State of Alabama Takes Control Of Birmingham Schools

Tuesday night was a long meeting in more ways than one for the Birmingham Board of Education. Photo by Dan Carsen.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It appears a deadline means a deadline to the Alabama State Department of Education. After the Birmingham school board did not adopt a $12-million state-mandated cost-cutting plan last night, the state education department is taking control of the Birmingham City School System today, as spelled out in a recent state board resolution.

“I don’t think any of us want someone to come in here, and take care of my business. I don’t want  people telling me what to do, and I’m sure it’s the same in Birmingham,” said Ed Richardson, who’s leading the team investigating Birmingham City Schools since April. “But [a takeover] was clearly on the  table. They chose to vote [the plan] down.”

The plan, which would include almost 200 personnel cuts, was meant to bring the system in line with a state law requiring districts to keep a month’s operating expenses in reserve. Birmingham currently has only about four days’ worth, and that’s before factoring in a coming decrease in state funding due to dropping enrollment.

Birmingham School Board members Brian Giattina, W. J. Maye, Phyllis Wyne, and Alana Edwards voted for the plan. Edward Maddox, Tyrone Belcher, Virginia Volker and Emanuel Ford voted against the plan;  April Williams abstained, effectively killing it with a tie.

The vote came after a long meeting that was heated and erratic even by Birmingham School Board standards, featuring everything from accusations of racism to name-calling to a citizen using a loud dog squeeze toy to accentuate his points to assurances of divine retribution, and finally, an eight-year-old coming up to the podium and asking “Why do we always get rid of our good teachers?”

The Alabama Education Association and the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers had large presences in the overcrowded auditorium. They cheered when the plan was not adopted.

After that, the board voted to direct its attorneys to “protect the interests of the board.”

Soon after, Richardson said the threat of a legal battle will have little effect:

The state’s lead investigator Ed Richardson fields pointed questions from the Birmingham school board. Photo by Dan Carsen.

“Financial intervention has occurred 12 or 15 times. The process has clearly been established. This is not something new.”

At one point during the meeting, Belcher said something he’s said before: “I’ve served in two wars, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

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