Schools OK with budget

Published 12:30 am Thursday, April 30, 2009

Local superintendents reacted positively Wednesday to the news that the Alabama House approved a $6.2 billion education budget.

The House voted 103-0 Tuesday to approve the budget, which maintains funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative but reduces funding for ACCESS Distance Learning and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative.

Andalusia Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said it is her understanding that although funding has been cut, any schools that already participate in the programs will continue to do so in the 2009-10 year.

“I am so encouraged by this budget,” McAnulty said. “It is so much better than what we expected, even a couple of weeks ago. We already have (AMSTI and ACCESS), so it is my understanding that they will just continue.”

The budget has returned to the Senate to approve minor changes and should receive final passage today. It includes $513 million in federal stimulus funds and is an increase of 7 percent ($418 million more) from last year’s prorated education budget.

The budget passed Tuesday is expected to limit the number of teachers and other education employees who will need to be laid off. School boards must notify non-tenured teachers if they will be retained for the fall.

“The budget should prevent massive layoffs, but we have to prepare for down the road when the federal (stimulus) dollars are gone,” Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart said. “Steps need to be taken now to prepare for two years from now. The Rainy Day fund will need to be repaid and the stimulus money will run out, and we will still need to educate our children.”

The budget passed Tuesday would also eliminate funding for some classroom supplies, and reduces funding for textbooks to $17 a student.

“We are still in a proration period,” Smithart said. “The cuts are painful, but not catastrophic. I am concerned about the textbook money — you can’t buy a book for $17.

“Under the circumstances, it is about as good as we could have hoped for. I know there is a great deal of cynicism about our legislature, but when it came down to it, they put our children first. I am truly appreciative, especially to Speaker (Seth) Hammett and Sen. (Jimmy) Holley.”

McAnulty said it is important to get the official final budget numbers quickly, to begin making preparations for the 2009-10 school year.

“We have to have the budget as soon as possible, so we can do this local analysis and planning work with our principals, and the board of education. We want to let any staff who will be affected know as soon as possible, and let everyone know how to prepare for next year.

“This budget will prevent most layoffs. There will still have to be some reductions, but they will be minimal.”