County presses on with lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Managing Editor

Feb. 12, 2001 10 PM

Pike County School System Superintendent John Key, facing the sting of 6.2 percent proration, is hopeful that a lawsuit filed last week will curb cuts that will likely include faculty terminations despite information released by Gov. Don Siegelman’s office claiming personnel cuts should not be necessary.

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"We don’t have a lot to cut," Key told Pike County Board of Education members in a Monday night meeting. "First you go in and cut the fat. Then you go in and cut some of the meat. Then you’re down to cutting the bone. If we don’t get something done, we’re going to lose a couple of fingers or maybe even an arm."

Key updated board members on the status of the suit filed in conjunction with state educational organizations and the Mobile Board of Education.

"What we are doing is seeking to bar proration in elementary and secondary schools where the cuts would take funds away from the students," Key said.

The case centers on court cases that declare that the state cannot pass legislation or mandate cuts that would impede "an essential function of government." Key said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that educating children is an essential function and that proration would dramatically the Pike County Board of Education’s ability to ensure that students are properly educated under federal and state statutes.

"There’s a line of though that 15 to 20 percent of a school’s budget is not spent on personnel," Key said. "This would indicate that the 6.2 percent cuts would come from this small percentage if personnel would not be cut. But state and federal mandates on what schools must provide trim that 15 or 20 percent down to about 5 or 6 percent. I don’t see any way we can meet that 6.2 percent number cutting only from 5 percent. The math doesn’t work."

Key told board members that waiting on the court to act could be excruciating.

"I am told that this will be expedited through the court system," Key said. "This means, apparently in legal terms, that we could have a ruling in two to three months, or, of we’re really lucky, in one to two months."

The Alabama Coalition for Excellence, an educational organization, backs the Alabama Association of School Boards and the other organizations filing the suit.

"They have 29 systems represented and they support this suit," Key said.

Ultimately, Key blames a bad system of collecting tax dollars for the educational plight in Pike County and throughout the state.

"What we would like to see is the state look at ad velorem taxes and move away from sales and income taxes for funding education," Key said. "When you tie it in to an economy-driven tax structure, you get what we’re facing now."

Key explained proration as the result of the state looking at incoming revenue and projecting it a certain level and going ahead and spending and budgeting at that level.

"And then when it doesn’t work out that way and we’ve spent more than we’ve taken in, it’s a case of proration to get the money back in line."

Key suggests re-vamping educational funding to represent a tax structure that would provide "a sensible solution that will work."

He said he hopes the end result of the pending lawsuit will lead to that.

The case is currently pending in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

In other business, the board:

· Approved the minutes of the Jan. 15 and Jan. 30 meetings.

· Approved leasing the Ansley School Building to the Pike County Sheriff’s Department for use in training and education of officers. The lease agreement is for $1 per year and includes a maintenance obligation on the part of the Sheriff’s Department.

· Approved a request for maternity leave for Daphne Coppage, physical education teacher at Pike County High School.

· Accepted the resignation of Bridget DuBose and approved the employment of Denesha Benton as case manager/community outreach specialist through an agreement with East Central Mental Health-Mental Retardation, Inc.

· Approved the employment of Molly Casey as bookkeeper at Pike County Elementary School in a position left vacant with the resignation of Elaine Sanders in January.

· Approved the employment of Charlie Lee Smith as janitor at PCHS.

· Approved the employment of Sgt. First Class Thadis Williams as ROTC instructor at PCHS, pending an interview by the superintendent.

· Approved a request by Goshen Elementary School fifth grade teachers to take their classes to the Environmental Education Camp in Columbiana in March.

· Accepted the recommendation of the superintendent on a one-year expulsion of a student in the school system. The name of the student and the school system were not revealed.

· Discussed the renewal of property taxes in Pike County. Key said the process is done every 20 years and is not a new tax. "This one is always on the books, we just go back every 20 years and renew it. We collect every year and have done so for years."