Teacher unions protest cost-cutting ideas

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Teacher unions in Alabama are rejecting cost-saving ideas offered by State School Superintendent Joe Morton.

"My initial reaction was anger," said Jocelyn Schilling of the Jefferson Co. Alabama Education Association. "Everyone in Dr. Morton's proposal is adding on the back of employees first and foremost."

Morton on Thursday suggested all education workers pay more for their health insurance and retirement benefits. The AEA does not believe the state should be pushing education programs, even successful ones such as the reading initiative, the math and science program and the long distance learning internet program.

"You are pouring tons of money into programs while cutting jobs."Schilling said.

The American Federation of Teachers said Friday it is concerned about the increasing health benefit costs and forcing education workers to pay more to retire.

"A single mother in school will soon be on the poverty level," said Vi Parramore of the Jefferson County AFT. "We already have employees at the poverty level."

Meanwhile, school systems are preparing for further budget cuts.  Jefferson County Superintendent Phil Hammonds said travel will be reduced even more, utility costs will be cut, and departments such as athletics, special education and curriculum instruction could be cut up to 50 percent beyond last year's budget.

"Our goal is to protect the classroom," Hammonds said. "To protect the classroom we must have instructional staff in place. So we are definatly looking at every area."

Hammonds said 48 teacher units in Jefferson County will remain unfilled, saving the school system $80,000 per unit. Hammonds believes there will be plenty of discussion over Morton's ideas before they are discussed by state lawmakers next year.