School district to lay off 10 percent of staff
By Lisa Brody
In response to a $14.3 million budget shortfall which was discovered in the Birmingham school district last fall, reported to families and resident in late February, superintendent Dr. Embekka Roberson has now announced that personnel will be reduced by approximately 10 percent for the 2022-2023 school year.
In a letter sent out to BPS families on May 27, Roberson wrote, “I’m deeply saddened that we have a budget challenge looming over us. This week we began the difficult process of meeting with staff members who will not have a position with our district next school year… despite our best efforts, there is simply no way to avoid staff reductions given the magnitude of our structural budget challenges.”
She described the layoffs as, “Total reductions amount to approximately 105 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions, including 46 teacher/certified staff, 19 paraprofessionals, two building administrators, one Central Leadership Team position, 13 Central Leadership staff, and 24 other positions. Reductions include resignations, retirements, and unfilled positions, so the exact number of layoffs is less than the 105 FTE reduction.”
Roberson, who became superintendent last July 1, along with other administrative staff, discovered budget discrepancies last October. What had been assumed to be an estimated $1.58 million budget shortfall, approved by the Birmingham Board of Education in late June 2021 as part of the 2021-2022 budget, was actually a $14.3 million due to discrepancies in both revenue and expenditure estimates, including underestimations of salary and retirement calculations for the 2021-22 school year, an overestimation of student enrollment, and an over-levying of property taxes which will result in a credit to taxpayers, Roberson explained to families in February.
One-time federal and state grants were sought and applied to part of the shortfall, as well as $3.49 million of the district's $20 million fund balance, but there is still outstanding debt.
Other issues which Roberson acknowledged need to be rectified is a 10-year decline in enrollment in the district. Enrollment has declined from 8,375 students in the 2012-2013 school year to 7,283 students in the 2021-2022 school year. However, the district received funding from the state for 7,297 students for this school year, an excess of 545 students, which is money the district has to return. Relative to the excess taxes charged in the past, the district plans a temporary school millage suspension.
As for the staff layoffs, “These staffing changes are also necessary long-term as we realign our district to meet the current reality of declining enrollment. Our district has lost about 1,000 students in the last 10 years, including 600 in just the last two years,” Roberson wrote to families. “Declining birth rates have been a factor in declining enrollment, and the trend was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as some families took their children out of the district. While we are beginning to hear from many families that want to return, this will be a slow and gradual process.”
Roberson assured families that while the realignment is a painful, “we will secure the financial health of our district moving forward, and every decision must be made with our students at the center. This means adjusting staffing while keeping class sizes competitive, keeping programming options that make BPS unique, and helping students prepare for success beyond their K-12 careers. It means utilizing our Strategic Plan to guide our vision of student success academically, socially, and emotionally. Finally, it means delivering on my promise to you to emerge a stronger, more effective Birmingham Public Schools community.”