By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange filed a lawsuit against the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) and its members. The lawsuit is seeking a court order instructing the Birmingham school board to adhere to the directives from Superintendent Dr. Tommie Bice and the State Board of Education. AG Strange said that the lawsuit became necessary due to the local board’s failure to comply with state law and its open defiance and obstruction of state education directives.
‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ talked to Alabama Representative John Roger (D) who represents Birmingham and has been supportive of the five members that make up the majority of the Birmingham BOE. Rep. Rogers said, “According to all the laws I see the School board is within their rights to fire Witherspoon.”
Rep. Rogers said, “This is not a takeover. This is an intervention.” Rep. Rogers said that Dr. Ed Richardson and Dr. Tommie Bice had exceeded their authority when they told the local school board that they could not fire embattled Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon.
Rep. Rogers said, “They (Birmingham BOE) have the rights to hire and fire the superintendent.” Rogers said that that is a separate issue from the finances. Rep. Rogers said it was, “A totally different set of issues.” Despite the ongoing state intervention, the Birmingham BOE still had the right to fire Craig Witherspoon as their superintendent. “The tenure of the average school superintendent is two years.”
Rep. Rogers also disputed the need for the state to intervene in the Birmingham City Schools. “The Birmingham school system is not broke. They have $2 million.” Rogers said that other systems also did not have the required reserves; but the state did not intervene there. Rep. Rogers said that he has been studying the plans those school systems submitted and they are not as detailed as the plan that the Birmingham Board submitted. Rep. Rogers said, “Other systems plans are not that thorough and they (the State Board) are giving them 2 or three years. I can’t understand why they state school board accepted those plans but when Birmingham Submitted a plan they turned it down.”
Rep. Rogers said, “This will all play out in the courts.” “I think the state is overstepping its bounds.” “The school board has the right to fire the superintendent. The whole thing (state intervention) came down because the Birmingham BOE held a hearing to discuss firing Witherspoon. That is the real rationale for the intervention. The only two reasons for the state to intervene in a local school system are academics and financial.” It is Rep. Rogers contention that the state intervened to protect Witherspoon and are using the reserves as an excuse.
Rep. Rogers also does not like the plan that the state laid out to the Birmingham BOE. Rep Rogers does not believe that it is necessary for the state to lay off 200 people. Rogers said, “That is overkill. Birmingham is not broke. Other systems have plans where they ‘hope’ to raise the money.” Rogers said that the Birmingham BOE submitted a plan. ‘The Birmingham Board just need time to work their plan.”
Rep. Rogers said, “The system needs more local funding.” Rogers said that the money is needed to fund programs. Rep. Rogers blamed the City of Birmingham for the shortfall. Rogers said that the City has demolished a lot of housing including two housing projects. “When you demolish housing the people have to go someplace else to live.” Rogers explained that when people move, their kids and the money that follows those children go with them.
Rep. Rogers said, “The press doesn’t understand the whole story. The whole story will be out in the next week.” Rogers said that dissolving the school system and letting it merge back into the Jefferson County School System is not even an option.