Our Opinion: School districts face repercussions of Legislature

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 23, 2008

The Alabama Legislature often reminds one of a William Faulkner line: &8220;&8230; sound and fury, signifying nothing &8230;&8221;

Or at least that&8217;s the way many education administrators likely feel after the legislature failed to pass an education budget for the 2008-09 academic year. It is the height of irresponsibility for the legislature to fail to pass an education budget in their regular session. Over the past two years, the sessions have become little more than a demilitarized zone, with camps on either the right or left afraid to make the bold steps that could save Alabama from tumbling full-bore into a recession.

Make no mistake &8212; an education budget will be passed. Gov. Bob Riley is set to call a special session to get the legislation worked through. But the state is likely going to cut deep in the education budget due to shortfalls in Alabama&8217;s sales tax-dependent economy.

The boldest step for Alabama would be a real and significant change. The states where the economic slowdown has had the least effect all have much higher property tax &8212; and lower sales taxes &8212; than Alabama. It is time for legislators to take a serious look at the way Alabama gathers its tax money. The state has one of the lowest property taxes in the union, but some of the highest sales taxes. During an economic turndown, sales taxes fall &8212; resulting in budget shortfalls and, eventually, proration.

We are not in proration yet. Few people will even whisper the word. But as the country&8217;s economic woes become even worse &8212; as oil prices top $135 a barrel and grocery bills rise at a rocketing pace &8212; people will spend fewer and fewer dollars. That scenario has already been proven over the past year, which is one reason more education budget cuts have been proposed.

Linden City Schools has already begun preparing for those cuts by doing some trimming of their own. Several support personnel and untenured teachers have been terminated due to the belt-tightening. Demopolis City and Marengo County schools are probably not far behind on similar cuts.

Sadly, while the state legislators bicker, local school boards must hold their breath and wait to see how bad the damage will be when an education budget is finally passed.