Birmingham school chief says buyout plan ahead of estimates - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Birmingham school chief says buyout plan ahead of estimates

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With approximately three weeks to go, the buyout Birmingham schools offered to 329 employees is a success.  Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon called the buyout a "key element" in the plan to cut 23-million dollars from the 2012 budget.  Witherspoon said, "we estimated very conservatively around 70 individuals; we are over 100."

The increase means the school district is set to save more than the initial estimate of three million dollars. Al though that is certainly a significant savings, it is far less than what will be needed to handle a deficit brought on by two years of proration and the loss of federal stimulus money. Birmingham has no reserve fund. Witherspoon explained why. "Over the last three years, Birmingham city schools have lost over 31 -32 million dollars. The system has dealt with that with no long term debt, but we now have no reserve."

The school system is in the process of consolidating some schools and closing others. Consolidation means that five new Birmingham city schools will open this fall, but in order to make the 2012 budget work, as many as six additional schools in the system may have to close. Closing a school is never an easy decision nor a popular one, however, each school that closes represents a savings of $300,000. Witherspoon says, "if we made the decision not to, then that's $300,000 in cuts we have to make in some other way."

Birmingham does have a line of credit, and no short or long term debt. The system is solvent. Witherspoon, however, is not anxious to borrow. He said he would rather take the hard fall now and find ways to cut within the system without going to the bank. He still insists that a reduction in force - layoffs- would be a last resort. As of today, the system must still find another nine to ten million dollars to remove from the budget.

At the end of his first year as superintendent, Witherspoon remains steadfast in his belief that if he does what is best for the children, the rest will fall into place. He says the board of education is working with him and is willing to "step out of the box" to find the best solutions.

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