By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Local educators are encouraged by early word of potential raises coming out of Montgomery on the state education budget, but still wish legislators could do more for teachers this session.
With just three working days left, Alabama legislators have yet to finalize the state education budget for 2013-2014. But, a new version of the proposal does include a 1-2 percent raise for teachers — marking the first time educators have received a state raise in four years.
Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris said she hopes the legislature gives as much of a raise as possible, especially since teachers are paying more for insurance and retirement now than they ever have.
“That’s a significant amount of time, and during that time, education employees have had a 2.5 percent increase in retirement contributions and a considerable increase in health insurance costs,” Harris said. “The 2 percent won’t even come close to restoring the employees back to where they were in 2009. I believe it needs to be 2 percent, at least, to try and bring them back close to where they were. That’d definitely be appreciated.”
Billy Coleman, superintendent of the Cullman County system, said he is also in favor of a 2 percent raise. In addition to raises, Coleman said he also hopes the legislature will consider restoring other funds that were once used to manage programs such as at-risk and library improvement.
“I’m 100 percent behind doing as much as we can to help the employees. Of course you’d love to see more, but times are tough, and anything would be a great thing,” he said. “We’ve also had some programs cut pretty bad — great programs to help our kids — but without funding we’ll have to decide what we can keep in place. A lot of those things cost our general fund, because of problems in the state funding system. There are things that, in years past, you could count on from the state. But, as always, we’ll take what we’re given and do the absolute best job we can with it.”
The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee chairman told the Associated Press he plans to bring up the education budget today. Republican Rep. Trip Pittman of Daphne said the main areas of disagreement are the size of the pay raise for educators and how much money to set aside to repay money the state has borrowed from a state savings account.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard said the session has been successful and most items on the Republican leadership priority list have passed.
Lawmakers will reconvene today and Thursday, then return for a final day on May 20.
Pittman’s committee has approved, at his request, a 1 percent raise for educators and a 1 percent bonus if extra money becomes available. He said House members and some senators want the raise to be 2 percent.
“I’m getting more comfortable with that amount,” Pittman said.
House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said he believes the state can afford a 5 percent raise and he will offer an amendment to increase the raise to that amount. He said he would also like to see a 5 percent raise for state employees.
Pittman said he was glad that most lawmakers seem to favor the 1 or 2 percent raise and not the larger amount.
He said he wants to have $75 million paid back to the state savings account out of this budget for the 2014 fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.