By Erica Thomas, managing editor
TRUSSVILLE — Several Trussville City Schools parents attended the Trussville City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, to express concerns with the YMCA summer program that is taking the place of the Trussville City Schools summer program.
The decision to replace the program was made during the Board of Education’s January meeting. The measure was passed as part of the consent agenda.
Elizabeth Walker, a mother of two, is one of many parents concerned about the program and how it was passed without public knowledge.
The issue was first discussed in a December workshop for the BOE. Dr. Mandi Logan, Superintendent of Student Support Services, said the program would be beneficial to students, because of the YMCA’s literacy program. She said the YMCA would rent Paine Elementary and all students would attend the summer program there.
Since the announcement, parents have voiced concerns about the cost and quality of the program.
Elizabeth Walker, a mother of two, was at the city council meeting Tuesday, along with several other concerned parents. Walker said the new summer program will cost her family 65% more with the YMCA program.
“As a hardworking mom and a tax-paying, voting resident of Trussville, I’ve come here tonight to ask you what you are doing to do to help the working parents of our community who have been blindsided by the termination and privatization of these beloved programs that have been a part of our community since 1977,” Walker said.
Walker added that she does not believe the rent being paid to the school system for Paine Elementary would cover costs of operation. Earlier this month, Walker also voiced her concerns during a parent meeting at the Trussville Public Library, during a meeting with other parents and representatives from the YMCA.
Parents said they believe the city council is accountable for the actions of the BOE since the council appoints members.
Cheryl Hannum, who has been vocal about her issues with the YMCA program, said her family moved to the city because of Trussville City Schools programs.
“They constantly come to us and want us to be involved with the school system and be involved with our children’s activities and everything that goes on,” said Hannum. “Yet, this was handled with no parent feedback.”
Other parents also spoke to the council saying they wish the school system would have communicated with parents ahead of making decisions.
Justin Rogers said his family moved to Trussville in 2006. He said the school system was also a main reason for the move. His daughter, who is a student at Paine, enjoyed the TCS program and the caregivers working with the program.
“We do not want to lose what we’ve had,” said Rogers. “We don’t want to lose what our daughters had.”
Council President Zack Steele thanked parents and encouraged them to continue to stay up-to-date with school board happenings and to recruit anyone in the community who would be a positive asset to the school board.
“We nominate a new member to the board every year,” said Steele. “I wish we had answers for you but unfortunately tonight we probably won’t.”
After all speakers for the public hearing finished, parents continued to ask the council if there was a way to change the way Board of Education members are put into their positions. Some parents said without having an elected board, there is no accountability for members. They said they have been unsuccessful in receiving adequate responses from board members.
Councilman Brian Plant explained that the Board of Education is an independent entity.
“We cannot call them down here to say, ‘We don’t like that and we appointed you so you tell us why,'” said Plant. “We don’t have the authority to do that.”
Plant said the city council is accountable to the city because it is a legislative body, while the Board of Education is not a legislative body.
“A legislative body can conduct their meetings in a different manner and we can talk much more freely about things because there are specific statutes that allow that,” he said.
Mayor Buddy Choat said the city would have the opportunity to speak with the school board and ask them to respond to concerns of parents. Choat said he was unaware that discussions about the YMCA had been underway for more than a year, as the YMCA confirmed to parents at the Feb. 6 meeting.
“I was taken aback when I first saw the article that mentioned it was going to be open to everyone, which I totally disagreed with and I think that has been changed,” said Choat. “So, I would say on behalf of the council and myself that we have the opportunity to talk to them. We can certainly talk to Dr. (Pattie) Neill and the board.”
Mayor Choat said there is a chance the TCS Board of Education can clear up any concerns at their next meeting on Feb. 24.
Councilmember Jef Freeman said for reasons concerning accreditation, the council has to be careful what they ask of the BOE.
“We really have to be cautious because the school could potentially lose their accreditation,” said Freeman.
Councilmember Alan Taylor reiterated what Mayor Choat said by telling parents the appropriate course of action for them is to voice concerns at the next Board of Education meeting. Taylor also told the parents serving on the Board of Education comes with many challenges.
“Over the years, we’ve appointed new school board members, but in my almost eight years of serving on this council, and I thank you for that, I have never one time had a school board member come to us, come to me, and say, ‘Please reappoint me,'” Taylor said. “As far as I know that’s never happened. That’s never happened to me.”
Taylor said accepting a position as a school board member is difficult for many.
“It looks easy but it’s not. It’s a tough job,” said Taylor. “Sometimes decisions are not popular for an individual, but they look at (and I get this issue), they look at everything as a whole as we have to sometimes. Sometimes the decision for the whole effects individuals in a negative way. I’m not for one second saying that’s how it is in this case, but I’m saying that’s why it’s so difficult for them.”