MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced a victory on Monday for state officials in a lawsuit brought by the State Board of Education and Strange against the Birmingham City Board of Education.
Local board members allegedly failed to obey rules laid down by state education officials concerning governance matters and finances. The members allegedly continued to disobey the state after the state assumed control of the finances of the local board pursuant to state law.
Officials for the Birmingham board, which is in a state of political and financial crisis, allegedly challenged and got in the way of the statutory authority of the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Tommy Bice.
A two-day bench trial occurred Aug. 1-2. The Birmingham board was allegedly non-compliant with state education laws requiring the board to maintain $17 million of operating reserves, falling approximately $15 million short. The court allowed for additional evidence to be considered, including the school system accreditation agency's official concern over local board governance issues.
The court found that the Birmingham board engaged in poor decisions and actions that got in the way of plans and programs meant to meet the financial and fiduciary requirements of the board under state law. The court ruled that the State Board of Education and Bice were allowed to take all actions they have taken, including the action to implement a financial recovery plan which the board allegedly failed to implement.
A permanent injunction issued by the court prohibits the Birmingham board and its members from interfering with the control by the state officials of the financial operations of the school system. The state will continue to look into the governance issues of the Birmingham board.
"Legal action like this should never become necessary," Strange said. "However, as the state's chief law enforcement official, it is my responsibility to ensure that public officials follow the law. Sometimes, that means going to court to vindicate the state's laws and to ensure that the directives of state education officials are followed. The court today sent a message to public officials who would flout the law and defy state directives: You are not above the law; you must follow it. I could not be prouder of the state's legal team, including Josh Payne of the Constitutional Defense Division in my office. I stand ready to assist State Superintendent Bice and the State Board of Education in any way I can."