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Most teachers to keep jobs

Local educators say a proposed budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year approved by a House committee Wednesday appears to be the best they could hope for.

The House Education Appropriations Committee approved a $5.48 billion education budget that would be 3 percent more than what schools are getting in this year’s scaled-back spending plan. But it would be about 18 percent less than they received in 2008, when the state had its biggest education budget ever.

State Education Superintendent Joe Morton said the budget will allow most state funded teachers to keep their jobs. But he said some teaching jobs funded by local school boards could be in jeopardy.

But the budget includes no money for classroom supplies such as paper and chalk, little money to purchase new textbooks for students and requires education employees to pay more for health insurance.

“It seems to be making the best of a very bad situation,” said Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart. “It is difficult to tell how our teaching staff will be impacted. There are so many variables such as federal funding that play a role in that decision. It has been our aim all along to maintain our current level of service, but right now it’s just too hard to say.”

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty agreed.

“It’s great news that we can anticipate the same number of state funded teachers, but that doesn’t resolve our local issues,” she said. “They say they aren’t going to change the divisors, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to see some cuts because not everyone is a state-funded employee.”

McAnulty, who had previously estimated the Andalusia system would have to cut at least 15 teachers, said she doesn’t anticipate that now.

“It won’t be 15 teachers, but I don’t want to say what the number is going to be. We are still going to have to make some cuts at the local level,” she said. “It’s as good as can be expected. “

Smithart said he thinks the budget is realistic.

“The growth rate is not overly optimistic and provided we have that minimal amount of growth, we can avoid another year of proration, which would be catastrophic,” he said.

Local superintendents all agree the increased cost to employees for health insurance is not much to ask, if teachers keep their jobs.

“That’s probably one of the best things that can happen,” McAnulty said. “I think it’s reasonable to help save jobs.”

Smithart agreed.

“This proposal requires employees to contribute more toward our health insurance, but that is a small price to pay,” he said.

Covington County Schools Superintendent Terry Holley said employees are facing the facts that they may have to pay more for health insurance, but said until they actually have a budget in their hands they don’t know.

“Saving jobs is a top priority in the many aspects of the state,” he said.

When it comes to supply money for teachers, Holley said his system was anticipating that loss.

Smithart said it is disappointing, but said OCS will make sure the teachers have the supplies they need and the students will not go without.

Also as a part of the proposed budget, the committee included a plan to pay for new school buses for the 2010-11 school year by borrowing $66 million through a bond issue.

“We’ve been three years without our fleet renewal,” McAnulty said. “So that is a concern for me.”

Committee members rejected a proposal to save money by cutting the school year back five days to 175 days.

The Alabama Education Association who argued that it would be equal to a pay cut for teachers and would reduce instructional time for students opposed the plan.

“I advocated for a reduction in the number of school days, which would have provided (funds for supplies and textbooks),“ Smithart said.

The education budget goes to the full House for debate next week, possibly as early as Tuesday. Then it goes to the Senate for consideration.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the General Fund budget exactly as the governor recommended it. Committee Chairman Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said he was using the recommended budget as a vehicle to get to the Senate floor, and he hopes to offer a revised version of the budget to the Senate next week.