Community meetings promote CCBOE’s plan for proposed 1-cent tax

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At a community meeting in Hanceville Tuesday night, Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette responds to questions about the system’s Section 16 property at Smith Lake. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette visited Hanceville High School Tuesday evening as part of a cross-county push to tell people what he and the board hope to accomplish if voters approve a proposed countywide 1-cent tax March 3.

He began by telling the audience that social media has seen much misinformation posted about the proposal and plan.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t know the facts,” he said. “I would love for them to come and hear the true facts-that would be wonderful-and ask questions to me face to face.”

Barnette’s plan since first proposing the tax has focused on three areas of improvement: safety and security, creating a new career technical education center and making local campus improvements. 

Using a slide show to explain the plan, he assured the Hanceville audience, “Cullman County Schools, our funds that we generate from this 1-cent sales tax, will all go into a separate account, and out of that account, it’ll be earmarked for these three areas that are on the screen. I’ll talk about those in just a moment. Every month, a report will be generated so that you can see every cent that’s spent out of that fund and know what that money’s been spent on.”

Details on the three target areas include:

Campus safety and security 

Barnette has said that his first priority will be to improve security on every campus in the system with

  • Additional School Resource Deputies – According to Barnette, the hiring of additional SRDs would be the first step, as soon as sufficient funds become available.
  • More security fencing – Barnette said he would like to see all campuses fenced in, but not looking like prisons. His idea includes regular fencing around the sides and backs of campuses and front enclosures that might resemble traditional wrought iron fencing.
  • Second secure entry systems – Two sets of controlled access doors at main entrances would allow visitors to enter the front doors and go to the offices to sign in, but still place a controlled access barrier between them and student areas of the buildings. Such systems are already being tested at Harmony School and West Point Elementary.
  • Upgraded security camera systems – Barnette’s plan includes linking camera systems to an online platform so law enforcement officers can see what is happening inside schools in the event of an emergency.
  • More controlled access systems – Barnette proposed having external doors secured with a mechanism that could be accessed by a keypad, card or fob, that would allow immediate lockdown in the event of an emergency.
  • Raptor Visitor & Emergency Management System – A basic form is already in use countywide, but more funding will allow more features to be added to the modular system.

 

A new technology academy at in Hanceville

In what he has called a dream project, the superintendent wants to see the current Cullman Area Technology Academy replaced by a whole new facility to be located in Hanceville, a facility that would also become home to a new Hanceville High School. The plan calls for a two-story structure with the high school on the top floor and career tech shops beneath.

Barnette told his Hanceville audience, “A lot of times, we stereotype these particular types of jobs, but these are the jobs that are available in our country today. These are the fastest growing jobs, these are the jobs that are high-demand jobs, career tech jobs. We want to build a facility that not only is  able to train kids for jobs today and jobs tomorrow, but we want to build a facility that is going to attract young people into coming to school there.”

The new facility would allow regular academics and technical training to take place under the same roof, though students from outside the Hanceville district would still have the option to take their regular classes at their home schools. The location in Hanceville would also allow students easy access to programs offered through the existing partnership between CCBOE and Wallace State Community College.

At the current pace of progress in industry, according to Barnette, CCBOE’s existing CATA facility simply cannot keep up. Business and industries have identified several potential needs for new technical training courses, but Barnette told The Tribune in a previous interview, “Right now, we have no more space to add any new programs at CATA.”

Improvements on local campuses

Under the plan, every school campus would see improvements including new construction, and as the system prepared to put up new program-specific facilities like agriscience and consumer science buildings, the instructors who would actually teach in those buildings would be part of the planning.

Proposed facility improvements shared with The Tribune previously include:

  • Cullman County Child Development Center (CDC)
    • If the technology academy relocates to Hanceville, according to Barnette, the CDC would expand to include the current CATA campus located next door to the CDC, getting its students out of portable classrooms.
    • Completion of the fully-accessible CDC playground
  • Cold Springs High School
    • Expansion of paved parking
    • Expansion of lunchroom
    • New agriscience/family and consumer sciences building
    • New gym
    • Updated science labs
    • Remodeling of basement gym into auditorium
  • Fairview schools
    • Expanded paved parking
    • New agriscience and consumer sciences buildings at high school
    • Extended goal of new classrooms added to elementary school
    • Updated science labs at high school
  • Good Hope schools
    • New library and gym at middle school
    • Expanded paved parking at high school
    • New high school wing on current elementary school site
    • New elementary school building next to Good Hope Primary 
  • Hanceville Elementary School
    • Expanded parking in front
    • Demolition of old building on back of property and construction of new playground in its place
    • Expansion of main building with new classrooms
    • Outdoor classroom behind main building
  • Harmony School
    • Outdoor classroom and greenhouse
  • Holly Pond schools
    • Expanded paved parking on northwest campus
    • New agriscience, family and consumer sciences buildings at high school
    • Additional classrooms on east end of elementary building
    • Outdoor classroom at elementary school
    • Enclosure of front of elementary school to stop classrooms from opening into parking lot
  • Parkside School
    • Repave and stripe parking lot
    • Replace all HVAC systems
  • Vinemont schools
    • New high school building
    • Extended goal of new elementary school building
  • Welti Elementary School
    • Improved security
  • West Point
    • Expanded lunchroom
    • New agriscience complex and consumer sciences building at high school
    • New second-floor classrooms at high school
    • New gym at intermediate school
    • New classrooms at elementary school

 

What about the Section 16 land at Smith Lake?

With so many people asking about the CCBOE’s property on Smith Lake, Barnette took the proactive step of incorporating the question into his presentation.

What is Section 16 land?

According to the Code of Alabama, “‘School lands,’ within the meaning of this chapter (Title 16, Chapter 20), are sections numbered 16, in every township, granted by the United States for the use of schools in the township, and such other lands as may have been granted to any township or district for the use of schools; and all such lands are vested in the state in trust to execute the objects of the grant.”

Essentially, the 16th section of land within each township (not a municipality but a mapping term for a specifically defined geographic region) in the state belongs to the local educational system, under the oversight of the State. The land can be leased to generate educational funding, or can be sold under certain conditions.

When manmade Smith Lake was formed, this particular Section 16 became lakefront property. In 2014, the board purchased adjoining land that increased access to a peninsula that formed the bulk of the property, as well as a house and land at the southern tip of the peninsula, that fell outside Section 16 but could only be accessed by land through the CCBOE property.

Barnette told the Hanceville audience, “Section 16 land is probably one of the hottest-topic things going right now, and I would love to say that if somebody would’ve invested and taken this and turned this into millions and millions of dollars, that would’ve been wonderful if they’d done that already.

“But it hasn’t happened, yet. Have we been working toward that? Yes, we have. We’ve had several meetings on this: how do we use this land; how do we develop this land. We actually met with a group today about another option of how do we turn this land into a revenue source for many years to come. 

“But many people think, just like all of our Facebook fans that have all the answers, they think if we were to sell this right now, we might get $100 million for it, and we could build all the schools that we need to build. Well, first of all, nobody’s offered us $100 million for it, but if any of you here would like to do that, we’ll be sure to entertain the offer.”

Barnette said that CCBOE has received offers ranging from $2 million to $4.2 million for the property, and he talked about what would happen if the land was sold for the round figure of $4 million:

  • 90%, $3.6 million, would be placed into a trust fund, from which interest would be divided between the county and city school systems based on enrollment.
  • 10%, $400,000, would be available for immediate disbursement.
  • In both cases, based on current enrollment numbers, the county system would get 77% and the city system would get 23%. 
  • The immediately available amount for the county system would be approximately $308,000 before deductions for fees related to the sale and disbursement. The actual amount would likely be under $300,000.

 

Said Barnette, “That’s not going to build a whole lot of schools with $300,000; it’s just not. So, we’ve got to continue to work to try to use this land to generate more revenue than this (option of selling) right here. I don’t think that’s a quick-fix answer for it.”

According to Chief School Financial Officer Ed Roberson, who attended the meeting, the 2019-20 budget for CCBOE is approximately $104 million, 80% of which is bound to salaries and benefits.

Hanceville developer Nolan Bradford, also in attendance, did a quick calculation and noted that annual interest on the $3.6 million trust fund from a $4 million sale, at current interest rates, would only amount to around $50,000 per year, also to be divided 77/23 between the county and city systems.

City of Cullman and a possible city tax

During the question and answer session that followed Barnette’s presentation, an often-asked question was posed concerning the possible passage of a city tax in Cullman if the county measure fails. The superintendent did not accuse the City of planning such a measure, but warned that, if it did happen, the county system would not receive any revenue from the tax.

When an audience member mentioned hearing a claim that the City had just such a plan, Barnette told the audience, “I don’t know that. A lot of people on Facebook are saying that Shane Barnette has a secret code that he knows all this, you know. I pray a lot, you know, but God hasn’t written on the wall. I don’t know; I have no idea if the City would put it on or not. I know they have needs, and I know they have plans to build buildings and repair some buildings and do things like that. But if people in the county want money to go toward our schools, our only option is for us to vote on it.”

After the meeting, Barnette told The Tribune, “It’s such an important vote for the future of Cullman County Schools. Not only can we fix some security and some small things immediately, but we can plan for the future and we can lay down a plan for several generations going forward on how do we fix things the right way, and how do we replace buildings that need to be replaced the right way.

“It’s not anything personal between Shane and everybody else, like some people have turned it into, but it’s basically me and the board’s put together a plan of saying, ‘Here’s a plan to move our school system forward.’ If the people vote it no, we’ll continue to band-aid our schools and do the absolute best that we can do. But if they vote yes, they can see some serious changes happening, and really set our kids up for success for generations.”

The CCBOE will hold its last two community meetings at the Fairview High School auditorium Thursday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. and the Holly Pond lunchroom Monday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com