Has my Mountain Brook friend lost his mind?

Mountain Brook Board of Education
Mountain Brook Board of Education

I was startled when I received the following e-mail from a young Mountain Brook friend…

“How do you think it would go over if I suggested an alternative proposal to direct the proposed Mountain Brook property tax increase to Birmingham City Schools?” 

On September 24th Mountain Brook residents will vote on a referendum to increase property taxes to provide additional funds for their schools.

The funding would support future capital improvements at Mountain Brook Schools, which auditors have said could total between $31 million and $87 million in the years to come.

Mountain Brook Schools are consistently ranked as the best in the state while Birmingham City Schools are ranked near the bottom.

My friend’s unconventional idea is clearly not going to happen, but maybe we can make it a call to action.

The City of Birmingham is going through a renaissance, but most  families with children will never choose to live in Birmingham with a shrinking school system.

Students continue to abandon Birmingham City Schools

Some folks may argue that Birmingham City Schools are getting better, but the loss of students appear to be unstoppable.

According to Birmingham Watch, the number of students enrolled in Birmingham City Schools has been in free fall for fifty years.

Number of students Birmingham City Schools:

  • 1970– 70,000
  • 1988– 42,927
  • 1998– 39,831
  • 2004– 34,099
  • 2006– 30,959
  • 2010– 26,721
  • 2011– 25,091
  • 2017– 24,070
  • 2018– 23,000

Intercity competition for Birmingham City Schools

First there was white flight, then black flight, and now competition from within.

Birmingham’s first public charter school Legacy Prep, known as STAR Academy, will open in west Birmingham in August with 120 students in kindergarten through second grade. A new grade will be added each year.

The following year I3 Academy, a second charter school, will open in Woodlawn. The new school will offer kindergarten through fifth grade and will have 420 students. Tommy Bice, former Alabama superintendent of education, is board chair.

Holy Family Cristo Rey High School will relocate in August from Ensley to an expanded campus in Titusville offering new technology with classrooms, labs, gym and a cafeteria.

The result is less and less students in Birmingham City Schools.

Birmingham Schools must do something bold

Birmingham City Schools will eventually implode if the status quo is maintained.

Birmingham needs to take some risk and experiment with bold new ideas and initiatives.

The Birmingham Promise is an initiative being considered.

According to the Birmingham Business Journal, “Included in Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s recent budget proposal was $2 million for the Birmingham Promise – a public-private partnership that would offer apprenticeships and scholarships to students from Birmingham City Schools.”

A similarly sized program in Buffalo, New York cost about $30 million. Buffalo’s program has been endowed, and a campaign has been launched to endow it in perpetuity.

The City of Birmingham is conducting due diligence this summer to determine the funding required for Birmingham’s program with an ultimate goal of creating a similar endowment.

Programs similar to the Birmingham Promise have been successful all over the United States.

It’s Birmingham’s time

Birmingham needs to fund this project even if it requires a small property tax increase—just like Mountain Brook.

The leaders in Mountain Brook know how to successfully manage a city by making its school system a priority. This laser focus on education has provided a huge payoff for Mountain Brook residents.

Birmingham, on the other hand, will continue to lose families and students if it doesn’t do something bold.

Has my young  Mountain Brook friend lost his mind?  He may not have come up with a rational solution, but he understands that an educated Birmingham means a more prosperous region and Mountain Brook.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter. There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

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 how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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19 thoughts on “Has my Mountain Brook friend lost his mind?”

  1. I heard Jefferson County School Superintendent Craig Pouncey speak recently. The JeffCo system, the second largest in the State of Alabama, has its act together–making programs from IB to career prep widely available throughout its system.
    What would happen if BHM City Schools merged back into the JeffCo system?

      1. I am delighted by that idea and by the effort that the Jefferson County School system is making. Both ideas are movements in the right direction.

  2. Once again, how many times does this subject that I now bring up have to be said before something actually happens about getting things to work? This idea would almost immediately work, but in a different way if Metro Birmingham-Hoover were just totally Metro Birmingham again. The main point is that a city can not be a city if it is so utterly subdivided as it is now.

    There is another city suffering under similar circumstances, on not really considered a peer for Birmingham, bu the one where Vulcan was made to be displayed! (wow now THAT was something wasn’t it! Where did the kind of people that did that go?) Yes St. Louis, MO. It is an incredibly interesting city that I have had the previlege to visit a number of times in the last several years. The point here is that it is, exactlhy like Birmingham trying to ‘comeback.’ It difficulty in doing so is overcoming the same cause, sprawling disorganized metor of many split cities. St. Louis was one of the largest in the country. It is no longer. I can not get its metro act together. Neither can Birmingham.

    This is very bad as it results in split up school districts, disorganized transportation systems, city planning coordination is more difficult. . They grow uglier and uglier, as they destroy natural beauty such as our ‘Narrows.’ the high hills in ME Jefferson County being cut through by the new Interstate bypass. The absolutely stupid replacement of downtown’s section of I.20-59 which should never have been there to split up the center of the city like take EVER. Forests, farm land and waterways are being ruined. One stupid one put the city and Jefferson county into the deepest debt imaginable, and came so close to ruining the Cahaba River, one of the nations’ longest free flowing rivers, unique in other ways as well. Community complexity of this kind does and has become chaotic, and difficult to manage, and therefore the cause of far to many bad mistakes

    It is way past time to get going about this matter of community collaboration. David Sher, maybe you will help bring some intelligent pragmatic common sense back into play. It is truly needed to make the city and its metro a better place. Thank you for being here. I hope I can help.

  3. Democratically run cities generally fail, it has already happened here and in many cities around the country. You simply cannot fix the problems with the city by pouring money into a hole.
    Leadership must take the reigns and direct the city in a positive direction. The revitalization of downtown, Lakeview, Avondale, and soon Woodlawn is the BEST thing to happen to Birmingham in a very very long time. Not because of whites overtaking predominantly black neighborhoods, but because the dilapidated housing is fixed up, the buildings are renovated and filled with tenants and the taxes collected assist in further growth throughout the city. But Birmingham still has an enormous crime problem and unless city leaders get a hold on the crime, the city will continue to flounder.
    Right now, as a professional in the real estate market, I would say the crime issue is by far the most concerning and should be at the top of the list with city leaders. No employer wants to come to a city that is riddled with crime. Amazon is the biggest thing to come here in a while and I believe will hurt the city more than help, only time will tell the story.

    1. RE: “The revitalization of downtown, Lakeview, Avondale, and soon Woodlawn is the BEST thing to happen to Birmingham in a very very long time. Not because of whites overtaking predominantly black neighborhoods, but because the dilapidated housing is fixed up, the buildings are renovated and filled with tenants and the taxes collected assist in further growth throughout the city.”

      And just who do you think has been the impetus behind this development? Who do you think is paying for this renovation and business investment? West Birmingham m-i-g-h-t have a chance, too, if the city can stop the nightly shooting and murders.

  4. Everyone is waiting for Hoover, Vestavia, Homewood, and/or Mountain Brook to bail Birmingham out. Newsflash, it’s not going to happen. There’s a reason everyone with money and influence left the city. Birmingham has become a weight on their shoulders and is like a beggar asking for handouts and asking them to send more money to the city they left for a reason.

    You also have to remember, these people are not interested in urban city life. They’re aging and left during the “flight”.

    To add to that, Birmingham is not attracting or keeping young professionals, the kinds of people who want to live and play in urban downtown settings. Those people are totally skipping over Birmingham to move to Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Orlando, Dallas, Austin, Houston, etc etc.

    Why? JOBS. I love downtown Bham now. Lots to do and pretty decent. But there are NO JOBS (compared with those other metros I mentioned). So where would the smart money move? Definitely not Birmingham.

    This is a downward spiral that is not looking good. In a time where large metros are booming, if you’re not, you’re falling further and further behind.

    1. Some of that is right and some wrong. The jobs thing is in fact a problem for the young. The job I wanted was not in the Birmingham area, so I had to leave to get it. Neither was the quality of the field of education I wanted. That was 1500 miles away! SO yes, good jobs being available and high quality education are both extremely important

      What is really correct is the point about Birmingham wanting to take the money and people leaving because of it. Beware of Californians moving in soon IF they can find a job. That state is losing people because it is so very unaffordable.

      But also one of the stupidest things any city I know has done. Birmingham o set up that ridiculous ‘Occupational Tax’ to be paid by people who have a job in the city, no matter where they live! That on top of the State of Alabama income tax that you have to pay if your annual income only made $4.000 That rate must be absolutely ancient? Money helps if properly used and received in an agreeable way. But when like Alabama and Birmingham do that they way they do, money hurts. The hurting is the current experience. That really must stop right now!

  5. I don’t see where I was wrong in your response Roy F. Knight. Do you agree that Birmingham is like the beggar on the street corner asking for donations from its rich neighbors? None of the old rich folks over the mountain care about urbanity, at least not enough to make a difference. They don’t care about Birmingham because it brings them nothing but crime and bad press. They want to live in their bubbles.

    The only people (generally speaking) who want downtown Birmingham to thrive are young people. They’re the ones that spur urban growth by creating a long lasting supply. However, they are finding better jobs elsewhere in cities that are not “behind” so they’re leaving.

    Then here comes Birmingham saying “heyyyy it’s not fair you all moved out and took our businesses away, you need to pay us back or bring your business back or I’m going to make you feel guilty.”

    Also, what do you mean when you say quality education? Are you talking about Birmingham city schools or colleges?

    I think the collegiate education quality is on par or better than comparable cities (UAB, Samford, Bham Southern, and UA). The problem is keeping those people. Most of them are moving off.

    1. Thank you for your response. Most of what you said I can only agree. But there are two points the mention that I do not actually agree with. Point 1. I do not believe that only young people will live downtown. I can not confirm this but I do know a few elder people who live there and it is because they wanted too for similar reasons. I think this will be those whose children grown up, the ’empty nesters.’ They also might have a lake house, or not. I know of one whose move was published in the Wall Street Journal! She refurbished an old building and moved in. Of course that one is quite exceptional. Some people like have young people around them because their vitality can be inspiring. They also like the restaurants, theaters, activity at the Civic Center, Railroad Park, Pepper Place, Region’s Field ,etc. Also It should be said that the downtown is now a big draw for the youth. It is a place to be loved by them and can really help bring them home. I also will say that youth should go farther afield, explore the world,, love coming back home and bring with them new connections of value to the city. Never should anyone really get ‘stuck in there own backyard.’ Point 2. About education: certainly the City of Birminhgham’s Schools are damaging the city. The colleges and Universites are quite good, but not the best, except UAB Medical School. That on is one of the very best. The problem there is that very good fields of study are limited in number, It would be helpful if there were many more.

      I hope this helps. Roy

      1. Thanks Roy, I do think we mostly agree. I think I would just say that I know there are older people moving downtown, empty nesters etc. However, not enough. They’re not normally the ones spurring innovation and growth. You need masses of young people with money/credit moving in. But they won’t move in without good paying jobs – which are leaving.

        This is NOT a bash against Birmingham. It’s simply calling it like it is and the biggest problem is it takes decades to change this. I dont personally think it can be changed. But I do think Birmingham can be the best it can be which is not bad at all! But it will never be a Nashville or ATL or Austin. Every year the gap between what Birmingham is vs them is widening.

        I think there’s too much of “hey why can’t be be Austin/Nashville? All we have to do is _____.” Nooooo, once companies begin to exit, they find new homes where they flourish and don’t move back. They bring jobs and talent with them leaving Birmingham more desolate – more unattractive to new educated people or new companies.

        The only new companies you will attract are those that want to save a dollar on rent and are ok with 3rd rate talent (ouch I know – speaking generally here!). OR startups but startups normally get bought and move too.

        1. I am generally in agreement with all that you just said.

          It has been disparaging to observe that many of Birmingham’s biggest and best companies simply closed up shot to some extent by selling themselves to other companies with headquarter elsewhere. That type of movement has really damaged our favorite city Birmingham, Also the city hitting itself in the head by its ridiculous taxation. The there is the failure of attempts to consolidate the metro area has hurt as the cities and towns have become uncooperative

          It is sad that Birmingham seems to know more about how to damage itself than to improve itself and that is VERY sad!

          And as I will say over and over, what I desire is better, stronger, not simply bigger and just filled up with more mediocre or worse people. We would likke more realy good positively practical and effective people only. Better is what is better, neither bigger nor smaller! There is no point in trying to follow other cities, because they get bigger faster. We a thinking about a very special and different one, Birmingham. Being unique itself has special value worth consideration.

          What I like about being on tihs path with you and others is that our aim really is to make Birmingham a great place to live work, play. Roy

  6. If you look at other underperforming schools that became transformed into high performing schools it is often the result of a strong principal with the support of a school board that is engaged and innovative, and not merely interested in perpetuating an inefficient bureaucracy In addition parents and family who are involved in their children’s education is critical. Zip code should not determine educational opportunity.

    1. Norman, I completely agree with what you have said. This world will be a much worse place if there continue to be parents who only think of public schools as free ‘baby sitting.’ The best schools, public or private are the ones whose student’s parents are deeply interested in providing the best life for their chikdren.

  7. I was very involved in the Birmingham business community in the 1980s-1990s when things “seemed” stabilized. Birmingham still had shopping and people actually walking the streets during lunchtime. Hey, remember City Stages? However, many employers/developers simply had their foot on the brake waiting until the Shelby County sewer moratorium was lifted. Only Inverness jumped first, then Riverchase. But
    as soon as it was lifted, the flight to Shelby County began in earnest, led by BCBS and BellSouth. Soon developers were elbowing their way out 280 and the rest is history. The same thing happened in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and even Montgomery. I’m too old to have a solution, but I hope somebody finds one. Jeff Bayer can’t save the city and Jefferson County by himself.

    1. Karl, I was downtown the Saturday evening before last and walked passed El Barrio Restaurant on 3rd Avenue North downtown at 9pm. People had been waiting outside for a table for more than an hour. Bamboo across the street was also busy. There was no parking anywhere around. Downtown, for certain, has made one heck of a comeback.

      1. Thanks, David. After over 20 years of abandonment and decay, I hope so. I even read recently where Five-points South may be turning around. We’ll see. Again, I remember when one had to walk a quarter-mile on weekends from parking to visit Five-points. I also remember when Birmingham had a coherent Chamber of Commerce and tourism organization and we beat Atlanta’s Chamber in a week-long membership drive for the Chamber. No more…

        1. Karl,
          It’s truly remarkable about what’s going on in Five Points South. A 17 story apartment complex is being built next to Temple Beth-El on Highland Avenue and another major apartment complex is being developed where The Break was located on 20th Street & 10th Ave. So. I understand The Woolworth is doing great!

          1. Definitely those projects are a good sign. Much of that and midtown as well are indicators of of the economic power of such an institution as UAB and in particular its very highly reated Medical Center.

            Keep encouraging and give more support for such others a Southern Research Institute and the Innovation Depot and you will really see Birmingham move forward.

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