Joe Reed just might be right

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2003

For once in recent memory, Joe Reed may have stumbled across an idea that actually makes sense.

Long known for his battles in Montgomery with former Mayor Emory Folmar, the Alabama legislature and former governors, the Alabama State University icon may actually be on to something here that is worth noting.

Reed, associate executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, has suggested that Alabama has too many school systems - way too many. About 61 to be exact.

And for once, I think I just might have to agree with the man I long considered a nuisance instead of a true benefactor for Alabama.

Reed suggests that it is time for Alabama to consolidate its city school systems back into one singular county system, with one system for each county, and one superintendent for each system.

Reed even discussed at length the possibility of such an action occurring in Covington County in the May 12 edition of the Alabama School Journal, which goes to 92,000 people each week the Alabama legislature is in session, and monthly when it's not.

Reed, using state statistics, reports that Covington County is the home to three school systems, with a total county student population of less than 6,500. Opp is the 13th smallest system, Andalusia is the 23rd smallest system, and the Covington County system is in the middle as the 66th smallest system. Under a consolidated system, the Covington County system would still be in the middle, becoming the 32nd largest system in the state.

That makes sense. It could be the first step in solving the educational funding crisis in Alabama, because it is becoming more obvious the state legislature as a whole doesn't really care about education, and the governor refuses to release any details of his "saving grace."

No, the legislature is too worried about giving convicted felons their right to vote and keeping President Bush off the election ballot in 2004.

And who really knows with Gov. Riley? It's been 5 months now, and we're still no closer to knowing what's really on his mind than we were when he was elected in November.

As for Reed's suggestion, I dare anybody to say it doesn't make good sense, because I'm fixing to give you some numbers - and we're talking serious money here.

After obtaining information from the Alabama Board of Education, I discovered what the typical teacher's salary is, and what each local superintendent's salary is.

Let's discuss for a minute.

According to the latest figures from the state BOE, an educator in Alabama with a bachelor's degree makes $29,538 per year on a 182 day contract with three or fewer years of experience. A master's degree will bump that up figure to $33,968, six-year increases to $36,627 and a doctoral degree increases to $39,286.

On the other hand, the latest figures from the state BOE on superintendent's salaries state that the three superintendents in Covington County have each have a salary of more than $90,000. A combined total of $286,125. That's more than a quarter-million dollars. Every year. Take away two superintendents, and you've freed up enough money, for at least seven new teachers.

Take away expenses of maintaining three central offices, and you've freed up even more money for keeping educators.

When I started to school in 1980 students didn't have to bring their own tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. to school. As time went on, we did start bringing Kleenex and paper towels. Now, as I understand it, some systems in the state require students to bring all of the above listed items.

As Reed puts it, "why do we not take advantage of the economies of scale of that bigger school systems could employ?"

As for the critics who say the quality of education would drop in Andalusia, or Opp, or the County by consolidation

well, to take a break from proper grammar, "that bird ain't gonna fly!"

Andalusia, Opp and Covington County School Systems are among the elite systems in the state academically. There is nothing to lose, but only to gain the combined academic strengths of all three systems combined.

When there is only one system, resources could better be utilized and the extra money, could be spent on the ones who are in the trenches day in and day out. And more teachers means a lower teacher-student ratio, which means a better education.

And, as one county valedictorian said Monday, "A combined school system would be unstoppable. No one would be able to touch us academically or athletically."

She's right. Joe Reed's right.