New year could be bright for state's teachers
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–It was not the sort of holiday greeting he would have liked.
A few days before the arrival of jolly St. Nick, Gov. Bob Riley got a note telling him what Dr. Paul Hubbard wanted for Christmas: A 7 percent pay raise for school teachers and support personnel.
A pay raise of that amount won't come cheap–it will cost the state about $238 million a year.
Fear not, Dr. Hubbard assured one and all, there is ample money to finance this raise. Besides, he said, teachers haven't been given a raise in two years.
"We're asking for 7 percent; in fact, we're expecting 7 percent, because we think the revenue is there." Hubbard said in his pre-Christmas statement.
The size of the raise sought by Hubbard even surprised State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, who chairs the House Education Budget Committee.
"That's a little more than I was expecting to hear," Lindsey said.
Hubbard is right that the revenue coming into the Special Education Trust Fund has shown healthy growth during the past year or so.
After months of Dooms Day predictions about layoffs, cutbacks and the like in public schools, the SETF showed a healthy growth last year thanks to a turnaround in the economy, and early in this fiscal year this trend has continued.
Dr. Hubbard has an ace up his sleeve in his pitch for the huge raise. In 2000 the lawmakers, at the urging of Hubbard and then Gov. Don Siegelman, passed a law intended to increase the salary of teachers to the national average over a period of years.
The law provided that if revenue coming into the SETF increased by five percent then 62.5 percent of that increase would have to go for pay raises for teachers. There is no escape clause…a pay raise would have to be given.
A sidebar to this story…no where in his statement did Dr. Hubbard suggest that teachers would be willing to give back some of this proposed raise to help pay the skyrocketing costs of their health insurance.
But few men had a greater impact on the hiring practices of state government than did this man who worked for the State Department of Transportation.
In 1985…almost two decades ago…Reynolds, a black engineer in a predominantly white state agency, filed a lawsuit to improve hiring and promotion practices for minority employees.
His active role in seeking better treatment and working conditions for blacks had subjected him to all manner of harassment–a dead rat was nailed to his drafting board, the letters "KKK" left on notes on his desk, late-night threatening phone calls to his home.
Reynolds was not dissuaded. He filed a lawsuit which has had an enormous impact on the make-up of that state agency. The numbers tell the story: In 1994 blacks made up about 21 percent of the Transportation Department employees…today they constitute more than 34 percent.
The lawsuit itself…and it still continues…has become a judicial nightmare and has resulted in many of the lawyers in the suit being able to become millionaires. The cost of this litigation is beyond comprehension–legal fees and incidentals (consultants, travel etc.) have reached a staggering $275 million and the meter is still running.
But the blame for that cannot be put on Reynolds. Neither the lawyers nor the federal judge in the case have shown much interest in bringing this case to an end.