By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday Night the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) was supposed to vote on a state Department of Education mandated plan to save the cash strapped City School System millions of dollars and eliminate over one hundred positions including many layers of unnecessary education supervisors and bureaucrats.
The Board of Education however had different plans. The board allowed opponents of the plan, including Alabama State Representative John Rogers (D) from Birmingham to speak for over an hour denouncing the plan, City School Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and former State Superintendent Ed Richardson. Richardson was appointed Chief Financial Officer of the Birmingham School System by State Superintendent Tommie Bice and the state Board of Education after the state voted to take over the mismanaged city school system. After allowing the audience to give speeches, the Board voted 5-3 to fire embattled Superintendent Witherspoon and replaced him with Samuetta Drew (Chief of Operations and former head of Special Education). When Richardson was addressing the Board about the staff reduction, the Birmingham BOE adjourned to Friday without addressing the savings plan or the start of the school year.
It was reported by Marie Leach with the Birmingham News that Supt. Bice had overruled the firing by the Birmingham BOE, however the Board acted swiftly. The Birmingham BOE changed the locks on the Birmingham BOE building and disabled the security badges of the state intervention team so neither they nor Witherspoon could get in the building. All the schools are the property of the state of Alabama, not the local boards. Later, acting Superintendent Drew relented and agreed to allow the State Intervention team back in to the building.
The City of Birmingham spends the seventh most money per pupil of among systems in Alabama; but has the fifth worst graduation rate in the state (55%). The system has been hemorrhaging students for years as parents concerned about their children’s future have fled the system for other systems. Critics of the Birmingham BOE blame the poor performing schools for why the City is unable to lure major employers like Hyundai, Volkswagen, or Airbus.
Because thousands of students have left the system, the state appropriation (which follows the students) for Birmingham’s poorly regarded City Schools has dropped accordingly each year. Birmingham has long maintained more supervisors, assistant superintendents, and managers than any other school system in the state. While the Birmingham BOE has reluctantly laid off hundreds of non-tenured teachers over the years, it has resisted all calls to let go those central office functionaries, who for the most part serve no purpose but who often make over $100,000 per year.
Every school system in the state is required by law to maintain a cash reserve equal to 30 days of expenses. For Birmingham that would require them to have $17 million. The BOE only has $2 million and they refused to submit a plan to the state to make cuts to replenish their reserves. When the Birmingham BOE would not pass a state plan to come up with the necessary cuts and would not pass their own plan, either the State Board of Education authorized Superintendent Bice to takeover the chronically underperforming school system.
Leach is reporting via Twitter that retired federal judge U.W. Clemons (Witherspoon’s attorney) has filed a motion to get a judge to issue a restraining order to prevent Witherspoon’s firing.
Acting Superintendent Drew is holding a press conference at 3:00 pm today.