Alabama teachers, support professionals, and retirees made an excellent case to the 2013 Legislature for a five percent pay raise.
There had been no raises since 2007.
And two years ago the Legislature hiked employee contributions to the retirement system from five percent to 7.5 percent, costing educators more than $2,600 in income.
But the Republican leadership ignored AEA’s recommendations and, instead, set off on a path to apparently extract revenge and payback for the modest successes AEA enjoyed during the 2012 session.
Instead of a five percent raise, teachers and support workers got a two percent raise, while retirees were ignored entirely.
Such is the political landscape in Montgomery these days.
In the most talked about story of the 2013 legislative session, the legislative leadership passed the private school voucher law, HB84, which some estimate will remove as much as $300 million from the ETF Budget. (See article at left for more information on HB84.)
In probably the most blatant political maneuver, the Republican leadership orchestrated a move to oust AEA’s representation on the board of contol of the Teachers’ Retirement System.
AEA had been represented on the board since 1939.
At one time, lawmakers debated the possibility of leaving the AEA representation intact. However, the new law removes AEA’s ex-officio position held by AEA’s executive secretaries for 75 years.
In another law directly aimed at undermining AEA, the Legislature appropriated $5 million for a liability insurance plan for teachers even though the insurance is already provided to education employees who are members of AEA. Insurance executives say the plan is misguided, underfunded, and won’t work.
AEA already offers as part of its annual member dues a package of legal protections that includes much more than simply liability insurance. Legal protections for members include representation when faced with grievances, transfers, terminations, and on-the-job injuries. None of these are covered through liability insurance.
Henry Mabry, executive secretary of the AEA, predicted the tactics of the Republican leadership may come back to haunt them in the future.
“They have overreached on a massive scale,” he said. “We know Alabamians, by nature, are conservative, but they’re not extremists. They’re watching a Republican leadership in the Alabama Legislature take this state in the wrong direction.
“I predict we’ll see a group of more reasonable lawmakers elected in 2014 as a consequence of this session,” said Mabry.
Meanwhile, Bentley signed a $5.765 billion education budget that, in addition to the two percent pay raise for education employees, includes a $3.9 million increase for the two-year college system, an extra $1.5 million for Advanced Placement courses, and several conditional repayments of the education rainy day account.
That account must be repaid $423 million by 2015.
Rep. Jay Love, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, contends the Rolling Reserve Act should repay the fund about $200 million by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Legislators also approved a $30 million bond issue for school repairs. The bill would provide $15 million for Murphy High School in Mobile, which was severely damaged by a tornado on Christmas Day.
Because of the extensive damage and construction, Murphy students have been riding buses to Clark-Shaw Magnet School in west Mobile to attend classes in portable units.
An additional $15 million will go to schools damaged by tornadoes on April 27, 2011.
Three schools in the Tuscaloosa area would benefit, with $3 million for Alberta City Elementary and $2.5 million each for University Place Elementary and Holt Elementary. Phil Campbell High School will receive $6.4 million and Plainview High School $604,000.
The Legislature also agreed to borrow another $50 million through bonds to buy technology-training equipment for Alabama’s public schools. The bond issue is aimed at supporting the State Board of Education’s goal of having all high school graduates ready for college or a career.
Another bill that got final passage would allow local school districts to hire armed officers to patrol schools and increased penalties for trespassing on a bus.
The trespassing bill was named the Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. Act after the bus driver who was killed trying to protect Dale County students when an armed man tried to abduct children on his bus. Legislators also voted to add new safety drills to prepare for possible violence in schools.
Local school districts would be allowed to use local funds to hire armed, trained law enforcement officers. Currently, school officials must rely on local police and sheriffs in hopes that they will station officers or deputies at schools.
Sen. Dick Brewbaker said his proposal was permissive, allowing schools to hire officers, and does not require any action by schools if they are not interested or not able to hire security officers.
The officers would have to be trained to work in schools, have active shooter training approved by the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency, and be “certified by the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission as a law enforcement officer.”
The Legislature also overrode for the second time a Bentley veto of a bill to allow for armed teachers and volunteers in Franklin County schools. Bentley said the bill did not provide adequate training requirements for the emergency security force members.
The bill makes it voluntary for teachers to become reserve sheriff’s deputies or police officers and puts the responsibility of training and supervising the “emergency security force” on local law enforcement.
The bill does not require the Franklin County School System to take any action.
The Legislature also approved a bill by Brewbaker that would authorize the state school superintendent and State Board of Education to intervene in failing school systems in certain cases.
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