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Photo by Wes Tomlison Parents and community members attend the Morgan County school board meeting Thursday, where the board voted 7-0 to close Sparkman Elementary at the end of the school year.

Sparkman Elementary to close at end of school year

By Wes Tomlinson

For the Enquirer

Students at Sparkman Elementary School in Morgan County will be transferred to Falkville, Priceville and Cotaco elementary schools next fall after the school board on Thursday evening unanimously voted to shut the school down at the end of this school year.

Some school board members spoke before the vote, lamenting the decision but saying it was the best option for Sparkman’s students.

“This is a hard decision we have to make,” said board member Mike Tarpley. “Sparkman Elementary has some great teachers and I know they love kids. (Principal Layne) Dillard has worked hard and has thought outside of the box so those kids can have a great environment.”

“It’s been a lot of sleepless nights … but the bottom line is we want what’s best for these kids,” said board member Jimmy Dobbs.

“Morgan County Schools exists for students, it does not exist for teachers,” school board President Billy Rhodes said. “You need teachers and a principal and a school board … but the bottom line is it’s all about the kids.”

Rhodes said he spoke with some Lawrence County board members recently about the closing of R.A. Hubbard High School in North Courtland, which took effect this year, and asked them how they moved on since the closing.

That prompted a reaction from Sparkman’s principal, who said Rhodes has not spoken with her at all this year about closing her school.

“If you have time to have conversations with other schools, then you have time to have conversations with me about my school and what we offer,” Dillard said at the board meeting.

Dillard said she will be able to retire in December 2023 but is currently considering her options. She said she would prefer to work for a more transparent administration.

“I’ve had a lot of job offers, but leadership really matters to me so it just depends,” Dillard said. “Not knowing about this vote and finding out through (the media), that was a big deal to me. I want to work somewhere where I know what’s going on and there’s better communication … That matters to me.”

Beth Serda, whose daughter attended Sparkman and is now a senior at Brewer High, said before the meeting she believed the school board has been too hasty in its decision to close the school.

“The Board of Education could definitely give Dillard and the school some more options as far as redrawing lines and giving them opportunities to bring enrollment up,” Serda said.

Superintendent Robert Elliott Jr. said last month the school was being targeted for closure because of high per-student operating costs and years of declining enrollment.

“That’s $20,000 per student (at Sparkman),” Elliott said. “As a county, we’re averaging $12,000 per student.”

Sparkman has 103 students, down from 133 last year and 205 during the 2019-2020 school year.

School board Vice Chairman John Holley said the majority of Sparkman students will attend either Falkville or Priceville elementary schools next fall, but said the board has not had a formal discussion about where they will go.

Holley said the board has not decided exactly what to do with Sparkman’s campus next year but said he is sure they will maintain the gymnasium and ball fields.

Prior to the meeting on Thursday, Holley said the board had considered redrawing school district lines to increase Sparkman’s enrollment but received pushback from some Morgan County residents who did not want district lines changed.

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