UA student speaks at BOE meeting

Emily Williams

A University of Alabama student spoke in front of the Tuscaloosa School Board Tuesday night about a recent controversy regarding a secret deal made for the funding of a new school.

Adam Seale, a senior majoring in civil engineering and a graduate of the Tuscaloosa City School System, said he felt it was his responsibility as a citizen of Tuscaloosa to hold the school board honest and accountable.

“The placement and financing of an entire school – one of the greatest projects our board of education can undertake – was planned in great part without consulting many of its members, much less we the voting citizens,” Seale said.

According to The Tuscaloosa News, it was revealed Saturday that a deal had been made, without consulting the school board, giving the Tuscaloosa City School System 36 acres of land on Northridge Drive. The land is estimated at $3.6 million, and would be used to build a new public school. The deal was made in December 2012 by Gov. Robert Bentley, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority and Ol’ Colony Golf Complex’s board.

Members of the school board maintain they had no knowledge of this deal beforehand. Seale and other members of the community question why the school board was not involved in the negotiations for this land, and whether or not certain members of the school board knew about the deal before it was presented publicly.

There is additional controversy regarding the proposed location of the new school and if there are other areas that have a greater need for development. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the issue of the land deal was not officially listed on the agenda; however, there was discussion of plans for a demographic analysis of the current school structure. This would allow the school board to determine which schools were overcrowded or under-populated, which could possibly point to areas where a new school would be needed.

“If millions of tax payer dollars and acres of public land aren’t worth discussing freely and honestly, what is?” Seale said. “How can we trust our city leaders, when even the people we ask to review such an expense of our public property can’t do so until after those plans have built too much momentum to be easily changed? Without transparency, what confidence do we have that its actions are in the best interests of our children?”

Laurie Johns, a self-described concerned citizen, spoke in support of Seale, questioning Board Chairman Lee Garrison about his prior knowledge of the deal, after which Garrison denied any involvement.

“I really don’t know what basis they’re coming from,” Garrison said. “It’s a conspiracy theory with no factual basis behind it.”