Troy City Schools Are At a Critical Turning Point
In Troy, Alabama we love our children. That love is the reason so many families in Troy volunteer at schools, serve in youth programs and participate in acts of civic engagement on our children’s behalf. Another act of love also happens to be one of our community’s most important functions — we work together to determine what is best for these children with regard to their education. Communities provide education for their children in the same way that families meet those children’s material and emotional needs.
Public education has been a priority for families in Troy for a long time. One of our most illustrious predecessors, Governor Charles Henderson, dedicated a large portion of his estate to provide for our children’s education. Many graduates of Troy City Schools are business, military, government and faith leaders all over the world and right here in Troy. Trojans have a lot to be proud of!
Today primary and secondary education is a competitive marketplace. Families make choices about which educational environment best suits their children based on school data, friends’ and neighbors’ opinions and a school’s public image in news and social media. Many communities in our area have figured out how to grow their school systems in this competitive environment. According to data from the Alabama State Department of Education, Enterprise City Schools and Coffee County Schools have increased their enrollment over 20% since 2004. Phenix City Schools are educating 37% more students now than they were fifteen years ago. Auburn City Schools have grown 79% since 2004!
Unfortunately that’s not the case for all of our neighboring school systems. While the populations of the districts they serve have grown, enrollment at Houston County Schools, Pike County Schools, Dothan City Schools and Lee County Schools has stayed at the same level during the past fifteen years. Other nearby school systems have suffered significant enrollment declines: Montgomery County Schools are 14% smaller than they were in 2004. Butler County Schools, Bullock County Schools and Ozark City Schools are now educating 20%, 21% and 23% fewer students than in 2004.
This competitive environment has been a challenge for our school system. Troy City Schools’ enrollment declined 26% since 2004. Since the majority of a public school’s budget is linked to enrollment our school system’s funding has decreased as a result of our enrollment decline. In families, businesses, churches and school systems shrinking budgets apply pressure to every part of the systems they serve. Troy City Schools’ enrollment decline has cost our community over $25 million in state and federal funding. The resulting budget pressure is felt acutely by our students, faculty and staff.
The leadership transition in progress at Troy City Schools is an incredible opportunity for people who love our children to listen, reflect, collaborate and act on our shared beliefs about the value of public education for the future of our community. It’s not a coincidence that the choices our community makes with our children’s best interest at heart are also choices that support our community’s long term health and growth.
The stakes for the leadership transition at Troy City Schools are incredibly high. Most critically there are more than 1700 Trojans ages 4 to 18 whose futures will be affected by the choices our elected and appointed leaders make. Our community’s stewardship of Troy City Schools’ $20 million annual budget is in the balance. Additionally, the potential value of a healthy school system to our community’s economic development is enormous.
Our community’s leaders should take this opportunity to make choices that put our children, our schools and our city on a path to leadership in public education. Now is the time for members of our community to ask ourselves, each other and our elected and appointed leaders the following questions:
· How does our community define success in public education?
· What is our community’s strategy for developing a successful public education system?
· What are our elected and appointed leaders’ responsibilities in the process of supporting our school system’s continuous improvement in the future? Have our elected leaders met their responsibilities during the last fifteen years of enrollment decline?
· If our school system is not what we believe it should be then what are our individual roles as community members in helping the system reach its potential in the years to come? Have we fully inhabited those roles up to now?
Public education in Troy, Alabama is at a turning point. It won’t be easy for our community to become a leader in public education but the benefits will accrue for generations. Now is not the time to talk about expediency, being “good enough” or maintaining the status quo. Now is the time to make our high expectations clear to our leaders on the Troy City School Board, on the City Council and at City Hall: our community cannot grow without our leaders’ active support for a world class public school system. Our children deserve an education that reflects our boundless love for them.