By Johnathan Hardison
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Birmingham City school system is making major cuts to its central office. The move follows the school board narrowly approving a re-organization plan on Tuesday night.
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 that the board has fought about for more than 3 years, legal fees.
Dr. Craig Witherspoon's plan calls for hiring an in-house attorney and slashing the amount the system pays to outside attorneys to handle the system's legal business. It was that issue that led 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. Several school board members questioned where those savings would come from.
"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. "Mr. President I would like to continue with the recommendation that is on the table," Witherspoon sad.
After an hour of debate, the board voted 5-3 in favor of the new plan that 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 would not 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 has not had time to notify them yet of those changes.
This plan is set to take effect by next school year.
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