Siegleman#039;s number one goal is to raise teacher pay

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 15, 2000

Gov. Siegelman's number one goal in the current legislative session is to take the first step toward making good on his promise to raise the salary of Alabama teachers to the national average.

His suggested route to reach that goal: A bill that would earmark 41 percent of the annual growth in the Special Education Trust Fund to teachers' salaries. It is his belief that over a period of years the increase in collections from these existing taxes would be sufficient to reach his goal.

However his plan has stirred up a hornet's nest from other sectors of public education. For example, they point out that the 41 per cent would be used solely for raising salaries. However, as the salaries go up so would the state's contribution to retirement benefits, Social Security and insurance. This would take many millions more from the same pot, leaving precious little for other school needs.

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Colleges and universities would certainly suffer from this distribution plan, but so would countless programs in K-12.

What all this means is that this legislation proposed by the governor is in for a tough fight during the coming weeks.

What is it about seats on the boards of trustees at the various universities and colleges that seems to create so much interest and so much controversy?

Surely I don't have to replay the near-continuous battle which has raged and continues to rage over seats on the Auburn University Board. It seems this fight has been going on forever.

The University of Alabama Board, which used to pride itself for never washing its dirty linen in public as far as trustee seats were concerned, now has a dandy one of its own-Paul W. Bryant Jr., the son of the legend, wants a seat on the board but it may take something close to World War III for him to qet it.

And then last week a seat on the board at Jacksonville State University hit the headlines. This time it was no ugliness, just a serious mistake by Gov. Siegelman.

When told there was an upcoming vacancy on the board the governor appointed Randy Owen, the lead singer of the hugely popular "Alabama" group to the seat. Owen was a splendid appointment. He is a graduate of JSU and has been a major benefactor for the institution. Everybody applauded the appointment.

It was only after the fact…after the appointment and attendant publicity…that somebody reminded the governor that if Owen went on the board, incumbent trustee Jim Folsom Jr., the former governor and Siegelman's buddy, would have to go off.

You could hear the governor say "oops" all the way to the Tennessee line.

What to do? The governor has now come with a proposal to increase the membership of the JSU board by one seat…so that both Owen and Folsom can serve.

Why not use that same strategy to resolve the disputes on the Alabama and Auburn boards? Of course it would necessitate building much larger luxury suites at the Jordan-Hare and Bryant-Denny stadiums to accomodate the trustees.

I have often wondered if the lure of getting four box seats in the most luxurious of settings for football games wasn't one of the major attractions of being a trustee.

A bill that would require public school students to use titles of respect in addressing adults in school-the so-called "Yes Sir, No Sir" bill-is moving slowly through the Legislature although the odds are no better than 50-50 that it will pass.

The bill specifies that students who do not comply with the law would be punished, but the law is silent on what the punishment would be.

One of the critics of the measure, Republican Sen. Steve French of Birmingham expressed concern about how the law would be enforced. French called the measure "a real nice, feel-good bill."