A Birmingham city councilor withdrew a plan Tuesday to explore funding the Birmingham Board of Education’s depleted reserve fund after councilors expressed a desire to communicate more with the Birmingham BOE and the Alabama State Department of Education. The state recently instigated a takeover of the Birmingham BOE.
The resolution was suggested and later withdrawn by Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt, who insisted that the point of his resolution was not to force “the state to go away from their inquiry.” The ALSDE intervened in Birmingham city schools on financial grounds after the school board initially failed to pass an adequate financial plan that addressed a $15 million shortfall in the board’s required one-month operating reserve.
“I do believe that the city is duty-bound to assist in this matter and I think we can all agree that has to happen,” Hoyt said.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell said he is attempting to set up a joint meeting between the city, the city council, the ALSDE and the Birmingham BOE. Bell said he intended to speak to Alabama state Schools Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice about the meeting on Tuesday afternoon. All other parties, including Birmingham BOE President Edward Maddox and Birmingham Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, have agreed to the meeting.
Councilor Kim Rafferty was concerned that local board members had already developed plans for the money.
“I actually received several phone messages from school board members yesterday telling me how they proposed to spend this money,” Rafferty said. “The board’s already deciding how they’re going to spend this money and that disturbs me.”
Hoyt responded by saying the state Board of Education is in control of the Birmingham system’s finances.
The resolution would not have allocated funds. It would have declared the council’s intent to discuss giving money to the Birmingham school system.
“We need to get on one accord before you even move forward with doing something like this,” Councilor Lashunda Scales said. Councilor Johnathan Austin echoed Scales.
“I am not in favor of sending $15 million or any amount of money to the school board at this time until the school board gets together amongst themselves as well as with the superintendent and gets on one accord,” Austin said. Hoyt later argued that the resolution would “not give $15 million to anybody.” According to Council President Roderick Royal, the resolution did call on the city to create a special fund for the school system.
“This resolution asked us to do basically what we did in 2003,” Councilor Valerie Abbott said, referring to an earlier bailout of the Birmingham school system. “Well, guess what? It didn’t work. Nothing changed.”
“We didn’t save diddley-squat in 2003. We prolonged the misery for many more years.”
Abbott said she would reconsider her position on the resolution after discussions with
“We’ve been there, we’ve done that, we didn’t even get a t-shirt, and it didn’t work.”
Hoyt withdrew the resolution after saying he’d told someone earlier he didn’t think it would pass Tuesday. He said he was happy that his proposal prompted the council discuss the school board, which has been in turmoil since an April school board meeting in which a slim majority of Birmingham BOE members attempted and failed to terminate Superintendent Witherspoon’s contract. That meeting sparked an investigation into the Birmingham BOE by the ALSDE and later led to the state takeover.
The council did approve an item allocating $44,200 for a study on the feasibility of a pedestrian bridge on 16th Street South. Councilors Jay Roberson, Royal, Austin, Hoyt, and Rafferty supported the item, while Abbott voted no. Scales and Smitherman did not vote.