With a unanimous vote and a standing applause, The Gulf Shores City Council moved forward Monday, October 9th, on an “epic situation” by deciding to form its own city school system. The overflowing crowd that attended the Gulf Shores City Council meeting voted unanimously to form a city school system.
"Our kids deserve the best we can give them," Mayor Robert Craft said before the council voted before an overflowing crowd of mostly pro-city school supporters inside the council chambers. "We didn't come to this decision lightly. It's a significantly important decision for our community."
The vote begins what will likely be a long process of breaking away from the Baldwin County School System. A new Gulf Shores city school board, which will lead the negotiations with Baldwin County school officials, will be formed within the next month and will kick start the process.
Applications to become a member of the five-person board will be available on Oct. 16. The council will review each one. Plans are for the new school board to be introduced during the council's Nov. 27 meeting.
The board will likely hire a superintendent shortly after its formation.
"This is a first for all of us," said Angie Swiger, a Gulf Shores resident and a member of the seven-member Baldwin County School Board. "It's going to be a process for everyone. It's unchartered territory."
Indeed, the Gulf Shores decision is a first for Baldwin County. Though there are over 70 city school systems in Alabama, no previous breakaway effort in Baldwin County has been successful. Past attempts by Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Fairhope and Daphne have all come up short.
The Gulf Shores council's decision officially created the "Gulf Shores School System."
"It's the most important (decision) for me, personally, that I've been involved in," said Craft, mayor of Gulf Shores since 2008 and a city official since 2004.
The decision didn't come without questions from people attending the meeting. Questions included whether Common Core academic standards would apply within the new city school system and whether taxes might need to be raised to build new schools.
Also, Craft was asked why Orange Beach - the neighboring coastal city that has long shared school buildings with Gulf Shores -- wasn't jumping on board.
Craft acknowledged that past attempts to work with Orange Beach and the Baldwin County School System faltered, though officials have varying views on what happened.
The most recent attempt, which occurred last year, involved negotiations among leaders in both cities to create a special taxing district to pay for school needs, backed by a 3-mill property tax. That effort did not go anywhere, and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has said there was never anything imminent with that proposal.