News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Intersection of Decatur, Huntsville roads at IB

Decatur is confronted with an intersection that you won't find on MapQuest.

The streets involved: Fourth Avenue Northeast, home base for Decatur City Schools; Lee Street Northeast, the seat of City Council power; and Research Park Boulevard in Huntsville.

The point of intersection: The International Baccalaureate program.

Recent events should end the squabble between city school officials and the City Council. The IB program serves both the love-of-learning goals embraced by the school board and the economic penny pinching that City Council members see as their mandate.

For a bit of background, let's start at Fourth Avenue, home to the school board.

The IB program has a sterling reputation worldwide. Among the school systems in the state, Auburn, Jefferson County and Hoover, have the program. Importantly, neither Madison nor Huntsville has IB programs.

IB classes require students to use all their thinking, researching and writing skills, and encourage them to take more difficult courses. Among the features and benefits: a heavy focus on foreign languages; volunteer work and community service; and advance college credit.

For the Fourth Avenue force, that description is enough. Decatur educators view learning as an end in itself.

Now let's take a short stroll to Lee Street, home to City Council. Their job is one of concrete, not concept. Their focus is, necessarily, on the budget.

Lee Street officials should be able to think outside of the box, of course, and historically they have. The quest for increased revenue does not always require tax hikes and is not always a short-term project.

Leave out Research Park Boulevard and the intersection of Lee Street and Fourth Avenue is the site of a head-on collision.

That collision is no surprise. The schools want more money for a project whose returns are enormous but abstract. City government has streets to pave, criminals to catch and revenue that cannot easily pay for it all.

The playing field, however, has changed. Our next stop is outside Decatur. We land at Research Park Boulevard in Huntsville, site of a proposed biotechnology center.

Last week, millionaire and biotech guru Jim Hudson announced plans for the Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology to be located at Cummings Research Park. When completed in 2007, the center will employ 900 with an average salary of $60,000.

Where will that 900-times-$60,000 go? To whatever city houses the new crop of researchers and employees. Where they reside is where they buy their houses. It is where they buy their groceries, go to restaurants, go to church and dry-clean their clothes.

So how does a city attract these wealthy individuals? What do 900 biotechnology aces have in common? What they have is a love of learning and an insistence that their children attend a school that fosters that love.

City Council members need not worry about losing face. With Dr. Hudson's announcement, the landscape changed. The IB program still fulfills the abstract ideals of Fourth

Avenue, but it also translates into the revenue the Lee Street people must have.

Now is the time to present Decatur as a better place to live than parents will find in Madison or Huntsville.

Fourth Avenue, Lee Street and Research Boulevard intersect at the IB program. Fixing up that intersection is more important than any construction project Decatur may pursue.

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