It was a generous thing to do, but also an important thing for their own future, and to the future of the city.
Historically, the loss of the textile industry hit the city hard. Census figures show the city’s highest population was just over 19,000 back in 1980. Census workers counted just over 15,100 people in the city in 2000, and about 15,600 in 2010. In spite of thousands of automotive jobs being created in the county since the turn of the century, the city has not seen the growth in population hoped for.
While the city has seen a drop in population of about 14 percent, the decline in school enrollment has been far greater. According to figures from the Alabama State Department of Education, enrollment in Talladega city schools has dropped by 39 percent since the 1995-1996 school year, from 3,620 students then to 2,193 this year — a decrease of more than 1,400 students. During the same period, Oxford’s schools grew by a phenomenal 50 percent, from 2,801 to 4,196 students, a gain of about 1,400. Talladega County schools’ enrollment remained about level, with about 7,730 students then and this year; Sylacauga’s enrollment saw a drop of 8 percent to 2,375; Pell City saw an increase of 14 percent, to 4,121; statewide enrollment remained relatively constant during the period at around 735,000
Education leaders say Talladega’s schools aren’t to blame for the drops in population and enrollment. They point out that the communities that have grown have advantages Talladega does not — things like interstate exits and lakeside property. They defend the quality of the system’s educational opportunities, and say there is more of a perception problem than anything else.
The donations for the superintendent search will enable the school board access to candidates from all over the nation, and not limit them to applicants from inside the state. That kind of community support is just the kind of thing that could help begin to change that perception. It certainly can’t hurt.