Birmingham schools intervention could stretch into fall 2014

Jun 28, 2013 by

Birmingham City Schools’ fourth state intervention in 12 years could last into Sept. 2014 if members of the Alabama Department of Education’s intervention team get their way.

In a presentation for the state board of education, former State Superintendent Ed Richardson, who leads the intervention team, cautioned the board not to end the intervention prematurely.


“If you were to say when they get the one-month operation balance, let’s go home, I would predict that within two or three years you will be sending someone else back up there,” he said.


Under state law, all schools must have at least a month’s operating balance in reserve.


Advising the board to continue the intervention through fiscal 2014, Richardson said he hopes more progress can be made to ensure long-term stability after system’s board members face re-election in August.


“It is our hope that the citizens of Birmingham … will make a conscious decision that the persons they’d like for those positions are people that can represent them and their kids,” said Feagin Johnson, another member of the intervention team.


The board voted in July 2012 to intervene in the system’s troubled finances as it faced a $20 million deficit related to required reserve funds. The state has since assumed direct control over the system’s finances due to the local board’s failure to comply with the state’s financial recovery plan.


Richardson reported today that the system had a $2 million general-fund balance in fiscal 2012. He projected that would climb to $9 million this fiscal year and to $19.3 million in fiscal 2014.

Under the intervention, the state department has reduced the size of the system’s central office, consolidating seven schools and six central office building, Richardson reported.

He said the system and its central office became overstaffed as local board members sought to protect positions and schools for political reasons, despite the system’s shrinking enrollment.

Enrollment has fallen from about 35,000 in 2000 to less than 25,000 in 2013. The intervention team projects it will continue falling by 250 students each year for the next 10 years.


“It is obviously in a downward spiral,” Richardson said, blaming residential shifts in the city, the establishment of new school systems nearby and a general flight from the troubled school district.


The intervention also uncovered a $400,000 theft that led to four criminal indictments and conducted an investigation into the system’s board that led to one resignation, he said.


Deputy State Superintendent for Administrative Services Craig Pouncey said the system is not in danger of going broke thanks to $50 million in annual local revenue.


“What we’ve got to do is convince them of the importance of using those funds to improve educational opportunities for children, not creating employment opportunities for sorority sisters or fraternity brothers or relatives,” he said.


“Simply hitting a one-month target is not justification for releasing them from intervention.”


The state board raised no objection to the recommendations during the presentation. State board member Charles Elliott said the incident has damaged other school systems in the state.


“Most of our boards are high performing boards, but when a board of Birmingham’s stature performs in a dysfunctional manner, it hurts public education in the entire state,” he said.


“Because boards are being maligned by the malfunction of one board.”


The state board will consider next month adopting new policies for school interventions enabled by legislation passed during the 2013 session.


State Superintendent Tommy Bice said the legislation will streamline the department’s ability to intervene.


“Especially in Birmingham, we spent an enormous amount of time and an enormous amount of money in court justifying the constitutional authority of this board and this office to actually intervene,” he said.

Richardson the Birmingham school system still has several strengths, including good facilities, strong support from the business community and city, and many strong teachers and principals, including Alabama Teacher of the Year Alison Grizzle.

Birmingham schools intervention could stretch into fall 2014, education official says |

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