The Mobile County Public School Board of Commissioners voted to close Belsaw- Mt. Vernon Elementary and move students from Mae Eanes Middle School to Williamson High School.
The proposal was introduced by Superintendent Martha Peek on Monday and approved the next day, leaving several members of the public feeling blindsided.
‘This is not going to fix the problem. This is an open wound and a band aid is not going to cure it,” said Kathy Batiste, a parent at Williamson High School who has concerns about the middle schoolers from Mae Eanes merging with the high school.
Peek says declining enrollment is the reason behind the decision. According to School System Data, over the past Decade enrollment at Mae Eanes has dropped from 764 students to 264. Enrollment at Belsaw-Mt. Vernon has gone from 321 to 99.
Mt. Vernon Mayor James Adams said he was disappointed by the decision because Belsaw is the city’s only elementary school, and they’ve seen improvement this year with a new principal.
“It’s like any town. When you close a school, that makes people lose a lot of respect for your town. People don’t want to come in and businesses don’t want to come in if you close the school,” Adams said.
One of the most vocal opponents of the changes is School Board Commissioner Robert Battle, who was the only commissioner to vote against the cuts. He claims the decision had to do with the racial make-up of the schools.
“If the board members want to know if was I referring to them as racist, yes I am,” Battle said. “They knew they had a conspiracy against me and my district from the beginning.”
Battle said his next step is to take legal action against the board.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Martha Peek said the changes will benefit the students because Mae Eanes and Williamson High school will be able to share instructors and middle school students will have the opportunities to join extracurricular activities and the signature academy.
“We want to institute that and make the best use of the school facilities but certainly have more course offerings and we can do that by having more teachers on the Williamson campus,” said Peek.