Good-bye Birmingham Schools?

Tommy Bice
Tommy Bice, State Superindent of Schools

You’ve seen the headline, Retaining accreditation will be difficult for Birmingham city” schools.

“Birmingham City Schools will have a hard time remaining accredited if board members don’t…start thinking of the system as a whole, said the president of the accrediting agency that recently announced it was placing the district on probation…

… A review team from AdvancEd who was in Birmingham for several days in May found
…that individual board members were not looking out for the best interests of the system as a whole…

“The ramifications are dire,” said state Superintendent Tommy Bice. “It’s regretful that one area of governance can cause that kind of impact on students.”

Please note the common theme is that board members don’t look out for the school system as a whole.

But why would we expect them to?  Each board member is elected by district.  If one of them makes a decision that is best for the school system, but harms their district, he/she won’t be re-elected.

People say the current school board is a disaster…”Elect a better board and our problems will be over.”

I’m not competent to judge past school boards, but we’ve had five superintendents in the past thirteen years.  We would have had six, but the State Board of Education intervened last year.

As usual, our government structure is at fault.  Most school systems don’t elect school boards by district.

Of course, we have the same dysfunctional structure for our City of Birmingham.  Council members are elected from nine districts—the same districts as the school board.

When City Council candidates run for office, they concentrate on neighborhood issues—abandoned houses, overgrown lots, empty store fronts, police presence, etc.

Councillors are elected by neighborhoods and must answer to that neighborhood.  There’s no incentive to look out for the city as a whole.

And the same can be said about Jefferson County.  Five County Commissioners are elected by district.  There’s not a single major county official elected county wide (except the sheriff).  You could see the split on the vote to close Cooper Green Hospital.  Three Commissioners representing three white districts voted to close Cooper Green and two African-American Commissioners representing African-American districts voted to keep it open.

School Board members, City Council members, and County Commissioners may have good intentions, but when their district’s needs are involved, they are compelled to satisfy their constituents.

Do we blame the elected official or do we blame our system?

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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6 thoughts on “Good-bye Birmingham Schools?”

  1. This article would have more validity and not sound like a pre-election attempt to sway voters if “specific names” of the so called “dysfuntional” board members as well as the specific allegations were included.

    At least I know that facts would not justify any such allegation against board member Emanuel B. Ford who has on several ocassions suggested to the Board as well as the Superintendent Craig Witherspoon to implement “Reading Academies” for grades K-8 in every elementary school, and who, without being the elected member in two other districts still was the most vocal in attempting to get the Superintendent and the State not to merge Jackson Elementary which sits in an established neighbrhood with a good learning environment with Hemphill that sits in the projects surrounded by a culture of violence, and Norwood with Lewis because of potential EPA hazards that could shorten the life expectancies of the children, the faculty, and the staff–just to name a few things that this particular board member has attempted to do.

    So call names and call specific allegations rather than make unfounded accusations, which when researched would show the true facts.

    Dysfunctional is a Mayor and City Council who were so busy being self-serving that they allowed ALDOT to decide to close all the exit ramps into Birmingham and a Mayor and City Council who still havn’t passed a budget while the people suffer.  


  2. Changing the structure of the Birmingham School Board is an excellent idea. However, can we just do it or, like so many other things, will it require a Constitutional Amendment?  If so, that will require the cooperation of the Jefferson County Delegation, which would be very difficult to achieve. The real problem is lack of home rule in our State Constitution.  A problem we have had for the last 112 years. To fix Birmingham we must first fix the Constitution to allow home rule. 

  3. You can never make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and socialist (government owned) education has two fatal flaws–it is a monopoly and it is run by government.

    I know that freedom is un-American but why not try it?  Vouchers can’t be worse than what we have.

  4. *It’s criminal that the BBE paid those millions of dollars to the law firms.  The lawyers should be required to return the fees.

  5. It’s not by accident that we switched from an at-large council to one with districts. Councilman Russell Yarbrough filed a civil rights suit claiming that white voters would lose their representation on the Council as the city became overwhelmingly African-American. The court drew up districts in 1989 to preserve white representation.

  6. Government schools are far from the best we can achieve.

    “…Every generation of school-age children has imprinted upon it a politically correct ideology concerning America’s past and the sanctity of the role of the state in society. Practically every child in the public school system learns that the “robber barons” of the 19th century exploited the common working man; that unregulated capitalism needed to be harnessed by enlightened government regulation beginning in the Progressive era at the turn of the century; that Wild Wall Street speculation was a primary cause of the Great Depression; that only Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal saved America from catastrophe; and that American intervention in foreign wars has been necessary and inevitable, with the United States government required to be a global leader and an occasional world policeman.”– Jacob G. Hornberger

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