Birmingham schools' shrinking enrollment means more cuts

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Freezing salaries, eliminating security and charging students more for technology. Those are some of the drastic measures facing the Birmingham Board of Education's budget outlook.

Birmingham schools start this year with 50 fewer teachers than last year because of shrinking enrollment, and having filled in a $16 million hole from proration last year by emptying its reserve fund and making more cuts.

Now the system's Chief Financial Officer says if the state declares proration as expected this year, Birmingham schools will have to come up with $12-$15 million in new cuts all on its own, and that could mean drastic measures.

Among CFO Arthur Watts ideas- cut all of the school security staff, cut some support staff jobs, raise fees charged to students for things like computers and technology, cut teaching positions, and freeze everyone's salary. The teacher's union says that is illegal.

"We're gonna fight Mr. Watts," Birmingham Education Association representative Lance Hyche said. "You can tell today by the comments made that the superintendent and school board members feel Mr. Watts stepped out on a very long limb by himself and I'm gonna chop it off."

Another idea floated by Watts would be to get more funds from local sources, meaning raise taxes in the city to help the system. But even board members admit that's a hard sell.

"It's extremely hard when you look at the economy in Birmingham because you have so many families out of work," Board President April Williams said.

None of these cuts would happen until proration is declared, meaning they're not included in this year's budget plan. But with 3 members facing runoff elections in October, the board decided Tuesday to delay voting on a budget to try and come up with other ideas and clarify where they stand.

"When you look at making cuts for employees and their salaries, you are looking at families that will be negatively impacted," Williams said. "We are very cognizant of all of those factors and we want to make the most reasonable decisions."

We tried to reach Watts for comment. We could not.

Another potential problem in this budget is the fact that more than 200 employees salaries this year will be paid for with federal stimulus money---those are funds that are one time only and won't be available next year.

The board will meet again Thursday to talk about the budget.