State Supreme Court halts budget cut order

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 13, 2001

Staff Writer

Once again, the Alabama Supreme Court has delayed the governor’s Feb. 2 order of a 6.2 proration for education.

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court voted 8-0 to delay the ruling of Montgomery Circuit Judge Tracey McCooey in a dispute of planned cuts for the Education Trust Fund.

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On March 14, the Alabama Supreme Court refused to order Gov. Don Siegelman to apply state budget cuts equally to K-12 and higher education. In that 8-0 decision, the justices denied the request for a clarification of their Feb. 27 order.

"It’s not unexpected," said Susan Salter, director of public relations for the Alabama Association of School Boards, which initiated a law suit to stop proration.

"Our plan is to go forward with the appeal," she said, adding the AASB will ask for that decision to be expidited.

"We’re confident in our case and argument," Salter said. "The stay doesn’t change our strategy."

In response to the governor’s declaration of proration, the AASB, Pike County Board of Education and the Mobile County Board of Education, filed a suit, asking McCooey to stop proration.

She ruled state funding for some areas of K-12 funding, including salaries, cannot be cut, which would have shifted the burden onto the state’s colleges and universities.

Salter said everyone is ready to have the proration issue resolved.

"The longer we wait, the harder the outcome," she said of dealing with cuts down the road.

It is still uncertain how the Supreme Court’s ruling will affect the governor’s plans to cut $266 million from the state’s $4.3 billion education budget.

Thus far, no reduced checks have been released by the state; however, officials have said cuts will be noticed Friday when a portion of the March allocations to K-12 are released.

At the end of March, the state released 80 percent of funding to K-12 and institutions of higher learning were supposed to receive checks earlier this week. As far as the April checks are concerned, no one is certain what they will state, Salter said.

Siegelman is sticking to an attorney general’s opinion that cuts K-12 schools by 3.5 percent and higher education by 12 percent. If that is what happens, it will be the first time cuts have not been applied equally. The advisory opinion by Attorney General Bill Pryor was an interpretation of a 1995 law about protections provided to teacher’s salaries.

Salter said the governor has voiced his plan to help K-12 and hopes he will "follow through on his pledge to prorate based on the AG opinion."

As a result of the governor’s plan to decrease the rate of proration for K-12 and increase it for higher education, presidents of colleges and universities have been fighting for fairness.

During the month of February, K-12 and higher education leaders converged on Montgomery as lawmakers met for an unsuccessful 12-day special legislative session on the budget cuts caused by the 6.2 percent across-the-board cuts declared by Gov. Don Siegelman. That session ended with no solution.

Key was out of town and unavailable for comment.