Though she insisted that she was “absolutely not here in my professional capacity,” Birmingham School Board President Daagye Hendricks addressed the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday, calling Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed FY 2021 budget “egregious” for cutting funding to city schools.
This year’s city budget is nearly $50 million smaller than last year’s budget, thanks to a sharp decline in the city’s business tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the $412 million budget’s many proposed austerity measures — which include funding cuts for external organizations and furloughs for hundreds of city employees — is a reduction of $1 million in city funding to Birmingham City Schools.
Woodfin has argued that this reduction is offset by increases in revenue from capital expenditures, which is an appropriated portion of the city’s sales tax on construction materials. Birmingham City Schools received $2.1 million in capital expenditure dollars last year, and are slated to receive $2.8 million for the 2021 fiscal year. For FY 2022, officials estimate that construction projects such as the BJCC’s planned open-air stadium will increase that amount to $5.2 million.
“Promising possible tax revenue is nice, but the children start school on September 8,” Hendricks said Tuesday. “We understand you’ve got some hard decisions to make… but to say we need zero funding for 22,000 students is just egregious… We must do more, and we must do better.”
Woodfin dismissed Hendricks’ criticism, pointing out that the city’s appropriation is a small fraction of the school system’s roughly $300 million budget. The vast majority of BCS funding comes from the state, as well as the city’s ad valorem property tax revenue.
“What we’ve been giving on top of that out of our general fund is at the discretion of us, when there is a surplus and we’ve got extra money to give because we believe in our school system,” Woodfin said. “There is no extra money this year… I’m not here to pit the school system against (the council) but I know politics when I see it.”
Woodfin added that a “significant portion” of the city’s $1 million would have gone to security guards. BCS’ FY 2020 budget allocated just over $2 million to school security.
“I am not comfortable recommending that $1 million go to the school system for adult (security guards), because you would be exchanging $1 million for them in exchange for furloughing more of our (city) employees,” Woodfin told the council. “Which one do you want to do? Because it’s not going to our children.”
In contrast, the $2 million still allocated to Woodfin’s public-private Birmingham Promise initiative — which came out of BCS funding last year— “goes directly to the children,” he argued.
District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, who’s been the council’s most vehement critic of Woodfin’s budget, said he might be willing to accept Woodfin’s argument “if we (the council) had been included in the process” of creating the budget. “It takes both sides running this city, and we should have been at the table,” he said. “You obviously don’t care what we think because you’ve not included us in the process.”
The council will have to pass Woodfin’s proposed budget before it goes into effect. A budget hearing with members of the school board will likely take place next Wednesday, Council President William Parker said.