A last minute vote by the Birmingham Board of Education to address financial shortfalls in the Birmingham school system was not enough to assuage the Alabama State Board of Education. The state board voted Thursday to send a financial watchdog to Birmingham to oversee the implementation of the Birmingham board’s financial plan, which calls for $12 million in cuts designed to shore up a legally required reserve fund.
The resolution the state board passed on Thursday requires that the state be allowed to approve “all direct and indirect personnel actions” in the Birmingham BOE’s financial recovery plan. If the Birmingham board fails to cooperate or implement the financial plan, the resolution also approves a state takeover of the Birmingham school system’s financial matters and approves the appointment of a chief financial officer for the Birmingham system.
State law requires school systems to hold funds in reserve equal to one month’s operating expenses. Alabama state schools superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice said Thursday that Birmingham was the only school system in the state that missed a May 27 deadline to pass a plan to meet that reserve requirement. Birmingham was one system among 30 in Alabama that initially didn’t have plan to meet the reserve.
“There have been those that say that we’re singling Birmingham city schools out since we have others that don’t have the required operating balance,” Bice said Thursday. “The difference is that those other 29 met the deadlines on submitting a plan to ensure that they do have the required balance in place.”
“Birmingham is the only system that did not meet the deadline,” Bice said.
Birmingham schools currently have about $2 million in their reserve fund. The system needs about $17 million. The financial plan the Birmingham BOE passed on Tuesday in a 5-3 vote cuts the system’s budget by about $12 million. That plan is similar to a plan the state developed for Birmingham, but that plan was rejected by the Birmingham board last week. According to state BOE member Dr. Yvette Richardson, the state’s plan called for about $12,586,000 in cuts, whereas the plan approved by the Birmingham BOE Tuesday cut the budget of Birmingham city schools by $12,324,000.
“We’re at a point where this back and forth political posturing has to stop,” Bice said. “There are children involved, there are teachers waiting, the whole school system is on hold.”
In April, the state BOE initiated an investigation of the Birmingham school system. The investigation came about after Bice and Richardson attended a Birmingham BOE meeting in which five members of the Birmingham school board tried unsuccessfully to fire Birmingham schools superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and several board members requested state intervention.
“What we’re talking about today is an outgrowth of that investigation, which is not complete,” Bice said Thursday. “It became very clear early on in that investigation that there was a governance issue related to finance that needed to be addressed in the most expedient way possible.”