Birmingham BOE election preview - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Birmingham BOE election preview

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -

The August 27 election has been called one of the most critical in recent memory.

Many say the future of Birmingham City Schools and its children hang in the balance.

Years of turmoil and a two year probation have the school system at a tipping point.  Now, voters will decide whether there will be new faces on the school board.

State superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice says the turmoil within the Birmingham Board of Education could of been avoided.

"If we can have the board take on those responsibilities that are specific to the board and allow the superintendent (Dr. Craig Witherspoon) and his staff to do the things they are charged to do, then we'll be fine," says Bice.

Throughout the years, board members have not worked well with the superintendent. The most recent being Dr. Craig Witherspoon.

In June 2012 the state intervened, naming Dr. Ed Richardson the board's chief financial officer.

That didn't stop former board president, Edward Maddox from attempting to fire Dr. Witherspoon.

The public display of insubordination did not go unnoticed.

In May, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) brought in a special review team.

The findings in the report were enough to put Birmingham City Schools on accredited probation for two years. Citing "governance and leadership issues" as the reason.  

Some of the accusations of the board of education listed in the report:

-"Acting independently and undermining the authority of the superintendent in his role."

-"Being more loyal to their individual districts than to the school system."

-"Meddling in the day-to-day operation of the system."

-"Having an inability and unwillingness to look beyond their own interests and those of the neighborhood they represent."
 
Bice says the report confirmed what the state board already knew, prior to the takeover

"I wasn't really surprised, because as much as we had advanced so many things over the last year since we've intervened in Birmingham City Schools. We've still been faced with some of the governance issues, that were the reason we got there. Not by the whole board but by certain members of the board," says Bice.

SACS will conduct another review in February.  If the issues do not improve by then, SACS could pull the system's accreditation.

"It gives this board another opportunity, with very dire circumstances if they don't, to get their act together, get on board, focus on children, focus on education. Put the politics aside, and move their strategic plan forward," says Bice. "It is in their court, it has been very clearly stated what the results will be if that does not occur."

Board president April Williams said the board takes this matter seriously.

"Unfortunately, none of that information was new," says Williams. "We've been working to try and overcome that. This isn't my first term but this has definitely been the most difficult."

Williams says to make the system work, this upcoming election is crucial.

"It's a combined effort, people vote, the actual candidates have to perform," Williams said.

Attempts to reach superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon several times in regards to this story and the Birmingham Board of Education. None of which were successful.

But on August 27, Dr. Tommy Bice says the people have a chance to have their voices heard.

"This is for the people of Birmingham to decide," says Bice. "It needs to be looked at very strategically. And realize that the future of Birmingham public schools and the ability for them to retain and maintain local control over that school system is vital to the school board moving in the right direction. So, it's a big choice."

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