Federal Complaint Alleges Fund Misappropriation in Birmingham Schools

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A Birmingham City Schools parent and president of the local chapter of the
American Federation of Teachers has filed a complaint against the school
system with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

Submitted by fax Friday, Richard Franklin’s complaint alleges four examples of
misappropriation of federal Title One money, which is meant for schools with at
least 40 percent of their student populations defined as low-income by the U.S.
Census. It is against federal law to spend any Title One money on non-Title-One
schools, which is allegedly what happened through several contracts — including for
Kaplan ACT exam prep courses — during fiscal 2014.

The complaint also says, “Of special note is the fact that Birmingham City Schools came
under state takeover in June of 2012. Our state Superintendent, Dr. [Tommy] Bice
should have been overseeing these board actions. It’s not enough that we have had
the resignation of a few individuals [who] may have been involved. We must hold
everyone accountable in order to move forward and to force transparency upon
both the local and state administrations.”

Local and state education officials have maintained there was no wrongdoing. A BCS spokesperson wrote late Tuesday evening, “We are aware of this complaint; however, we consider this to be a closed matter. The services provided to students from non-Title 1 schools were paid for through allowable sources of funding. Title I funds were not utilized to cover those services.”

Still, Birmingham City Schools staff involved in the matter have resigned, and BCS superintendent Craig
Witherspoon has announced his own resignation, effective at the end of
the year. After Franklin and others raised concerns about the alleged misappropriation, the local school board also
changed the funding source for some of the programs in question.

Through his tumultuous tenure, Witherspoon has had strong support from
Birmingham’s business community, but quite the opposite from Franklin’s AFT and
some rank-and-file employees, many of whom were let go as the system
trimmed costs partly by cutting positions to boost cash reserves to the legally
required one-month’s operating expenses.