School board gives superintendent power to terminate

By Jonathan Hardison  

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham's school board voted to give their superintendent the power to cut about 21 jobs despite a personal plea from the head of the state's largest teachers union.

Dr. Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, told the board the jobs bill passed by Congress today will give the school system between $4 and $5 million to help keep school employees in their jobs. But the board voted 5-4 to give Dr. Craig Witherspoon the authority to layoff support personnel if he thinks it's needed.

Witherspoon says he hopes the federal money can save some of those positions.

"We told them clearly before the meeting they had the money to pay these employees, there was no sense in doing this," said Lance Hyche, local rep for the AEA. "It was a choice, not a necessity. The Birmingham school board turned its back on employees tonight."

"We would like to see the impact," Dr. Witherspoon said, referring to the possible benefits of the federal jobs bill. "If those layoffs can be stayed off or mitigated, we will all celebrate that."

Despite that new funding from Congress, Dr. Hubbert and Birmingham City Schools' CFO both said today they think more proration is possible.

Hubbert says the state could face 2-3% proration for the rest of this budget year which runs through September.

The bleak budget picture could make this fall's election cycle one of the most closely contested in years.

Alabama Republican Party officials have said for months this may be the best chance they've had in decades to take control of one or both of the branches of the state house, and Hubbert, a former vice-chair of the state Democratic Party, agrees.

"They're certainly going to put forth a major effort, and they've got probably the best opportunity they've had in a long time," Hubbert said Tuesday. "I say that because there's generally dissatisfaction with the way things are going."

Birmingham school board member, Tyrone Belcher, Jr., said Tuesday night while urging voters to kick out some of his fellow board members after they approved the possibility of layoffs.

"I want ya'll to look at this," Belcher said. "If you see someone up here not doing the right thing, the next time you go to the polls, and that includes me, get their tails out of there, get 'em out of there."

Whoever wins control of the legislature will get the privilege or curse of writing education budgets for the next few years with a still-struggling economy and no more stimulus funding. That means Hubbert has a close interest in who wins in November.

"We've been voting for governor and we've been voting for President on the republican side for a good many years now," Hubbert said. "But we've still been voting democratic on the local level because a lot of the local officials are democratic, they're known, people like them, and they do a good job. So it's gonna be an interesting year. And yes, we'll dabble in some of them."

Copyright 2010 WBRC. All rights reserved.