State of Schools address focuses on district-wide growth
Elected officials, community members, business leaders and district stakeholders gathered at Hartselle First United Methodist Church Oct. 5 for the annual State of the Schools address.
The event, sponsored by Redstone Federal Credit Union and organized by the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce, featured guest speakers representing departments of Hartselle City Schools.
Attendees heard updates from district leaders about HCS growth, finances and academics. Speakers included Interim superintendent Sabrina Buettner, Jan Byrd, Bradley Colburn, Rocky Smith, Jordan LyBrand, Tina Towers and Dr. Josh Swindall.
Bradley Colburn said the financial outlook for the district is solid, with revenue “continuing to soar.”
“We’ve seen sales tax increases of 11 percent, motor vehicle by 8 percent, real property of two percent and SSUT of 21 percent,” he said.
The district has not been immune to the effects of inflation as costs have risen, Colburn said. Personnel costs as more students enroll and teachers are hired have increased.
Colburn said the board approved the $48 million 2023 budget in September.
“Highlights from that budget include enrollment growth of 50 new students, we added 17 certified units to our classrooms, two additional new Pre-K classrooms and instructional partners at the intermediate, junior high and high school.”
Colburn added the estimated general operating fund is 3.13 months of the operating budget, just shy of $10 million. Public schools in Alabama are required by law to have one month of the operating budget in the bank as a rainy-day budget.
According to Colburn, 89 percent of the expected revenue of the 2023 budget is from state and local funds alone.
“That’s thanks to these people in this room,” he said. “Another $14.7 million is just local funds. That’s 31 percent of our total revenue. That’s what separates Hartselle from other school systems around the state.
“This is what allows us to reduce classroom size, provide interventions for those students who need them, provide career tech programs, it also allows us to provide gifted and robotics and make capital improvement projects to our buildings,” he said.
“A lot of people are moving to Hartselle,” Rocky Smith said. “We have great schools, a thriving community with business opportunities and support from a strong local government. Our growth is a product of the great reputation all of us have helped create.”
With several neighborhoods under construction or in the early planning stages, the city has estimated the number of probable new houses by 2027 to be 534.
“It is important that we, on the school side, are proactive in planning for potential increases in students,” Smith said. “I think we all can agree that the City of Hartselle will be a destination for families and business moving to North Alabama for some time to come. Our schools will be ready to welcome these students when the time arises.”
As the City of Hartselle continues to grow, so does Hartselle City Schools. Enrollment has increased by 50 students this academic year.
Employment has also grown along with enrollment of new students according to Jordan LyBrand. HCS currently has nearly 500 employees and 200 substitutes, increasing by 100 in the past 5 years.
LyBrand said due to retirements, student growth and need, the district hired nearly 60 new employees this past summer. HCS will have a presence at area college and career fairs, according to LyBrand, in an effort to recruit teachers for any open positions as well continue to invest in current employees to encourage the pursuit of opportunities within the district.
Crestline Elementary School
The new Crestline Elementary School was a big topic at the event. The official groundbreaking was held Oct. 1 on the project that is scheduled to be complete by August 2024. It will feature 65 classrooms,105,000 square feet and space for 1,000 students.
A portion of the current school building will be retained for use as pre-k classrooms. The project is being led by Davis Architects and Bailey Harris Construction.
Colburn said the $36 million school will be paid for three ways: sales tax from the City of Hartselle, alcohol beverage tax and simplified sellers use tax, also known as the “Amazon tax.”
Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Scott Stadthagen worked together in 2019 to sponsor a local bill that directed the bulk of revenue from online sales tax, referred to as SSUT, received by the Morgan County Commission to local public schools. That bill was challenged by the commission, but its constitutionality was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court in May.
‘Moving the needle’
Academically, Hartselle City Schools is on a constant missing to “move the needle.”
ACAP test scores district wide have improved according to district data, and more than 300 qualifying scores were earned on AP exams in 2021-22.
Elementary schools in Hartselle saw improvement in standardized test scores and an overall increase in academic performance.
“Even though our scores we already high, we increased by 7 percent in English Language Arts and also 23 percent in math and 10 percent in science,” Tina Towers said. “Our teachers and administrators are doing a great job. We’re always doing what we can to move the needle.”
On the secondary side, ACT scores are up as well according to secondary curriculum coordinator Josh Swindall.
“We had growth in almost sub group in English, math and science in the intermediate grades,” Swindall said, adding students at the high school are scoring higher on the ACT and more students are earning higher scores on AP exams. This past year alone, Swindall said, more than 300 students had a qualifying score on the advanced placement tests.
Swindall also praised Hartselle High School’s 2022 National Merit Semifinalists Brody Boster, Eli Moore, Parker Stewart, Reid Ellis and Jacob Bowling who were present at the event. By comparison, Huntsville City Schools, which has 23,514 students had 10 semifinalists while Mountain Brook High School with its 4,441 students had 11.
“To put it in perspective, our students perform at a high level in Hartselle because we have teachers who teach at a high level, we have administrators who have high expectations and who lead at a high level and we have parents and community members who have high expectation for our schools,” he added.