Reorganization, cuts narrowly approved at board meeting

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Birmingham school system is making major cuts at its central office. The school board narrowly approved a re-organization plan Tuesday.

The 5-3 vote means the system will eliminate about 40 administrative jobs and save an estimated $2.3 million dollars.

The most controversial issue in this whole re-organization plan was the same issue the board has debated for more than 3 years, legal fees.

Dr. Craig Witherspoon's plan calls for hiring an in-house attorney to slash the amount the system pays to outside attorneys to handle the its legal business.

It was that issue that lead to a showdown between the new superintendent and part of his board.

Dr. Witherspoon says hiring an in-house attorney would save the school system hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees currently being paid to 2 outside firms. Witherspoon says Mobile's school system which is twice as big as Birmingham only pays half as much in legal fees because of its in-house attorney.

But several school board members questioned where those savings would come.

"It's not that I don't support it," said board member Phyllis Wynne, who ultimately voted against the plan. "We need to reduce our legal fees, I said that in the board meeting, that is not a problem. But where the problem is..... is that when I need information to make my decisions, I need it. "

Board vice president Virginia Volker asked Witherspoon to table that part of his organizational plan to allow the board to approve the rest of it and go back to the lawyer issue later.  But Witherspoon stood his ground in saying to W.J. Maye, "Mr. President I would like to continue with the recommendation that is on the table."

After an hour of debate, the board voted 5-3 in favor of the new plan that saves eliminates about 40 administrative jobs, though only 10-20 employees would be forced to find a new job within the school system.

"If it's a win, if you will, it's a win for Birmingham City Schools," Dr. Witherspoon said. "This is a part of many steps that will have to be taken to right-size the organization in terms of central administration, be accommodating and available, and make sure, as I said earlier, we're pushing resources back into schools where they need to be."

Dr. Witherspoon wouldn't say which central office employees will be forced to find other work or move back into the schools as a teacher because he says he hasn't had time to notify those employees of changes.

This plan is set to take effect by next school year.

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