Leaders discuss troubled Montgomery School System

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Leaders from the city, county and state held a special meeting in Montgomery Monday to address the critical need for funding for Montgomery's public school system.

Many of the officials who've held office for almost ten years said they have never attended a meeting with representatives from every sector before and believe it's a sign of progress. "I have found so often that we get our best ideas when you have tough times," said Rep. John Knight (D)," when people come together and say, 'Look we're not going to let this take advantage of us. We're going to take advantage of this.'"

The meeting couldn't have come at a better time. The school system is wrestling with financial problems stemming from proration of the education budget.

"Proration occurred several, several months ago," Montgomery Public School Superintendent John Dilworth said. "I wish this discussion had taken place a week after proration was announced and maybe we'd be further down the road."

During the discussion four state lawmakers asked detailed questions about the system's budget, why they were forced to hand out 650 pink slips to non-tenured teachers earlier this month and why three schools have to close.

Dilworth said until the funding changes, he cannot ask the school board to reverse their decisions. "Our teachers are still buying materials for students out of their pocket," he added. "It's just hard for me to justify keeping all the schools open that are being not utilized, and continue too see our teachers not have what they need to make a real difference in teaching and learning."

From proration to the impact of the federal stimulus funds the system's fiscal future is uncertain. Board members say the only way to keep the uncertainty from happening again is to establish a secure source of funding, a concept with which almost everyone at the meeting agreed.

There has been a push in recent years to move Alabama's funding system from being heavily based on sales taxes, which can boom in good years and bust in bad years, to a more stable system based on property taxes. Alabama has some of the lowest property taxes in the country. And while Dilworth says he doesn't have the power to raise property taxes, he would be an advocate if he was in a position to do so.

Dilworth, himself, was a hot topic at the meeting. His future with the school system is just as uncertain. He interviewed with the East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana School District last week.

That school board is scheduled to visit Montgomery this week, the same week the Montgomery School Board is scheduled to vote on Dilworth's contract extension.

For the moment, the members of Monday's meeting will wait to see how the federal stimulus funding and proposed budget will affect the school system before the schedule another meeting.