By Ranae Bartlett
Madison BOE President
Madison City Schools just experienced one of its most pivotal years as a school system. We began 2017 with an interim superintendent, Dr. Ed Nichols, who deftly filled the shoes of Dr. Dee Fowler until a permanent replacement could be found.
Our school board, led by President Terri Johnson, decided to shoulder the responsibility of conducting a superintendent search aided by its long-time board counsel, Woody Sanderson.
That decision required the board to set criteria to guide the search, review applications over the holidays, and determine a selection process that allowed input from the community and its many stakeholders.
And the stakes were high. Madison City Schools had only had two superintendents who each served over nine years in that position, contributing to the stability and success of the system. Recognizing that the national average tenure of superintendents was less than three years, this decision was the most important decision the Board would ever make.
The board selected Robert Parker, a long-time Madison schools employee and leader who most recently served as assistant superintendent. Mr. Parker demonstrated success and loyalty since he began his employment in Madison in 1998. Mr. Parker understands how far we’ve come as a school system, and he possesses the vision to achieve even more.
Mr. Parker has set ambitious goals for his first year and will oversee an important transition of our 6th grade to middle school. He has begun restructuring the central office to create a chief academic officer position, fill the assistant superintendent position, and reconfigure some of the administrative and support positions.
Most importantly, he is leading our efforts in formulating a strategic plan for growth working with city leaders and a City Growth Impact Committee to help pave our way forward. The board selected the right person to lead our system.
New Chief School Financial Officer
After selecting a superintendent, the board turned its attention to appointing a chief schools financial officer. Under Alabama law, there are only three positions that our school board is empowered to fill without the recommendation or acquiescence from the superintendent, and those are superintendent, CSFO, and board counsel.
We selected Jana Gray, who had been serving as interim CSFO since the retirement of our previous CSFO. Ms. Gray began working for Madison City Schools in 2009 and has proven to be an outstanding choice, providing the board the independence and oversight necessary to keep our school system on solid financial footing.
Limestone County Tax Settlement
And speaking of finances, no one issue has dominated our financial discussions and meeting agendas recently like the issue of funding from the Limestone County side of Madison.
With over 2,100 of our 10,000-plus students residing in Limestone County, it was only fair and equitable that the Madison residents who dutifully pay taxes to support education in Limestone County would see their tax dollars go toward the schools their children attend. But the Limestone County Board of Education filed a lawsuit to prevent enforcement of the state superintendent’s distribution formula for property taxes under Alabama’s Foundation program.
Without this revenue to support our students, our board had to approve drastic cuts to our budget for the past two years, threatening the quality of education that our residents had come to expect. The parties eventually agreed to settle, given the uncertain outcome and duration of litigation. Settling the Limestone County tax dispute was critical for future planning and maintaining education quality.
Property Taxes to Support
The Limestone tax settlement was not all that helped shore up Madison City Schools for the future. With the assistance of the Schools Foundation, and efforts by the Madison County and Huntsville City school systems, our community overwhelmingly approved the renewal of several ad valorem taxes that were established to support public education.
This recognition of the vital role public education plays in the future success and economic growth of the region will help ensure we continue to prosper with continued investments in public education.
In case you missed it, 2017 saw Madison City Schools produce the largest number of National Merit Semi-Finalists and the largest cohort of National Board Certified Teachers in Alabama. It was a successful year for Madison City Schools because we had a strong foundation and stood on the shoulders of those who preceded us.
To all of our previous leaders, employees, parents, students and community members and to those who currently fill those roles, thank you for being part of our success. As we near our 20th anniversary as a school system in 2018, we look forward to working with our city leaders to plan for future growth, and with our community to continue providing the high quality education system that we have come to expect.