plat of the proposed development or subdivision.
-The phases, units, and lots of the proposed development or subdivision.
– The expected number of school-age children.
-The specification and size of units or home to be developed.
The school superintendent, in turn, would have 90 days to write a letter to a city planning commission or other “granting authority” that describes the impacts on “student capacity” and what actions might be necessary to address overcrowding.
Under the proposed bill, the “granting authority” would be able to weigh the superintendent’s letter in its decision-making process, although not necessarily block a development based on “student capacity” issues.
“It’s important to note whatever feedback a superintendent gives to a planning commission does not preclude the construction of a multi-family housing unit,” said state Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, the bill’s sponsor. “It does require a planning commission to take into account what a school system is saying.”
Elliott said the developers he’s spoken with have given him “mixed reactions,” with detractors concerned about an extra bureaucratic step.
He said that proponents “understand … a large part of what makes Baldwin County so successful is its school system and they want to make sure these kids who live in these new developments have a great place to go to school.”
The bill needs simple majority approval from the Baldwin County legislative delegation.
State Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, said he supports the “spirit of the bill” in that school boards “should be aware of what is happening.” But he said he has concerns about schools getting more involved in planning and zoning.
Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood said he supports the concept as well, but is generally worried “when government gets too involved.”
“I wish there was better coordination and that government regulation wasn’t the only way to achieve coordination between local entities and the school system,” said Haygood.
He added, “There are a lot of merits to the bill as schools are an integral part of the planning and growth process.”
Haygood said the city is trying to improve communications with the school system after appointing Anthony Sampson, the director of prevention and support services with the Baldwin County School System, to the Daphne Planning Commission.
Longtime Daphne City Councilman Ron Scott said he thinks Elliott’s proposal is a “great idea,” and doubts that “responsible developers” would try to defeat it.
“It makes sense,” said Scott. “If they are selling their lots, they need to make sure there is adequate school space. One of the reasons that Baldwin County has grown the away it has grown is that the quality of public schools is perceived as better than average in the state of Alabama.”
Schools in Daphne are under plenty of growth pressures, even as more classrooms are coming on line. Daphne East Elementary welcomed 14 more classrooms and a cafeteria last year. Now, plans are in motion to set up two or three portable classrooms next year.
And there could be more portables coming after the opening of Belforest Villas Apartments, currently under construction a short distance from Daphne East Elementary.
“Multi-family developments can have a quick impact on a school system and a particular feeder pattern,” Elliott said. “We’ve seen that near Rockwell (Elementary School in Spanish Fort) with the multi-family developments that have popped up in recent years. People come and (the school) is a big selling point for those multi-family developments. But it also provides a significant burden to the elementary school to accommodate kids moving in overnight.”
Baldwin County reigns as the king of growth in Alabama, rising more than 16 percent in population since 2010. The Eastern Shore cities of Fairhope, Spanish Fort and Daphne have all increased by 20 percent or more since the last Census.
Gulf Shores is also dealing with growth pressures, as the city embarks on a new city school system. Gulf Shores will become the county’s first city-run school on June 1.
The legislation includes Gulf Shores city schools, applying the same developer requirements to the new school system.
Kevin Corcoran, school board president in Gulf Shores, said the city projects “thousands” of new dwellings being built within the coastal city in the next “eight to 10 years.”
“I do think that municipalities and school systems work together to plan accordingly,” said Corcoran.
The legislation also comes as the Baldwin County School System is unveiling new redistricting plans for the 2020-21 school year for students in Fairhope, Daphne and Spanish Fort.
School system unveils new redistricting plan in Alabama’s fastest-growing county
Baldwin County Schools, during an informational meeting Thursday in Fairhope, unveiled a new redistricting plan for the Fairhope feeder pattern that will take effect in 2020. A similar meeting will take place Monday in Daphne.
Elliott said that the recent boundary shifts underscore the importance of “getting out ahead of things” and for there to be communication between planning commissions and the schools instead of reactive responses.
He said of his bill: “School feeder patterns are not set in stone and never will be. But this gives a developer some level of certainty that if he or she advertises ‘Fairhope schools’ and you got a letter from the superintendent that says you will be zoned for Fairhope, that it won’t change in the immediate future.”
On Monday, Tyler and Baldwin County officials rolled out the new boundaries for elementary school students in Daphne and Spanish Fort during a public meeting at City Hope Church in Daphne.
The boundaries will change where students whose families live in Old Fields, Dunmore, Historic Malbis, Plantation Hills and Bay Branch subdivisions send their children.
Belforest Elementary School, a nearly $20 million new K-6 school, is scheduled to open in the fall 2020, and will take in students who live in Dunmore, Historic Malbis, Plantation Hills and Bay Branch. Old Field residents will send their elementary school-aged children to Daphne East.
Under the new proposal, children in the 5th to 10th grades will be “grandfathered” into the schools they currently attend: Historic Malbis, Plantation Hills, Bay Branch and adjacent areas will continue to go to Spanish Fort schools, while Dunmore and Old Field residents will go to Fairhope schools.
Younger siblings, in Pre-K to 4th grades, can also be grandfathered into the current schools they attend.
The deadline to be eligible for grandfathering is May 23.
Students who live in those subdivisions and who decide to be grandfathered into their current schools will not be transported by Baldwin County schools.
The Baldwin County School Board is expected to vote on the new redistricting plan on May 16.
- Seeking green school superheroes
- St Albans and Harpenden named as best places to live for buyers seeking top schools and short commutes
- Katie Hopkins angers parents as she stages picture with children outside school
- Luton vs Sunderland LIVE
- Campaigners seek motion on second Brexit vote at Labour conference
- A-levels vs IB: which makes a more rounded student?
- Stratford school board candidates forum Thursday
- Bournemouth hit back from goal down to deepen West Ham woes
- Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin are NOT married despite model’s uncle Alec Baldwin claiming they were
- Justin Bieber surrounded by fans as he busks outside Buckingham Palace after kissing Hailey Baldwin on the London Eye