By Kim West
The Limestone County Board of Education voted 6-1 to allow Athens Bible School students currently enrolled at the Limestone County Career Technical Center to complete their credits during its regular meeting Tuesday night at the Clinton Street annex.
The motion was amended “to accept any child at Athens Bible School who has not had a chance to complete the program” at the Career Center. The board’s decision eliminates private-school student enrollment following the 2012-13 school year, but board members voting for the motion stated they would re-visit the policy.
Board members James Shannon, Earl Glaze, Darin Russell, Bret McGill, Anthony Hilliard and Charles Shoulders voted yes, while Marty Adams voted against the motion.
The resolution refunds any tuition paid by the two ABS students currently enrolled. It allows them also to complete the 2012-13 school year without paying further tuition.
Back and forth
“I feel like this started with ABS years ago when our system asked them to fill in classes (at the Career Center), and it was a win-win situation,” Adams said. “ABS knew students could attend if there was room, and I’m all for keeping those students in … I don’t really see this being an issue.
“If Athens City (Schools) and the county schools don’t fill the classes, are we going to leave a seat open? That’s what I struggle with.”
Before voting yes, Shoulders asked why the Career Center couldn’t be open to all students in the county, regardless of their affiliation. He also asked why students living within Limestone County aren’t allowed to participate in extracurricular activities even if they don’t attend a county school.
“These are kids in our county — do we not want them to have the best we have?” Shoulders said. “Something we should look at is incorporating kids into extracurricular activities.”
Glaze responded by asking, “What if a county student wanted to take a class or play basketball at Athens Bible School?”
Board members said the primary issue with allowing ABS students to attend the Career Center beyond this school year is whether or not other private-school students would also be allowed to attend.
“Are we going to do this for all private schools (in the county)?” Shannon said. “If you let Athens Bible, then you’re going to have to let the other private-school students, too.”
‘A local decision’
During the Nov. 15 work session, Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk informed the board that allowing private-school students to attend the Career Center “is a local decision,” after consulting with Dr. Philip Cleveland, director of the Office of Career Technical Education/Workforce Development for the Alabama Department of Education. Sisk cited a memo from former state Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson that said the county is “not obligated to provide training of that nature to private school students.”
Sisk did not make a public formal recommendation during the board meeting. Board members had a more detailed agenda with addendums not made public prior or during the meeting, including a memo from Sisk.
School officials said the public agenda and board agenda differ due to sensitive information that might not be approved during the meeting. An updated agenda, without the addendums and unapproved items, is made public either immediately after a regular board meeting or the day after the meeting.
The memo from Sisk advised the school board to refund tuition paid by the two ABS students, and allow them to finish their credits at the Career Center without paying tuition. It also recommended that ABS students who were enrolled previously at the Career Center to be allowed to finish their credits without paying tuition.
During the work session, Sisk said not “to split hairs over the dollar amount” and that he believed the school system “should allow the (ABS students) that we already had to be grandfathered in.”
“We heard Florence City Schools allowed students from private schools to attend its technical center, but that’s not the case,” Sisk added. “All the surrounding school systems do not allow (private-school students), as a general rule, to attend their technical centers.”
Career Center tuition
Prior to this fall, ABS students had been allowed to attend the Career Center without paying tuition, according to multiple sources. County students are not charged tuition, and Athens City Schools pays for its students to attend.
The center, which opened in 1971, currently has an enrollment of 513, including students from the city and county school systems and two ABS students.
According to the Limestone County Schools Central Office, the two ABS students have paid $975 to date for the current school year. The students were charged $75 a week each beginning in mid-October and tuition payments were processed through the Central Office, according to Career Center Director Mickey Glass.
During the 2011-12 school year, Athens City Schools paid $2,343.35 for 124 students to attend the Career Center. Tuition is charged to cover the operational costs of the center, including maintenance, salaries and utilities, Glass said.
McGill said if the county school system charges Athens students to attend the Career Center, then ABS students should also be charged. Tuition for Athens students is paid by the city school system, while ABS students paid their tuition on an individual basis.
“I don’t agree that Athens City (Schools) should have to pay and ABS doesn’t,” McGill said. “We should do something fair.”
In other business the school board:
• Approved an overnight trip for the Tanner High School football team to stay in a hotel prior to the Class 2A state championship game at 3 p.m. Friday at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Auburn University campus;
• Accepted a bid for the demolition of buildings at Ardmore High School for the new gymnasium project;
• Authorized the letting of bids for a commercial dishwasher for the West Limestone High School Child Nutrition Program and computer-aided design (CAD) workstations and computers at the Career Center;
• Agreed to pave the drive at the School Bus Garage/Maintenance Department; and
• Approved an early release of December paychecks for the approximately 1,100 county school system employees.
The school board will meet next at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the Clinton Street annex.