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Decreased enrollment, school closures, and state takeover influencing Birmingham City School Board Elections

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August 20, 2013


by Alex Schaffer

Birmingham, Alabama: On August 27, 25 candidates will be vying for nine seats on the Birmingham City School Board in the Birmingham City school district elections in Alabama.[1] Incumbents Carol E. Clarke, W. J. Maye Jr. and Phyllis F. Wyne will not be seeking re-election.[1] Incumbent Vice President Brian Giattina is unopposed, but the three remaining members of the "Gang of Five" coalition who attempted to oust Superintendent Witherspoon, Emanuel B. Ford, Virginia S. Volker and Tyrone H. Belcher, Sr., are all facing opposition in their re-election bids. Board President April Myers Williams and recent appointee Wardine T. Alexander will both be running against a pair of challengers.

A significant decline in district enrollment has resulted in fiscal shortfalls, school closures and other turmoil in the district. On June 26, 2012, the Alabama Department of Education assumed control of Birmingham City Schools after the school board failed to pass a measure that would have cut hundreds of jobs over two years to bring the district into compliance with state law.[2] The discovery that schools in the district were operating without the mandated month of emergency reserve funds, which amounted to approximately $20 million, was another contributor to the state takeover.[3] The Alabama Department of Education appointed former State Superintendent Ed Richardson to oversee day-to-day operations of the school district.[4]

Since the takeover, the school board has consolidated seven schools and six office buildings in an effort to save the district approximately $8 million.[3] Disagreements regarding building closure and staff layoff methods have led to clashes between school board members and Richardson, Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and Alabama State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice. This on-going conflict has resulted in several lawsuits, including a suit filed by Board members Virginia Volker and Emanuel Ford and several others against Richardson, Bice and the State Board of Education. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated section 5 of the Voters Rights Act by overruling Birmingham City Board of Education votes.[5] The lawsuit followed a 5-3 vote by the school board to dismiss Superintendent Witherspoon from his position in violation of his contract, which was overruled by Richardson and Bice.[6] The district is also the defendant in another lawsuit, which was filed by 122 former employees who claim that their termination was illegal and who want to return to their former positions.[7]


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See also