Photos by Jon Anderson
HV school bd 2016 candidates
The seven candidates seeking appointment to the Hoover school board this year are, top from from left, Robin Schultz, Guy Locker, Timothy Brunner, Maxine Retzer, and, bottom row from left, Deanna Bamman, Ruth Cole and Calvin Briggs.
Finances and budget deficits were key topics in interviews for a Hoover Board of Education seat Friday, but the prospect of a third high school also entered the conversation.
Hoover Councilman Brian Skelton asked each of this year’s seven school board applicants how they would approach the school system’s financial issues because most candidates in their applications identified finances as one of the most critical issues facing the school district.
The school system has been running budget deficits for numerous years as expenditures have exceeded revenues and school leaders have been relying on their reserves to prop up increases in operating costs.
The deficit for fiscal 2014 was $7.9 million. A deficit of $6.9 million originally was projected for fiscal 2015, but it fell to only $1.4 million after some expenditures were delayed until 2016. The budget approved for 2016 anticipated an $11.2 million deficit, but that number could go higher due to some of the costs delayed until 2016.
Photo by Jon Anderson
Guy Locker interview
Bluff Park resident Guy Locker interviews with the Hoover City Council for a position on the Hoover Board of Education on Friday, April 8, 2016.
School board candidate Guy Locker said the deficit is a huge issue. “It’s difficult to comprehend how you can spend more than you take in,” Locker said.
If the deficits continue at the current level for another five years, the school system’s reserves will fall to a point where the state has to take control, which no one wants, Locker said.
The budget has to be balanced at some point and the reserve fund stabilized, he said. However, some of the issues the school board is facing are beyond its control, he said. The solution will take cooperation between the school system and city officials to address future growth in the city, Locker said. There seems to have been some breakdown in dialogue between the school system and city over the years, putting the school system more in a response mode than a planning mode, he said.
School board candidate Deanna Bamman said the budget deficits can’t continue.
“Somehow we need to figure out how to cut spending while maintaining the high quality that stakeholders demand,” Bamman said.
She’s confident that new Superintendent Kathy Murphy will help the school system adjust its course, she said. It won’t happen overnight, and it will be painful, but Bamman said she’s willing to do what needs to be done to make cuts.
School board candidate Ruth Cole said the cuts will need to be deep and people won’t like them, but they will be necessary.
School board candidate Robin Schultz said the school board will have to look at every expenditure objectively and study the consequences of cutting it, but the budget needs to be balanced within five years.
School board candidate Timothy Brunner said the school system has to look at expenditures to cut, but it’s also time for the City Council to re-evaluate its contribution to the school board, which dropped dramatically in fiscal 2009 from $7.5 million a year to $2 million a year.
Over the past 14 years, city funding cuts have cost the Hoover school system more than $78 million collectively, city financial records show. The City Council in December decided to increase its annual funding for schools by about $1.3 million. The superintendent said she appreciated the increased funding and hopes school and city leaders can continue to look for more ways for the city to support the school system.
Photo by Jon Anderson
Hoover school board interviews April 2016
The Hoover City Council interviews candidates for the Hoover Board of Education on April 8, 2016. From left are Councilmen Joe Rives, Brian Skelton, Jack Wright, John Greene and Gene Smith.
Third high school?
Councilman Jack Wright asked the school board candidates if Hoover needs a third high school.
School board candidate Maxine Retzer said it’s well worth looking at the idea. Retzer said she would encourage Murphy to consider some type of specialty school, such as a school for performing arts or a vocational/technical school. Those kinds of options are lacking now for Hoover students, said Retzer, who has a daughter attending the Alabama School of Fine Arts for vocal training.
School board candidate Calvin Briggs, who has a child at Hoover High, said he went to a high school with 600 students in it and “it’s crazy to walk into a school with nearly 3,000 students.”
He hasn’t seen the population forecasts, so it’s hard for him to say when Hoover might need another high school, he said.
Locker said he’s open to the idea of a third high school, but the timing for one would depend on how the enrollment numbers rebound.
Hoover’s total K-12 school enrollment this year dropped by 59 students to 13,845 — the first time there ever has been a decrease for the system. The previous year, enrollment grew by only 22 students, compared to an average growth of 272 students a year over the previous 10 years, state records show.
Locker said he believes the past two years have been an anomaly and that growth will spike back up. Either Hoover High will have to be expanded again, or another high school will have to be built, he said.
There has been some discussion of shifting more students from the Hoover zone to the Spain Park zone, but Locker said sending more students from the Hoover zone to Spain Park is untenable due to the travel distance involved.
He would be willing to look at the possibility of opening a smaller third high, he said. “It doesn’t have to be (class) 6A or 7A,” he said.
Schultz said he believes there is adequate space to handle students in the current two high schools. The proposed rezoning now being considered by a federal court judge should help by shifting some more students to Spain Park, so he doesn’t believe a third high school is needed at this point in time, especially with the costs that would involve, he said.
Brunner said if enrollment continues to grow, the school board would need to start putting money in the budget for capital expenditures in the future.
Photo by Jon Anderson
Timothy Brunner interview 4-8-16
Dr. Timothy Brunner interviews with the Hoover City Council for a position on the Hoover Board of Education on Friday, April 8, 2016.
Bamman said a third high school will happen eventually, but the current two high schools are perfectly capable of handling the students in Hoover now. It will take several years to get to capacity, she said.
She’s not someone who likes to put “Band-Aids” on problems, but if the school district can come up with a small Band-Aid to delay a high third school, it should, she said.
Council members also asked the candidates about other challenges facing the school system.
Locker said the system needs to rebuild its image because rezoning and the former proposal to eliminate school bus transportation have hurt the system’s image.
Brunner said other challenges include technology, cyber bullying and good communication, the latter of which he said will make or break you.
Retzer said another big challenge will be obtaining “unitary status” from the federal court, which would involve Hoover proving to the federal court that it has met all the goals of a decades-old desegregation court order and can be released from detailed federal oversight.
Other challenges she identified included re-establishing drug abuse curriculum in schools, dealing with child nutrition needs and staying a frontrunner in education offerings.
Briggs said the system needs to develop a long-term rezoning plan and find ways to deal with the district’s increasing diversity. As the director of the science, technology, engineering and math department at Lawson State Community College, he’s also passionate about encouraging more students to get into those types of programs, he said.
Council members also asked the candidates a lot of questions to ascertain their knowledge of the school system, such as how many students and schools are in the system and what the system’s budget, deficit and financial reserves are. They also asked about hot topic issues in education, such as common core and the Alabama Accountability Act.
Most of the candidates said they had attended school board meetings. Brunner said he had not been to any school board meetings, but he listened to recordings of them on the Internet.
What do council members want?
One candidate, Cole, turned the table on the council and asked them a question. She wanted to know what they considered the most important quality they’re seeking in a school board member.
Skelton said he’s looking for someone who is sincere, honest and willing to serve the people of Hoover and do the right things that benefit children.
Councilman Gene Smith said he believes it’s important to look at each candidate’s personal background and accomplishments.
“I’ve always heard that you find a busy person and give them the project because they’ll see it through,” Smith said.
Photo by Jon Anderson
Robin Schultz interview 4-8-16
Bluff Park resident Robin Schultz interviews with the Hoover City Council for a seat on the Hoover Board of Education on Friday, April 8, 2016.
Another issue that came up is whether Hoover’s next school board member should come from the Spain Park High School zone because all of the current board members are in the Hoover High zone.
Smith asked that question in a Facebook group and got a variety of responses.
Four of this year’s applicants — Schultz, Locker, Bamman and Briggs — live in the Hoover High zone, while three — Brunner, Retzer and Cole — live in the Spain Park zone.
Schultz, who lives in Bluff Park (the Hoover High zone) brought the issue up during his interview and said the important thing is that board members should represent the entire system and not just the area where they live.
Demographically, three of the four school board members who will stay on the board this coming year are male, while one is female. The only black member of the board, Derrick Murphy, is the one whose term is ending. Briggs is the only black candidate seeking to replace Murphy.
Council members gave no indication of when they will make their decision, though the council typically votes on new school board members in April. The next scheduled council meeting is April 18.
Bluff Park resident Dan Fulton recorded all 2 1/2 hours of interviews. Hear the interviews with Schultz, Locker, Brunner and Retzer here, and hear the interviews with Bamman, Cole and Briggs here.