Educators still waiting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 8, 2001

for Supreme Court ruling


Staff Writer

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The Alabama Supreme Court has again delayed the governor’s Feb. 2 order of a 6.2 proration for education by deciding it won’t issue a ruling on the issue until the current legislative session ends on May 21.

The Alabama Association of School Boards, Pike County Board of Education and Mobile County Board of Education initiated the law suit to stop proration.

Last week, the state’s highest court issued an order that consolidates litigation over cutbacks in this year’s education budget, expedites the case and sets up a schedule for all parties to file their paperwork.

If the court had not expedited the case by setting filing deadlines, a ruling might not have been made until the 2001-2002 school year.

With the court’s words, attorneys will have until May 28 ­ one week after the session ends ­ to file legal documents.

Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, executive director of the AASB, said the legislative schedule really has no bearing on the issue, she is "pleased" the Supreme Court has expedited the matter.

"The pace has picked up a pretty good clip," Sims-deGraffenried said, adding action by the court has cut the time in half.

"We see them moving along," she said.

If anything, she said, the Supreme Court’s action to move things at a quicker pace, "might make the Legislature take notice."

In the meantime, Alabamians will continue to wait to see how the Supreme Court will treat a 1995 law that protects teachers’ salaries from across-the-board cuts.

Gov. Don Siegelman has vowed to protect teachers’ salaries, but local school systems are not getting equal amounts.

Leaders at Alabama’s institutions of higher learning have been arguing against the 11 percent proration handed down by Gov. Don Siegelman that, they say, is not fair because of the 3.7 percent reduction to school systems educating students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

But, those cuts in K-12 are not equal.

Recently, local school superintendents were told about their cuts ­ 4.13 percent for the Pike County Schools and 3.80 for the Troy City Schools.

The governor’s cuts among the state 128 school systems ranged from the lowest of 2.60 percent for the city of Birmingham to the 4.58 percent for Greene County.

Some legislators have been pushing to rewrite the education budget, making sure all segments of education ­ from kindergarten through college ­ are treated equally in the cutbacks totaling about $266 million.

Alabama legislators failed to do anything during a 12-day special session in February and will likely end the regular session without making any changes in the current plan.

On April 11, 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.

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.

After that, the AASB’s plan was "to go forward with the appeal," said Susan Salter, AASB’s director of public relations, adding the AASB will ask for that decision to be expedited.

"We’re confident in our case and argument," Salter said.

The stay, she said, did not alter the AASB’s strategy.

In response to the governor’s declaration of proration, the AASB and two boards 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.

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."