By Victor Skinner
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – School board members in the Birmingham school district defied the state by firing their superintendent without authority and locking out state officials who were sent to take over the financially challenged district.
The school board voted 5-3 earlier this week to fire Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, despite a recent state takeover that prevents the board from making any major decisions without the approval of state authorities, AL.com reports.
State Superintendent Tommy Bice reportedly voided the board’s action and reinstated Witherspoon. That prompted school officials to allegedly change the locks on the superintendent’s office and disable access badges for all members of the state intervention team, according to the news site.
This is the latest chapter in the story of a local school board that refuses to address serious financial problems. Alabama law requires school districts to maintain a reserve fund of at least one month’s worth of operating expenses, which would be about $17 million in Birmingham.
The Birmingham district currently has about $2 million in the bank, and the school board has repeatedly rejected a state cost-cutting plan which would include about 200 layoffs. The state recently responded to the board’s inaction by taking over the district and appointing former State Superintendent Ed Richardson to manage its finances.
Meanwhile, Alabama Education Association officials have threatened legal action if the proposed cuts are implemented.
Birmingham board members were expected to discuss the state’s plan for cutting more than $12 million from the budget during a recent meeting, but instead voted to ax the local superintendent over Richardson’s objections. They ended the meeting on an extra sour note by interrupting Richardson’s presentation regarding the cost-cutting plan.
It’s clear that Birmingham school board members and teachers union leaders have no interest in making the tough decisions necessary to restore financial stability to the district. Their only goal is to maintain as many full-time union jobs as possible, even if the district can’t afford them.
State officials were correct to assert their authority and save the district from irresponsible local leaders.
School officials who locked the district superintendent and state intervention team out of the school offices should be held accountable for their actions. The board’s blatant disregard for the law sends the wrong message to the district’s students.
State officials must continue to act in the best interest of the students and taxpayers of Birmingham.