As meetings go, the gathering of school board members from all Birmingham area school systems on Sept. 19 was low key to say the least. No one bused in hundreds of spectators, no one marched, there were no bands or cheerleaders and the Pope didn’t stop by.
However, this could potentially be the spark that ignites a significant coming together of public education proponents to speak with one voice about the gathering effort in the legislature to use school children as the rope in a political tug of war. To say school systems in Jefferson County are diverse is a huge understatement.
They range from the Mountain Brook City system with 4,500 students, none of whom get free or reduced lunch; to Birmingham City system a couple of miles away with 24,000 students, 87 percent on free-reduced lunches. Median household income in Mountain Brook is $131,000; in Birmingham it is $31,500.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that the top four systems with the most local funding per student (Mountain Brook. Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hoover) were standing shoulder to shoulder with Fairfield City, ranked No. 53.
They were there to express concern about the continuing effort in Montgomery move money from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. (The just-completed special session moved $80 million in use taxes from ETF and the governor says he wants to move even more in the next regular session.)
One board chairman said, “Either we can pay for education or incarceration. I prefer education.” Another said, “We must be more visible in Montgomery.”
If one end of the boat is leaking, it does little good to move to the other end. I am glad to finally see that some school leaders from very different systems are realizing that we are all in the same boat.