State Seeks Dismissal Of Suit Against Birmingham Takeover

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State schools chief Tommy Bice (center right), Birmingham Mayor William Bell (lower left) and other area leaders look on with concern at a contentious April 2012 board 
meeting that helped trigger state intervention.

Dan Carsen,WBHM

State schools chief Tommy Bice (center right), Birmingham Mayor William Bell (lower left) and other area leaders look on with concern at a contentious April 2012 board meeting that helped trigger state intervention.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Lawyers representing the Alabama State Department of Education
late yesterday filed a brief asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against the
state’s 2012 intervention in Birmingham City Schools.

The lawsuit alleges ALSDE disenfranchised black voters who elected
Birmingham school board members, whose authority was overruled when state
officials overturned their decisions, including the board’s initial refusal to adopt a controversial cost-cutting plan last
spring. That plan, eventually adopted, was
meant to help the school system build up a legally required reserve of one month’s
operating expenses. Birmingham and state officials predict the district will have that $17-million reserve in place before the
end of fiscal 2014.

Five Birmingham residents — including two former Birmingham school board
members and an Alabama Education Association representative — brought the suit and maintain the state intervention violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the
due process clause of the 14th Amendment, and the equal protection clause of the
14th Amendment.

But according to last night’s motion, filed electronically at 6:25 p.m., “[the suit
alleges] State School Superintendent Bice violated the Voting Rights Act and the
14th Amendment when he intervened to compel the Birmingham Board of
Education to comply with state school finance laws. If that sentence sounds peculiar,
it should: Plaintiffs claim a violation of [Section 2] of the VRA, but they do not take
issue with the number of members making up the board, the districts from which
board members were elected, how voters registered to vote, who was allowed to
vote, or how their votes were counted…

“Plaintiffs also claim that the intervention violated their 14th Amendment rights of
due process and equal protection. [Those claims should be dismissed] because there
is no constitutionally protected right to vote for members of the school board, and
the intervention was rationally related to a legitimate state purpose.”

ALSDE’s lawyers also maintain that local boards of education — unlike municipal
boards — are, legally speaking, extensions of the state education department.

The suit, filed in February with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division, names defendants Tommy Bice in his capacity as superintendent of the
state education department; Ed Richardson — the sometimes controversial leader of
the state intervention team, and acting chief financial officer of Birmingham City
Schools; and the Alabama State Board of Education. Judge David Proctor could decide on the motion to dismiss as early as March.

Dan Carsen

Education Reporter