Sanity comes after vote against new tax

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2004

There are signs some sanity could come out of last week’s crushing defeat of a property tax increase that would have paid for new schools and classrooms in Shelby County: School officials say they will do a better job telling planning and zoning boards the effect new subdivisions will have on schools.

Though the motivation was voters’ rejection of the school tax, this new effort by county school officials to better communicate with city and county officials is long overdue. Planners need to know what will happen with schools when they consider new residential developments. It might make them think harder before approving new subdivisions.

Tens of thousands of homes are planned in cities and unincorporated areas throughout the county. The school system doesn’t have a say in approving these developments, but it is responsible for educating the children brought in by them.

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Superintendent Evan Major said his “message to any of the planning commission groups will be: At this point, all of our schools are full, and we have no funds to increase classrooms at any school. Thus, any new development will have a negative impact.”

Even without money, schools must brace for many “negative impacts.” Here is just a sampling:

In Chelsea, up to 2,400 homes are planned over the next five years. One development alone includes 3,000 homes to be built over 10 years.

Helena, which grew from 3,000 people in 1990 to 12,000 in 2002, is also considering other mega-developments, including a 3,100-home subdivision.

Alabaster, the county’s largest city, expects its population to grow from 24,000 to 42,000 in the next two decades.

Calera’s population grew by 31 percent in just two years; usually sleepy Montevallo is the site of planned subdivisions that will increase its number of homes by 63 percent.

And then there’s Pelham. Over the next 10 years, some 8,000 new homes are planned, including 4,000 in one subdivision. That’s a whopping 150 percent increase over the city’s current 5,600 homes.

What this mean is that the county’s population explosion will continue for years to come. In the 2002 Census, Shelby County had 143,000 people. By the year 2025, it’s projected to reach 265,000.

Schools will feel the brunt of this increase. Enrollment will grow from 22,750 to 36,350 by 2020.

But schools aren’t the only public services to be hit. Roads, sewers, water, law enforcement, and fire and paramedic service also will be under tremendous strain.

There absolutely must be better planning between the county and its cities. There also must be more consideration of the impact these many developments will have on services, particularly schools.

County planners say they look forward to more information from the school system to help them make better decisions on proposed projects. It’s clear school officials need to be an active partner in future planning.

Last week’s tax defeat could turn into a victory if it brings more sanity to patchwork planning. The county’s population explosion needn’t blow up on schools.