Gardendale City Schools

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Gardendale City Schools was a planned independent school system, to have been established by taking over operation of four former Jefferson County Schools facilities located in the city of Gardendale.

Early feasibility studies had indicated that the town's population of 14,000 would not provide a sufficient tax base for construction of a needed high school. The county opened a new $46 million Gardendale High School in 2010. Two years later a group called "FOCUS Gardendale" launched a new public campaign in 2012 to lobby for an independent system.

Residents of Gardendale voted in November 2013 to establish an independent school system. The Gardendale Board of Education was organized that year with Chris Segroves as president, and Patrick Martin was hired as superintendent. Early negotiations with the county stalled on the issue of assuming the outstanding debt on new high school. State Superintendent Tommy Bice mediated discussion of the issue, ultimately ruling that no immediate payment would be required, but that Gardendale would assume debts on other schools. To that end, the City of Gardendale enacted a new 10-mill property tax for schools (in addition to an existing 8.8-mill earmark).

Under the requirements of the 1972 decision in Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, "splinter systems" must participate in the county's court-ordered desegregation plan. Where many earlier secessions had been allowed without serious review, the implications of Gardendale's proposed split raised more notice. A group of African American residents represented by the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to stop the split, and their case was eventually joined by retired judge U. W. Clemon. The case was heard before Judge Madeline Haikala at the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse in Birmingham. In her ruling, Haikala found, "that race was a motivating factor in Gardendale’s decision to separate from the Jefferson County public school system." However, rather than exercise her authority to deny the split altogether, she outlined a way for Gardendale and Jefferson County to work together to create a plan for the new system that would not threaten the ruling in the Stout case.

Under the proposal negotiated with the county and submitted by the Gardendale Board of Education, Gardendale would appoint an African-American to its school board, would permanently accept students in the North Smithfield and Greenleaf Heights communities, and would accept students matriculating from Mount Olive Elementary School and Brookside Elementary School for at least 13 years. The city would also receive ad valorum taxes from those communities paid to the county, and Gardendale students would have access to the county's Burkett Center for Multi-Handicapped for special needs students, and its International Baccalaureate programs for advanced placement. In addition, Gardendale would either surrender the high school back to the county or reimburse the county $33 million toward the cost of its construction.

The plaintiffs appealed Haikala's decision. In February 2018 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Hakaila's finding that the effect of the split would hinder Jefferson County's ability to uphold its desegregation plan, and overruled her proposed outline for compliance as outside of her authority, effectively preventing Gardendale from forming a separate system. The board announced later that month that they would not appeal the Circuit Court's decision, effectively ending the city's bid to separate its schools. In December 2019 Hakaila further ruled that Gardendale "acted in bad faith," and ordered the city to reimburse $850,000 in legal fees and expenses to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and U. W. Clemon.

A separate lawsuit filed by some Gardendale residents immediately after the circuit court ruling alleges that the city wrongly used the proceeds of its new property tax to pay administrators and attorneys for a scheme that proved illegal, and seeks reimbursement of the extra taxes collected since 2014.


The Gardendale Board of Education had five members, appointed by the Gardendale City Council effective April 1, 2014. The members of the inaugural board were appointed to varying terms of office (One year for Place 1, two years for Place 2, and so on.) All subsequent appointees were to serve five-year terms.



  • Underwood, Madison (March 3, 2015) "Gardendale schools decision does not require payment to JeffCo, but county's fight not over." The Birmingham News
  • Faulk, Kent (November 25, 2015) "Federal judge sets legal road map for Gardendale schools split." The Birmingham News
  • Faulk, Kent (December 17, 2015) "Gardendale's new school system would include North Smithfield students outside the city." The Birmingham News
  • Hannah-Jones, Nikole (September 6, 2017) "The Resegregation of Jefferson County" The New York Times magazine
  • Faulk, Kent (September 17, 2017) "Gardendale Board of Education responds to news reports, gets help in court fight from 2 groups." The Birmingham News
  • Davis, Rachel (January 4, 2018) "Gardendale City Council names Karen Malone as new school board member" North Jefferson News
  • Faulk, Kent (February 13, 2018) "Federal appeals court rules Gardendale can't form school system, finds racial motives." The Birmingham News
  • "Gardendale will cease efforts to create new school system." (February 28, 2018) The Birmingham News
  • Koplowitz, Howard (December 24, 2019) "Federal judge orders Gardendale to pay $850K legal bill for black students in school district case." The Birmingham News

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