Decatur City Schools records show that 589 of its employees — about 39% — live outside Decatur, but school officials say their priority is hiring the best employees in the midst of a teacher shortage.
The school system has 1,499 employees, based on data provided on March 16 which includes all classifications — administrators, teachers and support personnel. About 61% of employees — 910 — have Decatur addresses, the report shows.
“I think that as long as they’re good employees and serving our kids, that’s the most important thing,” said Superintendent Michael Douglas.
“Would I love for everybody to live in Decatur? Yes, but I don’t know where they’ll live,” Douglas said. “I hire good teachers every year that struggle to find what they’re looking for (in housing). That’s a broader issue that’s out of our control.
“Our No. 1 goal to hire somebody is that they’ll be a good teacher and instruct our students,” Douglas said.
The school system's residency report shows employee name and address information but does not include employee type. The city of residency is provided by each employee when they submit their address information to DCS.
Employee residency became an issue last month for Decatur city government. Although the One Decatur plan states "Decatur must grow its population and average household income," the City Council deviated from previous policy when hiring a new chief financial officer at a $90,699 salary and allowed him to continue living outside the city. Council later passed a resolution that makes residency a “case-by-case decision” for eight of the city's 11 department heads.
The Decatur school system's policy manual has no staff residency requirements.
Michele Gray King, president of the Decatur City Schools’ Board of Education, agreed with Douglas on teacher hiring.
“To me, it doesn’t matter if our teachers live in Decatur or not,” she said “What matters is that we have the best teachers possible and if that means they live outside of Decatur then so be it.
“Our ultimate goal is to give our children the best education that we can,” she said.
Douglas noted that “we’re in the middle of the worst teacher shortage probably in the history of Alabama. So, if we took a hard line and said, ‘you must live in Decatur,’ I don’t know where I’m going to go find those 500 teachers.”
As for the possibility of offering inducements to live in Decatur, Douglas said: “We follow the state salary matrix. I don’t know the legality of that.”
The DCS report shows 116 employees with a Hartselle address, and cities with employees in the double digits are Madison, 74; Huntsville; 71; Athens, 53; Trinity, 42; Moulton, 30; Hillsboro, 21; Harvest, 20; Somerville, 14; Florence, 13; Cullman, 12; and Falkville, 10.
Hartselle City and Athens City school systems have no residency requirements for their personnel.
"It's never been an issue," said Hartselle Superintendent Dee Dee Jones. She said a "large majority" of employees live in the city limits.
“We want the best and we want to recruit the best,” she said.
Athens Superintendent Beth Patton said the school system does not have residency requirements for employees, and “there are no incentives in place to encourage employees to live in Athens.”
Of the school district’s employees, 327, about 71%, live in Athens and 133, close to 29%, do not live in Athens, according to Patton.