MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama State Department of Education overturned the Montgomery Public School board’s vote on three of the superintendent’s recommendations Tuesday. The decision came after the MPS board voted down a proposed system organizational chart and its personnel reports, each with a 3-3 vote.
The board deadlocked on the certified personnel report, the classified personnel report and the organization chart, as they’d been recommended by Superintendent Dr. Ann Roy Moore.
Tuesday was the second time the chart and reports had been brought before the board, which had previously failed to pass them. Both meetings were attended by six of the board’s seven members. During both votes, a board member was absent, according to MPS spokesman Tom Salter. That missing person meant the lack of a tie-breaking vote.
Following the failed votes, the ALSDE forced a decision and notified MPS that it had approved passage of all three. Because the system remains under state intervention, the state has the power to overrule the local board.
“Once you take on this kind of position as a leader in a school system, and certainly as a publicly-elected official, you’re going to have to make some tough decisions," said State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey. "And it disappoints me that the board could not make the tough decisions to keep MPS solvent, to have a well-organized, structured administrative plan, and a way to move forward.”
“When they [ALSDE] were presented with the question, they decided that it was in the best interest of the school system to move forward and to allow both the organizational chart and the personnel report to be approved,” Salter said.
As a matter of state law, each school system has to have a balanced budget and at least one month’s operating budget in reserve. Salter said that emergency fund for MPS comes to approximately $18 million.
The cash-strapped school system has to make decisions on what to cut to meet those goals.
Last school year, the state overruled the board and kept the system financially afloat by selling Georgia Washington School to neighboring Pike Road Schools for an immediate cash infusion of nearly $10 million. The sale was a temporary financial reprieve, however.
This year, there is no new Georgia Washington School to sell, no sudden $10 million deposit to fill the system’s accounts. That leaves the board with few options other than a reduction in force.
Put another way, this year the board needs to cut $12.8 million from its budget. As fewer students enroll, state funding based on those enrollment numbers also declines. Fewer students require fewer teachers, making it necessary to reduce teaching units. This year, that force reduction stands at 140 people.
Not all reductions will come from terminations, though, according to Salter.
“The personnel report has teachers who are retiring, or who need to be transferred from one school to another, and a variety of other things including the reduction in force,” Salter said. With a new school year rapidly approaching, “it was important that as soon as possible that list was approved so we could move forward with the necessary actions.”
Timing is critical since classes start Aug. 6 and teachers return a week prior.
The state education department acted after the school board’s indecisiveness on how to move forward. After the decision, MPS has the responsibility to get the information out to affected teachers “as soon as possible to allow them the opportunity to, if they wanted to appeal it, say, or to look at other options, that they’d have that opportunity, and yet we would still have time to fill that position if we needed to,” Salter said.
The names of those teachers affected has not yet been released, because not all have been notified. Some may be on vacation, for example, and unavailable. Salter said the list should be publicly available within the next week.
“We have, as I’ve said multiple times, tried to hand more and more responsibility off to the local board,” Mackey said. “It’s not about misspending money, it is about getting things in order.”
The state superintendent warned that, long-term, “if it shows that the board is going to lapse into dysfunction, it means that the state intervention is going to last longer and is going to get deeper.”
Asked for comment, MPS Board President Clare Weil said, “The state department did what they had to do to move MPS forward. I wish we (the board) could have done this ourselves, but we could not at this time. I am grateful to Dr. Eric Mackey and Terry Roller for their lead in getting MPS moving forward.”