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School Board Indecision Forces Birmingham, Ala., Takeover

Two weeks ago, Alabama assumed financial oversight of the 25,000-student district, but said the school system could avoid a full takeover if its board would vote on a state-approved, cost-cutting plan.

The board failed to do so in a Tuesday meeting described as "heated and erratic" by a reporter with the Southern Education Desk, a consortium of public television stations in five Southern states. The board's vote, 4 to 4 with one abstention, triggered the state's action. The board had attempted to hold off state intervention by approving a modified plan of cutbacks a few weeks ago, but failed to follow through on that plan Tuesday night by taking specific personnel action.

The state sought cuts from Birmingham because the district only has about $2 million in operating-fund reserves, instead of a month's worth of reserves as required by state law—about $17 million.

Alabama now plans to implement a deeper series of cuts than the district board had been asked to approve, according to the Birmingham News. The state also appointed Ed Richardson, whose deep roots in education include stints as a state superintendent of education, a superintendent of the 7,000-student Auburn school system, and president of Auburn University, to serve as the district's chief financial officer. From the article:

Richardson said his team will now review the rejected plan, make additional cuts, and bring it back before the board at a July 17 meeting. Tuesday's plan called for about $12.3 million worth of cuts. The plan recommended to the board next month will be about $13.5 million. If the Birmingham school board rejects that plan, the state will simply override it, he said.

"The plan will get approved one way or the other," Richardson said.

Richardson also told the newspaper that schools in Birmingham will not be able to open Aug. 20 as currently scheduled, because the cuts haven't been made. The delay could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, he said.

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