Fewer people are employed in our Birmingham-Hoover Metro Area today than in 2007.
Meanwhile cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin are growing jobs exponentially.
What is wrong with us? Why can’t we compete?
We have too many independent governments competing against one another. Other Southern cities work together as a region while we view our sister Jefferson County cities as the enemy.
Fear of losing our suburban schools is holding us back
My guess is that many people are afraid that if we alter our government structure we would have to give up our suburban schools.
I’m not a proponent of a unified school system.
If folks thought there was the slightest chance we would lose our neighborhood schools all progress in Birmingham would end.
Currently there are twelve separate school systems in Jefferson County:
- Jefferson County
- Bessemer (Bessemer Public Schools)
- Birmingham (Birmingham City Schools)
- Fairfield (Fairfield City Schools)
- Homewood (Homewood Public Schools)
- Hoover (Hoover City Schools)
- Leeds (Leeds City Schools)
- Midfield (Midfield City Schools)
- Mountain Brook (Mountain Brook School System)
- Tarrant (Tarrant City Schools)
- Trussville (Trussville City Schools)
- Vestavia Hills (Vestavia Hills School System)
And Gardendale is the midst of a lawsuit to create an additional school system.
It’s not realistic to assume that parents are going to allow these systems to go away.
Unified schools don’t work
A unified school system would be a disaster.
Memphis’ attempt to combine county and city schools recently was a train wreck.
Many of us envy the economic growth of Nashville, but we certainly don’t want their school system.
The good news for Birmingham is that there are only about 25,000 students in Birmingham City Schools
There are about 86,000 students in the underperforming Nashville Public Schools.
And there are 128,000 students in poorly performing Duval County (Jacksonville, Florida) Public Schools.
If we were to eliminate suburban schools, parents who had the financial means, would move their children into private schools and educational opportunities of the remaining students would diminish.
Government options that would not impact suburban schools
Here are examples of cities who are flourishing with diverse government structures:
- Indianapolis combined county and city into one government, but schools were not consolidated.
- Charlotte did a functional consolidation—County and City government divided its responsibilities to avoid duplication of services (one fire department; one police department, etc.).
- Pittsburgh opted for a strong county government—it created an Executive Branch with a County Mayor (we in Jefferson County don’t have three branches of government–a system that is prone to abuse and has led to the conviction of many of our County Commissioners). Read How we in Jefferson County got screwed.
- Denver created broad geographical regions to tackle big projects like transportation and green space.
None of the above require meddling with schools.
Birmingham—the city of perpetual promise
Birmingham is called the city of ‘perpetual promise.’
Let’s find a reasonable solution that doesn’t involve emasculating our schools and build a region that will propel us into the 21st Century.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.