Education budget could be delayed

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

Next year's educational budget remains stalled in the Senate and Superintendent Kathi Wallace is concerned that Crenshaw County and school systems statewide may not have a budget in place before Oct. 1.

"Not having a budget in place would affect our ability in Crenshaw County to properly plan for the 2005-2006 school year," Wallace said.

With only three days remaining in the regular session, the Senate is deeply divided on the education budget for the '06 fiscal year.

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The regular session ends on May 16 and if the budget fails to become law by the end of May, Gov. Bob Riley would have to call lawmakers back into special session sometime before October 1.

But until then, Wallace said without a budget she might be forced to non-renew some of the non-tenured teachers in the school system.

She states that the danger in having to do this is that some of these teachers find employment elsewhere and are unavailable for re-hire when a budget is finally in place.

Now is the time, said Wallace, to order such items as textbooks and school buses.

The proposed budget has an increase in funding for both of these necessities.

Superintendents must know whether they will have the proposed $67.50 per ADM (Average Daily Membership), last year's amount of $57.50 per ADM, or still worse the $7.19 per ADM of two years ago with which to purchase textbooks.

Superintendents also need to know if they will receive $5,413.00 per bus as proposed in this budget or the $4,890.00 per bus received last year for Fleet Renewal.

Fleet Renewal is the vehicle by which school systems remove the oldest buses from the fleet and replace them with new buses.

Wallace said, "In Crenshaw County, our fleet consists of 36 buses.

Nine of those buses need to be replaced next school year."

Dr. Paul Hubbert, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association, stated in the Alabama School Journal that not having a budget would have dire consequences for the state's school systems.

"The education budget must pass or our schools will be disrupted," he said.

"There are about 15,000 employees across the state who will not know if they have jobs next year, if the budget fails.

Schools can't wait until October for a budget."

The House passed the budget, along with a six percent pay raise for educational employees, on April 21.

The conflict remains in the Senate, where Sen. Jim Preuitt (D-Talladega), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, wants an appropriation passed giving colleges and universities $46 million in funding from next year's budget.

As Rules chairman, Preuitt has control over the special order calendar that controls the flow of legislation in the Senate.

If higher education acquires the $46 million wanted by Preuitt, Wallace speculated that the K-12 budget would have to decrease somewhere. It includes funding for SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) standards.

It also includes increased funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative.

But Preuitt is only one obstacle in getting the budget passed.

Riley fears that a six percent pay raise for teachers opens the door for increased taxes in the future and has threatened to veto the budget if it is included.

The Senate itself is also undetermined on whether to give teachers a six or a four percent raise.

In a letter sent on April15, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton urged county and city superintendents not to "rush to non-renew non-tenured personnel."

"Such action taken too soon could and most certainly will damage the educational progress so many of you are making," said Morton.

"The time to make personnel decisions is drawing near," Wallace stated.

"We desperately need the legislature to pass the budget during this regular session."