Birmingham school board facing more budget cuts

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Another year of tough choices and bleak finances is on the way for the Birmingham city school system.

The school board met Thursday to look at how it will try to manage a budget that is shrinking as the system continues to lose students and faces possible proration.

The system appears to have lost at least 1,000 students between last year and this year. That means they will keep losing money for teachers and supplies and other things. But the new superintendent says this new budget tries to look at what works and what doesn't, and build on the strengths.

Instead of working off of last year's budget, Dr. Craig Witherspoon and his staff asked every department to justify every dollar it was asking for, and ended up cutting some instructional programs that Witherspoon says weren't producing results.

"We looked at data to see if it was being effective in several schools," Witherspoon said. "Let's eliminate the things in schools where another program was not successful, and expand that across the district or a particular grade level."

But along with those cuts, Witherspoon is pushing to expand fine arts in elementary and middle schools because he wants to keep as many students as possible.

"Parents do have a choice, we want them to know we do have a robust curriculum and we're continuing to grow that and we work together to stem that loss of student population," Witherspoon said.

Those tough choices are critical for a system that is losing students. The system lost 43 teaching jobs and a principal job from last year to this year, and could face even steeper cuts next year based upon early attendance numbers.

"There are some things that I'm not clear on, but we are depending on the superintendent and Mr. Watts to work us out of this situation and I think they're gonna do a good job," said board member Edward Maddox.

The system is banking on federal stimulus funds just to break even this year, and could face up to $7 million in more cuts if the state declares proration.

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