It was a busy week for the Birmingham Board of Education and the Alabama Dept. of Education. Despite the defiance from some board members, the state stood its ground on its cost-cutting plan for the struggling system.
After last week’s second failed attempt to fire superintendent Craig Witherspoon, during Tuesday’s meeting the board once again voted down the state’s financial recovery plan with a stagnating 2-2-2 vote. However, state superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, who presided over the meeting for the first time since the state took over in June, overturned the board’s decision and moved forward with the implementation of the plan.
Dr. Bice’s efforts to forge ahead with essential business on behalf of the 83 Birmingham schools serving 26,721 students (NCES 2011), are complicated even more by the legal challenges ahead. The board filed suit against the state takeover, followed by counter suits filed by superintendent Witherspoon, and Dr. Bice on behalf of the state. The two superintendents’ suits were consolidated by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Houston Brown, and the Birmingham BOE lawyers have asked for a two-week delay to an injunction hearing set for Monday. This delay, according the attorneys Fred Bolling and Tom Stewart, would give the board time to meet with the lawyers “to assess and evaluate their legal position.”
The state attorney general has filed a suit against the Board as well.
“I’m very disappointed that it’s come to this… Somehow the children, who are affected have been lost in this mix,” Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) announced its plans to fight the personnel cuts resulting from the state’s financial recovery plan. Birmingham’s ABC affiliate quoted Lance Hyche of the Birmingham Education Association; “We will aggressively seek any legal remedy we can to put these people back to work. That’s what AEA does.”
The plan calls for the demotion or layoff of 118 employees, saving the system approximately $12 million over the next two years. The AEA claims that the original plan was to cut more high-level administrative positions, but ultimately it cut more positions with annual salaries of less than $55,000.
“Nobody likes it when people lose their jobs, but the reality is, there are 800 fewer students this year,” Dr. Bice said. “But you can’t keep the same number of employees when you have 800 fewer students.”
According to a Birmingham News report, the district is losing $6 million next year in state funding because of the declining enrollment. It also is about $15 million short of a required one-month reserve fund.
The financial recovery plan, if fully implemented, will help Birmingham build back its required reserve funds for state compliance.
(News sources, The Birmingham News, AL.com, Alabama13.com and ABC3340.com)