Supers oppose unified budgets

Published 12:05 am Thursday, January 12, 2012

Local superintendents are “skeptical, at best” over Gov. Robert Bentley’s plans to ask state lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would combine the state’s two budgets, and local lawmakers say they haven’t even seen information regarding the proposal.

Bentley said that when the legislative session begins Feb. 7, he plans to propose an amendment that would eliminate having a General Fund budget for non-education programs, such as Medicaid, prisons and other agencies, and an education budget.

Bentley cited 47 other states have some, but not, all of their tax revenue set aside for education.

Currently, Alabama leads the nation in how much tax revenue is set aside by the state constitution for specific purposes, at 84 percent.

In Alabama, the state income and sales taxes are set aside for education.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said he is “very skeptical” about the governor’s plan.

“I know the General Fund is in dire straits,” he said. “But the education budget has been in proration for the last four years. What we are talking about is the flexibility of moving education dollars over toward prisons and other agencies. The bottom line is, I’m not in favor of taking dollars away from our children.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart agreed.

“As a school leader, this is not a position I feel I can support at this time,” he said. “I fully realize the General Fund deficit must be addressed, but my obligation to the students of this community is to protect what we have. We are already facing what appears to be a reduction of (more than) $100 million next year, and I represent about 1,400 children in this system, the vast majority of which are not eligible to vote, and I have to oppose any measure that would lead to further cuts in an already vastly underfunded system.”

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, said Wednesday he has not seen any numbers on what the governor is proposing.

“I have not received any correspondence about this from the governor’s office,” he said. “I think I owe him that much not to comment about it until I at least see the numbers.”

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said he hasn’t received nothing from the governor’s office, either.

“My only knowledge is from the news reports as well,” he said. “My first instinct is not a favorable one, but I would like to see some more information before I say anything more.”

Govs. George Wallace and Fob James led similar efforts, both of which failed.

Henry Mabry, new executive secretary for the Alabama Education Association, voiced his concerns Tuesday.

He said Bentley’s plan could result in fewer teachers, larger class sizes or a shorter school year.

“You don’t improve education by taking money away from it,” he said.

Mabry predicted Bentley would not have the votes to pass it.

Still, if lawmakers approve Bentley’s proposed amendment, it would have to gain approval by Alabama voters in a statewide referendum.