Gov. Riley pledges to end funding woes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Gov. Bob Riley on Tuesday took a first step in trying to restore the confidence of educators in the state, who have been forced to deal with various financial woes and concerns that quality personnel and programs might have to be cut for the upcoming school year.

Riley pledged to educators that he will make public a plan to restructure and secure additional funding towards education, with details of the plan tentatively scheduled to be announced within the next two weeks.

The governor, during a meeting with superintendents and other education personnel at the state capitol,

also told superintendents not to lay off teachers for the next school year.

"I will do everything humanly possible to make sure you can return every teacher you have today to the classroom," said Riley, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The remarks from Riley left at least one local superintendent echoing positive sentiments.

"I was pleased with the hope that Governor Riley gave us," said Andalusia City Schools Superinte-ndent Pete Kelley. "He apparently has the help and support of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), the State School Board Association, Business Council of Alabama, the State Department of Education and others. Having all of these groups united is a positive sign."

Opp City Board of Education Superintendent Dr. Tim Lull said, however, good intentions do now always translate into progress.

"Unfortunately, we will have to make decisions based on facts and not intentions," said Lull. "If there is not money in the pot by the last week of school, systems will have to cut with hopes of hiring back those who were cut."

Covington County Schools Superintendent Ronnie Driver's sentiments resembled those of Lull's.

"Most school systems have already made plans as to how they intend to deal with the 2003-2004 school year financial situation," said Driver. "Those plans could change if a solution is reached within the next two or three weeks. Most personnel decisions must be made before school is out this year and that does not give much time."

Riley has not released any specific details of his plan, but schools must hire teachers for the next school year by July. If the state legislature approves tax increases to generate additional revenue for education that must require a vote of the people, a 90-day notice is required to set up a statewide referendum.

"Governor Riley needs to call a special session right away," said Kelley. "We are required by state law to notify personnel by the last day of school if we are not going to rehire (the teachers)."

Driver said he is still holding out hope Riley can come up with a sufficient plan in time "to prevent mass layoffs from taking place."

Kelley added that although details of Riley's plan have not surfaced as of yet, he does believe that new revenue "will definitely be included in any plan."

He said, though, that Riley has provided some insight into the possible plan.

"The governor has suggested that the plan include funding for 2004 at the same rate as 2003, and if this happens, state allotted teachers would remain the same with the reduction in enrollment figured in," said Kelley. "This would be very good news. At the same time school systems who have some locally funded teacher units will have to deal with those numbers in balancing a budget. Cuts are still a reality with some systems, just not as many as expected."

Lull said he is also unsure about Riley's plan, but said he feels good about the people Riley has in place with him.

"I do not have access to the information Governor Riley and his staff are looking at," said Lull. "I am very impressed with the staff the governor has assembled and therefore hopeful that these situations will be long-term, not band-aid fixes."

"I do not know what Governor Riley's plan is," added Driver. "However, it appears that additional revenue will be needed to fix this problem."

However the plan shapes up, Kelley said he feels the governor is dedicated to improving the educational climate in the state.

"I am confident that this governor is committed to correcting this problem," said Kelley. "He has told us that he intends to fix it once and for all. I believe that Governor Riley is committed to correcting the financial problems facing all aspects of state government."

Lull and Driver said they also believe

Riley is genuine in his concern regarding education.

"I feel that the governor is sincere in his concerns and efforts," said Lull

"It appears that Governor Riley understands the situation that school systems are facing for

this coming school year," said Driver. "I am optimistic that he intends to do something about this problem. I hope that he gets the cooperation he needs to come up with a solution to this funding crisis. I believe that Governor Riley has made the decision to devise a plan to raise additional revenue that is fair to everyone concerned and I believe that he is committed to fixing the problem in educational finding. I also believe that he wants to address educational problems that are not associated with funding."