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House budget contains 2% teacher raise

Published 11:04am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A 2 percent pay hike for Alabama teachers in the proposed 2014 education budget was not enough to earn the approval of Elmore County’s school superintendent.
Superintendent Jeff Langham said Friday he was “concerned” that the $5.7 billion budget – approved last week by the House of Representatives – will not sufficiently fund the system’s operations.
“In short, these are crippling numbers for local school systems like ours,” he said.
State Rep. Barry Mask (R-Wetumpka), though, said while the public schools budget isn’t perfect, it reflects the Republican majority’s desire to make school budgets “proration-proof.”
He said he was pleased that revenues to the Education Trust Fund had rebounded, growing the last 10 straight months.
“We’re finally going to get our fiscal ship in order so we won’t have to go into proration,” Mask said, noting the most conservative revenue estimates were used so local schools could be pleasantly surprised by surpluses, not blindsided by mid-year cuts.
But Langham singled out the line item of “Other Current Expenditures,” a spending account with more flexibility that was cut by almost $18.5 million in the 2012 and 2013 budgets.
The new budget proposal, which still must be passed in the state Senate, adds back just $17.2 million to the line item – which funds facility repairs, utility costs and is the only unearmarked account with the flexibility to pad shortfalls in other areas.
But the increased appropriation, Langham said, “reflects only the amount needed to cover the 2 percent pay raise and increases in benefits.”
So the operational budgets for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins in October, will be around $18 million below 2012 levels, Langham said, and the cumulative OCE shortfall comes up $36 million below that level.
Democrats and the Alabama Education Association had pushed for a 5 percent teacher raise, and before the session, some lawmakers suggested even a 10 percent raise.
Langham said he’s “sympathetic to the negative buzz” about a proposed 2 percent pay raise, especially after watching the backbone of the school system – its teachers – asked to pay more for insurance and retirement the past two years.
“Our employees are not ungrateful, but when I witness daily the selfless sacrifice of our employees, it is not surprising to me when I hear them use words like ‘insulting’ in reference to a raise that will really amount to a wash for the losses they have experienced financially over the last few years,” Langham said.
“Probably if (the raise) was 20 percent,” Mask said, “it still wouldn’t be enough. But we’re doing everything we can.”
Mask said special attention was paid to contributing to the Education Rainy Day Fund and the rolling reserve fund created last year by the Legislature.
“We’re trying to get out of the habit of overspending and budget correctly,” he said.
Mask and Langham did agree that discussions over the 2014 education budget are far from over. It will go to the state Senate now, where there are likely to be “more tweaks and changes.” Mask said he expected it to be “truly finalized” in mid-May, near the end of the 2013 Regular Session.
Langham said he will most certainly be in contact with senators, especially Bryan Taylor and Dick Brewbaker, to discuss his concerns and wishes for the final product.

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