Motion may ease tension over proration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Staff Writer

A motion filed in Montgomery Circuit Court on Tuesday may ease the tension between K-12 and higher education.

The Alabama Association of School Boards filed a motion asking Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Tracey McCooey to amend her order, in effect reducing proration’s impact on higher education and forcing K-12 to shoulder more of the burden.

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Originally, the AASB, Pike County Board of Education and Mobile County Board of Education asked the judge to issue an injunction prohibiting the state from cutting the funding of essential components of the K-12 budget so schools can continue to provide an adequate education to students.

Basis of the lawsuit was Section 256 of the Alabama Constitution, which has been interpreted as guaranteeing the right of school-aged children a public education. It will also be based on a 1993 Alabama Supreme Court decision that held state funding cannot be cut if it interferes with an "essential function of state government

The lawsuit specifically sought protection from proration of the state Foundation Program, transportation and the K-12 educational functions for the Department of Youth Services, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, Alabama School of Fine Arts and Alabama School of Mathematics and Science.

McCooey, on Feb. 15, ruled funding for K-12 can not be prorated, but the Alabama Supreme Court issued a stay of that order.

Gov. Don Siegelman’s declaration of a 6.2 percent proration in February would have reduced the $4.3 billion state education budget by $266 million and force layoffs of about 1,800 teachers.

The governor then called the Alabama Legislature into a 12-day special session to deal with the education budget issue. That session ended with no action taken.

After proration was declared, state officials were inundated with complaints from educators across the state, especially after those in higher education thought the lawsuit was going to force them to bear more of the burden.

According to Susan Salter, director of public relations for the AASB, the motion filed Tuesday was "done in the spirit of compromise."

That motion will "take the Constitutional issue off the table," Salter said, adding the issue of preventing proration of salaries will be the issue to be considered by the judge.

If McCooey agrees, the ruling would prorate everything except salaries at 11.8 percent.

"The bottom line is while Pike County and Troy will see larger cuts to non-salaries funds, they will get significantly more money," Salter said.

"We’re not a hundred percent sold on this is what we need to do," said John Key, superintendent of the Pike County school system.

Key said he understands it will increase chances of maintaining "good posture."

"On one hand I don’t want to give up the ruling we do have, but at the same time I realize we need to look at other options."

Key said, he just wants "to do what is best for our boys and girls" of Pike County.