Supers: House budget makes more sense

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Covington County teachers and Alabama legislators alike are on spring break this week, but when they all return to work next week, educators will be looking to Montgomery for a new budget. With just three days left in this year’s session, lawmakers will have to deal with two different versions of the $5.9 billion spending plan, one passed by both the House and the Senate. The Senate’s version of the plan included a one-time, 1 percent bonus for education employees, while the House version did not, but did feature more money to fund health insurance benefits. Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said the House’s plan simply makes more sense. “The best thing would obviously be a pay raise for employees, along with an increase in the money that goes to insurance,” Watson said. “It doesn’t do employees a lot of good to do a one-time bonus, then take out more than you gave in the bonus for insurance. That doesn’t’ make sense.” According to published reports, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, have said budget writers for the House and Senate have agreed with Gov. Robert Bentley to drop the bonus in favor of providing more funding for health insurance. Watson said he thinks that is a change education employees can get on board with. “Of course, anyone would love a raise, but I understand we’re trying to pay back money we borrowed (from the ‘rainy day fund’),” Watson said. “Teachers have been very patient, and, as of late, have taken pay cuts in the form of increased insurance premiums. Given the choice, I think we would all be better off if we took the money from the insurance. That’s been everyone’s take that I have talked to.” Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart also agreed funding the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) was the most sensible move. “I think probably addressing the PEEHIP shortfall is a major priority,” Smithart said. “I’m not sure where a 1 percent bonus would be a good idea if you were going to lose the net because of premiums. Funding PEEHIP is probably the better idea.” This year’s legislative session wraps up Thurs., April 3, and, in addition to education, is also expected to include a bills dealing with issuing ranging from abortion to the death penalty. So far, neither the House nor the Senate has passed bills that would prohibit boards of education from using seniority as a deciding factor in teacher layoffs. The Alabama Education Association has fought to keep the bills coming to a vote.