How many school systems can we afford?
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–A referendum in the booming city of Millbrook to decide if it should have its own school system would not normally be a story of statewide interest.
But the election focused new attention on a growing concern: How many separate school systems can the state afford?
Each of the state's 67 counties has a school system, but now they are almost outnumbered by separate city school systems.
As of today there are 63 city school systems operating in Alabama and this fall that will increase to 64 when the Trussville City School system begins operation.
That adds up to 131 school systems.
The cost to operate these city systems is obviously considerable…payrolls for the city superintendents and their staffs, office space and equipment, automobiles.
And there is little evidence that expenses of the county systems decline when these new city systems are created.
There are countless systems in the many municipalities which surround Birmingham in Jefferson County, but oddly, the heavily populated counties of Mobile and Montgomery have only a county system.
Contrast this with Marshall County where in addition to the county system four of its municipalities have separate systems…Albertville, Arab, Boaz and Guntersville.
Returning to the Millbrook story, this once sleepy little community is now one of the fastest growing cities in Alabama. Just off 1-65, it has become a bedroom community for Montgomery.
City leaders clamoring for their own schools proposed a 15 mill increase in property taxes to fund the new system but by a resounding margin (57 percent-43 percent) the voters said no. There will be no Millbrook School System anytime in the near future
But the far bigger question–will there ever be a serious attempt to reduce the number of schools systems in Alabama? That will happen about the same time the members of the Legislature vote to serve without pay.
This being so, the state board which oversees insurance coverage for teachers and support personnel, was asked last week to approve an exceedingly modest increase in premiums for these employees by the State Retirement System, which administers the program.
RSA officials proposed that teachers who have single coverage increase their premiums from $2 a month to $5 a month; and teachers with family coverage pay $11 a month more…from $134 to $145 a month.
No way, said the board, which incidentally is chaired by Dr. Paul Hubbert, the head man of the AEA. Even though teachers will get a six percent raise this fall…which will average about $2,100 a year for most teachers…Hubbert said it wouldn't be fair "to give a raise on one hand and take part of it away with the other hand."
The Post outlined in detail the enormous labor-cost advantages Hyundai got by building its $1.1 billion facility in a union-free environment.
Hyundai, with no UAW union to contend with, will pay most of its employees a starting wage of $14.46 an hour, well below the $20-plus per hour paid to UAW members in comparable jobs. The Hyundai workers will contribute $14.50 every two weeks for their health coverage, UAW members get health benefits free.
Finally, there is no pension available for the Hyundai workforce, instead they have a 401 (k) plan. Compare this with GM, Ford and the Chrysler Group of Daimler-Chrysler AG who carry more than 800,000 retirees and family members on their pension rolls at a total cost of $11 billion a year.
With a competitive advantage like that there is little wonder why auto makers have found Alabama an attractive place to locate.