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Request for funds scratches surface of deeper tensions over education in Avondale

Avondale Estates

Request for funds scratches surface of deeper tensions over education in Avondale

Paul Brown. File photo by Jonathan Phillips

Paul Brown ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Avondale Estates in March, but decided he’d follow through on a campaign promise to strengthen the city’s relationship with Avondale Elementary School.

Whether the City Commission wants to pursue that is a different subject. Brown approached commissioners during their Sept. 16 work session about the city making a $5,000 donation to the after-school program at Avondale Elementary. Some commissioners, like Lindsay Forlines and John Quinn, were receptive to learning more about the idea. Commissioners Terry Giager and Randy Beebe were less sure about spending taxpayer money on a local school.

“The people that are in the school right now are not from Avondale,” Giager said. “So we’re going to take taxpayer money. We’re all paying our taxes at the end of this month and I know a chunk of it is for education.”

Brown asked about the city’s spending of more than $500,000 on renovations of Willis Park.

“That doesn’t make any difference,” Giager said.

“It does make a difference, because of its proximity to the Museum School,” Brown replied.

The Museum School is technically out of the city limits, but the charter school serves some residents of the city. The Museum School reports that approximately 39 percent of its 446 students live in the city of Avondale. According to Brown, Avondale Elementary’s current enrollment is 470 students, and only 14 students from Avondale Estates are enrolled.

The Museum School has been a source of friction within the city, particularly as it pertains to Willis Park because it is a public amenity used by students at a school that’s in the county. It is also a gamble for parents, who move to the city hoping their kids will get in via the school’s lottery and leave when their children don’t win, Brown said.

The city also frequently interacts with the school. A recent update about the Willis Park project said, “Willis Park is closed for renovations but a new temporary pathway has been created for the safe commute of students attending The Museum School.” Another city email to residents advertised a Museum School fundraiser. People who enter the raffle have a chance to win 2013 Harley-Davidson Motorized Cart. Recently Kindergarten students at the school took a field trip to city hall.

As the Nov. 3 elections approach, there are three candidates who have children at the school: Adela Yelton, Brian Fisher and Todd Pullen. Mayor Jonathan Elmore, who has children at the Museum School, is running unopposed. The city also recently hired a new city clerk, Gina Hill, who is a Museum School parent.

Giager said that strained relations with the elementary school led to the formation of the Museum School.

“We had a great program with the Avondale Education association, tutoring, providing supplies, throwing teachers luncheons, breakfasts and were thrown out,” Giager said. “It had to be in 2004, 2005. It was not because we abandoned the school. We were told not to go to the school. That is when the Museum School really, everybody said we have got to do something, because we can’t have this. We had big plans for Avondale children to go to that school.”

Giager also said the school has a large population of transient students.

“The biggest problem is that whoever enters school this year in August, 55 percent of them will not be there in January,” he said. “That’s the turnover. It’s not the school itself that’s the problem. It’s the transient people that are the problem.”

Commissioner Forlines recommended Brown return to the commission with a representative from the school to discuss Avondale Elementary’s needs. Giager suggested waiting on recommendations from an ad hoc committee on education the city is putting together.

According to the city, the committee’s mission is …

– To develop an education resource page on the City’s website that will help parents navigate a complex system of public and private education options.

– To build relationships with area school administrators and representatives to ensure the City is represented in broader, top-level discussions that impact our residents’ education options.

– To anticipate and plan for future changes outside the City’s control that could impact residents’ education options.

– To make recommendations, as needed, as to how the committee’s role and tasks warrant revision.

Brown said he worried that waiting on those recommendations would be a missed opportunity to help students.

“If we rely on the ad hoc committee … we’ve lost another year,” he said. “So we’re really talking about people’s lives and we’re talking about the ability to start change now for a little bit of money.”

After the work session, Brown told Decaturish he’s getting involved with the Elementary School because of what he saw while on the campaign trail.

“I ran for mayor in March and was unsuccessful,” he said. “However, during the campaign you learn a lot about the community. You learn a lot about yourself. As a candidate you make statements about how you help the community. I don’t believe I could walk away from that and not do anything after I’ve already stated publicly that I would help the community. So the school is one place where we’re really lacking and no one else is picking up the baton and running with it.”