By Thomas Scovill
On September 18 voters approved tapping the Alabama Trust Fund for $437 million over three years to support the General Fund. Many of the voters were government education workers and many of those were encouraged to vote yes by their bosses. Some of that encouragement may have been impermissible.
For example, Limestone County Superintendent Tom Sisk (an unelected school employee) used the school email system to encourage his employees to vote and campaign for the passage of Constitutional Amendment 1 on September 18. I have inserted the text of his message at the bottom of this article.
Sisk wrote “If Amendment 1 passes, the dedicated people … who comprise the Alabama public school system are more likely in the future to see a well deserved and long overdue increase in compensation.”
Sisk also wrote “Go vote on September 18th. Explain Amendment 1 to your friends and family members. Get them to go vote on September 18th. Most Alabamians who support public schools can be found next Friday (September 14th)
The amendment was approved. And ten days later Alabama state school Superintendent Tommy Bice announced he has included funding for a one percent pay raise in his next budget, fiscal year 2014.
In Limestone County government school workers did as bidden and their reward is on the way.
1. AL.com article on pay raise: http://blog.al.com/wire/2012/09/alabama_schools_chief_tommy_bi.html
2. Message sent by Superintendent Sisk (emphasis added):
From: “Tom Sisk” [email protected] To: REDACTED Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2012 16:04:15 -0500 Subject: September 18th Referendum
On Tuesday, September 18th, Alabama will conduct a special state wide election to consider a referendum known as Amendment 1. Amendment 1 will be a “yes or no” vote. If the majority of voters approve Amendment 1, the State will be granted constitutional permission to borrow $437 million dollars from the Alabama Trust Fund. The Alabama Trust Fund is a state fund that receives royalties from companies that are involved in the off shore drilling for oil and natural gas. The Alabama Trust Fund currently has a balance of $2.3 billion dollars. Amendment 1 provides the State 14 years for the borrowed funds to be repaid to the Alabama Trust Fund.
The $437 million will be used over the next three fiscal years to provide revenue to the State’s General Fund. The State’s General Fund has diminished annually since 2008. Medicaid, prisons, and the Alabama court system are all funded through the State’s General Fund and all are struggling greatly.
How does Amendment 1 affect school districts? Our state will not and cannot stop the services provided by Medicaid, prisons, and courts. All three of these areas have received significant cuts in funding for 5 consecutive years and cannot withstand additional cuts. If Amendment 1 fails to pass, the State will have two choices: increase taxes or shift money from the Education Trust Fund. It does not take Nostradamus to see which of these two options would likely become a reality.
Therefore, if Amendment 1 fails to pass, current levels of state funding to local school districts will be jeopardized. Decreases in state funding will force all of Alabama’s public school districts to make many very difficult and unavoidable decisions. If Amendment 1 passes, the dedicated people (certified and support) who comprise the Alabama public school system are more likely in the future to see a well deserved and long overdue increase in compensation.
What can you do? Go vote on September 18th. Explain Amendment 1 to your friends and family members. Get them to go vote on September 18th. Most Alabamians who support public schools can be found next Friday (September 14th) at their local high school football game. This would be an ideal venue to encourage voters to support Amendment 1.
Join me at the polls Sept. 18th in support of this amendment.