Boards discuss park ownership




When the Simpson County School Board held a regularly scheduled meeting last week the Board was addressed by representatives from the city of Magee to discuss the Washington Park transaction.

Magee Alderman Patrick Brown spoke first, essentially asking the board what was needed to finalize the conveyance of the property to the City of Magee. The deal has been in the works for some time, and Brown stated the city had made a proposal which was countered by the school board.

He suggested the two entities enter into an inter-local agreement for Washington Park, which covers 14 acres of land. The agreement would be for the school board to convey the property to the city in exchange of the city waiving the annual fees for the school district’s use of the Magee baseball fields for a period of 15 years. Magee representatives believed this would approximate the cost of the property. The school district currently pays $10,000 a year to use the fields in Magee.

The school board’s counter proposal included a change in the number of years the fees would be waived. The board asked that the annual fees be waived permanently in exchange for Washington Park. This detail is where both sides differ, and Brown asked the school board members to reconsider. He stated that the number of years was the biggest hold up in the agreement and the Magee Board of Aldermen did not want to consider a lifetime proposal. He needed feedback for negotiations.

School Board Attorney Wesla Leech questioned whether the school board and City of Magee could enter into an inter-local agreement concerning the property and whether they could make a deal binding successive boards.

She suggested that the school board consider a conveyance of the property with conditions in place concerning maintenance, insurance, and the school use of the ball fields.

The City of Magee board attorney Bruce Smith was also at the meeting. Smith again reiterated the sentiments of the Magee Board and said the biggest problem was the School Districts use of the fields in perpetuity. Magee was steadfast in setting a finite number of years for free use of their facilities by the School District.

Negotiations intensified as the conversation continued. School Board member Danny Cowart stated that the original presentation made by the city of Magee verbally did not match what was sent to them in writing. Stanley Bulger stated that 15 years was too short, and called for a long term deal.

In an effort to shed light on cost, Magee Parks and recreation manager David Dunn, highlighted that the School District uses the field year round, and that it is maintained using city equipment.

School Board member Lillie Hardy insisted that the city of Magee make a counter proposal in writing so both sides could consider their position.  She also commented that the Citizens of Magee and the Magee Schools overlap and both boards should not be lost to the fact that they are serving the same people.

Bruce Smith questioned why the School Board feels like the city of Magee should provide the school with a baseball field. Neither side gained ground in the discussion, and it was suggested that they enter executive session to continue negotiations. Instead the School Board moved to set a special called meeting on January 9, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.

Gary Bailey of Bailey Education Group provided the board with an update. The Bailey Education Group was commissioned by the Simpson County School Board to conduct a needs assessment of the school facilities in the county. He summarized the previously discussed options of building a consolidated high school, closing the middle school and junior high facilities and establishing a K-6 and 7-12 grade structure, and the option of renovating the buildings as they stand. Each option had several different versions for the board to consider.

He recommended that the board organize an additional community meeting before finalizing a financial plan and deciding which option to move forward with. Bulger asked if the group could provide more analysis, and give a clear picture of how the district is being operated. Bulger was interested to see if the School District is getting the most out of the money being spent in the current state. Bailey explained that the Simpson County is a low tax district, and stated that the Simpson County School District is getting efficient use of the money available to them. Bailey said, “You get a lot out of your dollars for a district this size.” He then said that the most common way of reducing expenses in a district this size is reducing to two schools. Bailey said a consolidated junior high and high school will usually save $300,000 a year per school forever.

The School Board bestowed recognition of outstanding achievement to School District employees. Mendenhall Elementary School Principal Rhonda Berry was named the District Administrator of the Year. District Teacher of the Year honors were given to Kayla Jenkins of Simpson Central School.

Deia Sanders was recognized for providing math training and Stephanie Hubbard was recognized for her work as a Language Arts Coach. Ann Willis was given recognition for her work with “i-Ready”. Willis has been instrumental in helping student grow in their i-Ready test scores. Her statistics for growth are competitive at a national level. Finally Magee Elementary, Mendenhall Elementary, and Simpson Central School staff and students were recognized for being Level B Schools.

Plans for a new baseball field, softball field, and parking lot at Mendenhall High School were shared with the School Board. The project is still in the planning phase, but the facilities will be located behind the visitors’ side of the Tigers football stadium.

The School Board accepted a $200 donation to be used towards unpaid meals from Legacy Church. The Board entered executive session to discuss student discipline before adjourning the meeting.