By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange issued a press release to announce that the State of Alabama had won a “complete victory” in its lawsuit against the Birmingham Board of Education (Birmingham BOE).
Attorney General Strange said, “Legal action like this should never become necessary. However, as the State’s chief law enforcement official, it is my responsibility to ensure that public officials follow the law. Sometimes, that means going to Court to vindicate the State’s laws and to ensure that the directives of state education officials are followed. The Court today sent a message to public officials who would flout the law and defy state directives: You are not above the law; you must follow it.”
Judge Houston Brown of the Jefferson County Circuit Court found in favor of the State Board of Education and AG Strange. The state’s lawsuit was merged with a related case brought by embattled Birmingham City School Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon. Judge Brown found that the Birmingham Board of Education had no grounds to fire Dr. Witherspoon and did not have the authority to fire the Superintendent in the midst of a state takeover.
Every school system in the state of Alabama is required to have a minimum of 30 days of expenses in cash on hand. The Birmingham BOE only had 2 days of reserves on hand. Instead of passing measures to increase the cash on hand of the system, the Birmingham BOE made moves to fire their own school superintendent (Dr. Witherspoon). This prompted the Alabama Board of Education and State School Superintendent Dr. Tommie Bice to intervene in the troubled inner city school system. The Birmingham BOE refused to accept state authority. At one point the Board replaced Dr. Witherspoon with Birmingham Chief of Operations Samuetta Drew in defiance of Dr. Bice, threatened to remove Dr. Ed Richardson (appointed acting CFO of the system by the state) by force, and locked the state intervention team out of the school system headquarters. Those antics led the state to sue the Birmingham BOE.
A two day trial was conducted on August 1 and 2. On Monday, the Court ruled that the Birmingham BOE has “engaged in a pattern of decision making, action, and inaction that has impeded or prevented implementation of plans, initiatives, and programs designed to meet the Birmingham Board’s financial and fiduciary obligations under State law and to ensure the provision of appropriate education services to 25,000 students.”
The Court ruled in favor of Superintendent Witherspoon and held that the Birmingham BOE had no authority to fire him during a state takeover. The State Board of Education and State Superintendent Bice were authorized to take “all of the actions they have taken with respect to the Birmingham Board of Education at all material times.” This will allow the state to inmplement the financial recovery plan which included over 200 layoffs and demotions of Birmingham City Schools personnel. Judge Brown also found in favor of the State’s claim that Birmingham City School Board President Edward Maddox does not actually live in his Woodlawn district; but he instead resides in the City of Trussville. Maddox had testified that he has been seperated from his wife who resides in their $300,000 home in Trussville for the last 8 years and actually lives in a $40,000 Woodlawn home with a renter whose name Maddox could not remember on the stand.
AG Strange said, “I could not be prouder of the State’s legal team, including Josh Payne of the Constitutional Defense Division in my office. I stand ready to assist State Superintendent Bice and the State Board of Education in any way I can.