Residents try to sway Jacksonville leaders on school vote
by Laura Gaddy
Feb 06, 2014 | 4029 views |  0 comments | 96 96 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kitty Stone Elementary students walk to the buses at the end of the school day on Wednesday afternoon. The Jacksonville Board of Education has selected a new site for its next elementary school. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Kitty Stone Elementary students walk to the buses at the end of the school day on Wednesday afternoon. The Jacksonville Board of Education has selected a new site for its next elementary school. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Jacksonville’s school board wants to build a new school on city-owned land, and now City Council members must decide whether to turn the land over.

The council’s looming vote provides another opportunity for opponents of the school board’s plan to sway public officials against moving primary grades from the historic Kitty Stone Elementary School campus to a new site at the city’s southern end.

The Jacksonville Board of Education in January voted to build a new elementary school on George Douthit Drive near Jacksonville High School. Some residents opposed the school board’s decision, arguing that the move could erode the Public Square’s status as the center of town and could attract vandals to the empty school and drive down the value of neighboring property.

Officials with the school system said the move is needed to provide the best school facility possible with the money they have to spend. Schools Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell also said the system would look after the campus after a new school opens to ensure it does not fall into disrepair.

School and city officials say they have long had an understanding that the board’s preferred site would in fact be available for school construction. That is, for the board to move forward with its plans, a majority of the five-member City Council must vote to donate at least 16 acres of land to the school system.

Councilman Mark Jones, who as council president sets the meeting agenda, said the council could vote on the matter as soon as Monday, but added that it is much more likely that the vote will come later. He said the city is waiting to receive the board’s formal request for the land.

The City Council will have an informal work session Monday at 6 p.m. and a formal meeting at 7 p.m.

“I’m still weighing everything,” Jones said Thursday. “I do want to think about everything that is presented before I make up my mind.”

Before the council votes, the school board must formally request the land, something

Campbell said Wednesday the board could make its request before the week is out. He said school officials have waited until now to make that request because they wanted to be sure they needed the property.

“It was our impression that the land was available if it was determined that it was the best location by the board,” Campbell said.

Some residents continue to disagree with the board’s decision, which came more than 18 months after school officials began researching the possibility of the building project. These opponents, vocal on the Internet, in the newspaper and at public meetings, have been lobbying council members to vote against the land transfer.

At a recent City Council meeting about half a dozen people spent more than an hour telling council members why they think the school should be rebuilt at the Kitty Stone site, home of the city’s elementary school for decades. Supporters of the board’s decision to build on George Douthit Drive have been less vocal in public meetings, but city leaders say they have heard from residents on both sides of the issue by phone, email and in face-to-face conversations.

“Even though the people who are in support of the board don’t show up at the council meetings, there are people who have contacted me in support of their decision,” Jones said.

Jones said most of the people who have contacted him about the matter have opposed the board's decision.

Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth said most of the people she’s talked to about the issue support the board’s decision.

Sudduth also said some proponents of the board’s decision think building the new school near Jacksonville High School, also on George Douthit Drive, would be better than rebuilding at the Kitty Stone campus because having the schools together would give the community an “education complex.”

Sudduth said she is still open-minded, but for now, she plans to cast her vote in deference to the board’s choice.

“I don’t want us to be in a position where the decision that the school board is making is really left up to what we decide,” Sudduth said.

Efforts to reach council members Truman Norred, Jerry Parris and Jonathan Tompkins were unsuccessful.

While Jones and Sudduth said many residents are still talking to them about the vote, at least one opponent of the board’s decision has stopped trying to persuade leaders. That opponent — Klaus Duncan — is one of several people who have already asked officials at public meetings to rebuild at the Kitty Stone campus.

“We’re wasting our time to even talk to the council because they’re not going to listen to us. This is a done deal,” Duncan said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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