By Dr. Gregory T. Graves, Associate Executive Secretary
Everyone who cares about the future of public education in Birmingham needs to ask themselves a question: when is it enough? This question should be at the forefront of discussion after Judge Michael Graffeo’s decision that the reduction-in-force (RIF) carried out in 2012 by the State Department of Education in Birmingham was illegal. As a result of the RIF, 112 AEA members were either demoted or terminated without a hearing.
The architect of the RIF was Dr. Ed Richardson who was appointed by State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice to oversee the “takeover.” Dr. Richardson claimed that the sole reason for enacting the RIF was due to the system’s financial situation. That wasn’t true. At the time of the Birmingham RIF there were many school systems in Alabama that were in far worse financial shape than Birmingham. To make matters worse, this is the second time that Dr. Richardson has been involved in a RIF in a school system takeover that has resulted in a court finding that it was conducted improperly. That fact alone should tell the State Board of Education something. There is an old saying that one should, “measure twice before cutting.” I would ask the State Board of Education to heed this advice. Before wasting significant resources on an appeal, they should take an inde-pendent assessment of the situation free and clear of politics or personal agendas. I respect Dr. Bice and the role of the State Board because I know they have to make tough decisions regarding the children of Alabama; however, I must also say that the manner in which the employees in Birmingham were treated during the RIF was wrong.
It is not my intent to point fingers; I am only asking that cooler heads prevail. Dr. Bice, before you and the State Board decide to appeal Judge Graffeo’s decision; I am simply asking you to think about the educators who have been impacted by the illegal RIF. These employees were guilty of nothing but doing their jobs and for that they have lost their homes, lost their cars, their health care benefits, and the ability to provide for their families. And while these folks have gone several years without a salary, Birmingham has continued to hire new central office staff with six-figure salaries. Again, Dr. Richardson claimed the system needed money so hundreds of employees were demoted and fired, and instead of recalling them back to their jobs pursuant to the law, they were replaced by central office employees who make salaries that triple what the terminated employees made. Where is the logic in that? Still today, those in charge in Birmingham are bringing in new hires from out of state when qualified individuals in their own system are struggling to survive in this troubled economy.
Then there is the outsourcing. School nurses were terminated during the RIF and the State Board allowed Dr. Richardson to go to Michigan to find contract nurses to work in Birmingham. Nurses that lived and worked in Birmingham were RIFed and their jobs were outsourced to out-of-state employees who received higher salaries. Birmingham is home to UAB one of the finest medical facilities in the country so why hire expensive nurses from Michigan? Will someone in Birmingham or the State Department of Education please tell us how a system that is struggling financially justifies firing tenured employees and replacing them with workers from out of state who receive higher salaries than the employees they replaced? There’s a dead cat on the line, except, in this case, it’s a litter of them.
I’m calling on Dr. Bice to instruct his lawyers to open a dialogue to try and resolve the RIF lawsuit in Birmingham. In light of anything that has gone on, certainly by now you know that should have been handled differently. Finally, I’m calling on all educators, not just those in Birmingham, to ask members of the State Board of Education to measure twice before they cut. An appeal helps no one but lawyers. It certainly does not help those employees in Birmingham who are struggling and have lost all that they have worked for. While this may be a Birmingham issue, it is taxpayer money from all of us that will be spent trying to defend the increasingly indefensible things going on in Birmingham. Again I ask, measure twice because education cuts never heal, especially those that can be avoided.
As always, together we stand.