On Third Attempt, Birmingham School Board Passes Cost-Cutting Plan

Takeover of City Schools Still Possible, But Some Members Hope Less So



Birmingham City Schools CFO Arthur Watts explains Alabama school finance law at Tuesday evening's board meeting. Photo by Dan Carsen.


By Dan Carsen, June 12, 2012


After rejecting it last week and also just eight minutes earlier, the Birmingham Board of Education passed a slightly modified version of a $12-million state cost-cutting plan Tuesday evening.

Approved with a 5-3 vote at a heated, often confusing meeting, the plan is meant to help bring the district's finances in line with state law, which requires a reserve of one month's operating expenses. Birmingham should have about $17 million but has only $2 million in reserve.

The first attempt to pass the modified plan at this Tuesday's meeting failed on a 4-4 vote, but soon after, board president Edward Maddox changed his vote to yes, so it passed 5-3. Maddox and Alana Edwards, W.J. Maye, April Williams, and Phyllis Wyne voted for the plan. Emanuel Ford, Brian Giattina and Virginia Volker voted against it.

In another strange twist, board member Tyrone Belcher -- who had been at the meeting and taken part in board business -- quietly left the premises shortly before the most important vote of the night. Giattina, puzzled as were other board members, used the word "evaporated."

The plan will result in cutting almost 180 positions, most of them administrators in the central office. Changes from the original plan, originally proposed by the state team investigating the local system, include keeping Norwood Elementary open, cutting five nursing positions instead of seven, and cutting two social workers instead of four. The modifications that ostensibly mollified the board will result in a reduction in savings of almost $68,000, approximately one half of one percent of the original plan. Apparently there were other motivating factors in the board's turnaround.

"Before the state came in, we didn't have any conversation from anybody in this district about any plan," said Richard Franklin, president of the Birmingham branch of the American Federation of Teachers.

Wyne, who'd voted for the plan at every opportunity, got more specific. Referring to the specter of a state takeover that could still happen as early as the state school board meeting on Thursday, she said, "[Our board] fought the state every step of the way, and now that it got down to the wire ... Mr. Maddox our president decided he wanted to do the right thing."

Giattina added, "... the board voted a plan that they rejected last week purely to eliminate the state from coming here and doing what I believe the community wants. They postponed it. And that's all that they did. I'm very frustrated. And I'm equally frustrated with the Board president and the board communication. I was never notified of any of these changes."

He said he voted against the plan because it contains "absolutely no fundamental change except for the fact that the board knew what was going to happen [if they didn't approve it]."

Several board members and others close to the situation drove home the point that all those saved dollars will mean real people losing their jobs. Cuts could start as early as next week, and the process of terminating people in a top-heavy and inefficiently organized school system is incredibly complicated. Administrators -- whether local or state -- will have to weigh minimum staffing levels, seniority, qualifications, and many other factors.

Giattina put it in perspective: "This big battle over the plan we just had? That was the easy part."


Board member Brian Giattina’s company, Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio, is a WBHM underwriter.