School budget in limbo

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Selma area students may have fewer teachers, if the state legislature doesn’t hurry up and pass this year’s education budget, according to Dallas County and Selma administrators.

“I just want everybody to realize how not having a budget by May 16 will impact us,” Dr. Fannie Major-McKenzie, Dallas County Schools Superintendent said. “They’re putting Alabama children at risk.”

Major-McKenzie met with Dr. James Carter, Superintendent of Selma’s City Schools during a press briefing yesterday to explain their concerns.

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“Obviously it is critical we get a budget early in the legislative process,” Carter said.

Both Carter and Major-McKenzie said that if they didn’t know by May 16, they would have to layoff teachers and other faculty members, and put off making purchases they need state money for.

“We’re hoping the process will move expeditiously,” Carter said.

The Birmingham News reported in an article yesterday that the budget was being held up by a demand from higher education for an extra $46.25 million.

“The education budget is now held hostage,” Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) told the Birmingham News.

In the past, higher education interests and K-12 interests have been at odds, according to Carter and Major-McKenzie.

This year is different, both administrators said.

The Education Trust Fund, according to Carter, is funded by Corporate Income Taxes, Personal Taxes and Income Taxes, primarily. Another portion comes from local property taxes, Carter said, the equivalent of 10 mills in matching funds.

Unfortunately, by depending on income taxes and sales taxes the budget changes according to the state’s economy, he said.

This year was a good year for Alabama, according to that reasoning.

Carter said the Education Trust Fund was projected to grow about 3 to 4 percent.

“It grew at double that amount,” Carter said.

The budget’s growth meant that for the first time in four years, Major-McKenzie said, the Education funding wouldn’t be cut or prorated.

“This is unnecessary,” she said. “We know the money is there.”

Legislators told the Birmingham News that the budget had about a 50-50 chance of passing, because of Sen. Jim Preuitt’s (D-Talledega) bill to increasing funding to higher education.

Preuitt told the News he wouldn’t support any bill without the $46 million for state colleges and universities.

“”Things are not going to be moving fast if this doesn’t happen,” he said. “The Education Trust Fund Budget could be in jeopardy.”

If the budget doesn’t pass during the Legislature’s regular session, the issue would be forced into a special session, after May.

Carter and Major-McKenzie said if it didn’t pass in May, it could be July before getting figures on how much money they’re getting.

“We’re unable to plan for professional development, the number of teachers,” Major-McKenzie said. “(There’s) no wiggle room.”

She said the funds could also jeopardize both system’s No Child Left Behind status.

“Not having a budget won’t be an excuse,” she said.

Carter said that he believed the budge was favorable as it stood.

“Everybody gets a good piece of the pie,” he said. “Why wait and punish us?”