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School board accepts budget, zoning map

Madison Board of Education has approved the 2017 budget. In this photo, Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler talks to new employees before the start of the 2016-2017 school year. CONTRIBUTED
Madison Board of Education has approved the 2017 budget. In this photo, Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler talks to new employees before the start of the 2016-2017 school year. CONTRIBUTED

MADISON – At its Aug. 18 meeting, Madison Board of Education approved the district’s 2017 budget and a zoning map.

The adopted budget has more than $1 million in cuts.

To access the 18-page budget document, visit madisoncity.k12.al.us and click “Business/Finance.” In the new window, click “Financial Reports” in the list at the left. Then, click “2017 Budget Presentation- 2nd Hearing.”

Chief Financial Officer Mike Weaver gave a budget presentation. This year, Madison’s school enrollment grew by more than 300 students to 10,238 students. “That’s 80 more (students) so far than projected,” public relations manager John Peck said.

Five of MCS’ seven elementary schools are at or near capacity. Portable classrooms are absorbing Mill Creek’s overflow.

“Meanwhile, the school district is still dealing with a $1.7-million loss of school taxes from the Limestone County tax dispute, along with lingering debt from mortgage payments on so many relatively new schools,” Peck said.

In 1998, Madison separated from Madison County Schools district and founded its own separate system with four school buildings. Today, the district has 11 school buildings.

Weaver’s budget report included a debt service chart showing 14 years before Madison City Schools could take on another payment for a new elementary school without a dedicated source of funding.

“The budget and enrollment presentations raised concerns the school system is fast approaching capacity and inching closer to having the highest pupil-teacher ratio in the state,” Peck said. In Alabama’s 137 public school districts, Madison has the fifth highest pupil-teacher ratios and ranks 61st in per pupil expenditures.

“We’ve got to find a new revenue source, or we will not be striving and thriving the way we are today,” board member Connie Spears said. “We can’t maintain what we are doing without a new revenue stream.”

Other board members agreed that resolving the Limestone case will not cover the district’s growing needs sufficiently.

In other business, MCS Student Services Director Dennis James gave a zoning/school enrollment report. The new zoning map primarily targets land waiting residential development in Limestone County.

North of Powell Road, property now is zoned for Rainbow Elementary School. Undeveloped residential property south of Powell Road is zoned for West Madison Elementary School.

Rainbow and West Madison stand at 79 and 87 percent capacity, respectively, compared to 95 percent capacity or higher for Madison’s remaining elementary schools.

Fowler said a grassroots committee of citizens, education representatives and others soon will be formed to study citywide rezoning of elementary schools. The committee will make a concerted effort to avoid splitting neighborhoods. Efforts will also be made to keep the demographic mix among schools as even as possible.

To view the map, visit madisoncity.k12.al.us and click “School Zones.” In the new window, scroll down and click “Elementary School Zones for 2016-2017.”

MCS has undergone rezoning at least five times. Also, all elementary campuses have used portables until new classrooms were built.

“When high school lines were redrawn with the 2012 opening of James Clemens, it was stated then both schools would balance out in enrollment within four to five years. That prediction came true with each now enrolling slightly over 1,700 students,” Peck said.

“It won’t be long before we have to start looking at secondary school rezonings, too,” Fowler said.

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