Alabama education department cuts positions, pay in reorganization

By Trisha Powell Crain 

Thirty-nine positions were cut from the Alabama Department of Education in the reorganization of that agency, and some employees took “substantial” cuts in salaries, according to information Interim State Superintendent Ed Richardson shared with the Alabama Board of Education at Thursday’s work session.

The agency came under fire last year after concerns over whether the department could stay within its budget were aired during former Superintendent Michael Sentance’s tenure. A hiring freeze was in effect at the department until two months ago, when Richardson asked board members to lift the restriction to allow for the reorganization, he said.

Richardson said no one was laid off or lost their job, but some employees retired, others had their titles changed, and some positions were already vacant.

State lawmakers, he said, were particularly concerned with the large number of highly-paid exempt employees. Exempt employees give up the protection of the state’s merit system in exchange for higher pay.

“Exempt people serve at the pleasure of the superintendent,” Richardson told board members. “That means when the superintendent leaves, those employees are dismissed and have to be re-employed.” Richardson said that process has not been followed in recent years.

Richardson told board members other agencies of their size typically had around five exempt employees. The department’s 43 exempt positions were trimmed by nearly half, to 23 positions. Another 13 positions will be reclassified into merit positions by May, he said, leaving the department with 10 exempt employees.

The number of Deputy Superintendents was reduced from four to two and the Chief of Staff position was eliminated. No information was available about how much money the reorganization will save taxpayers.

The Alabama Department of Personnel conducted an audit focused on right-sizing the education department over the past few months, Richardson said. One goal was to reduce the overall number of exempt positions, he said.

The other focus of the audit, Richardson said, was exempt employee pay. “Many [exempt employees] were well above any reasonable salary schedule,” he said, with some as high as $30,000 to $35,000 above “normal” salaries.

He told board members this was not the fault of the employees. “If I was working and somebody said I want to pay you more, I probably would say yes, as most of us would,” he said.

Chief State School Financial Officer Andy Craig said the personnel department confirmed that the education department, “was organized around programs and pots of money as opposed to where the function needs to happen.”

The reorganization will also group popular programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative, Alabama Science in Motion, Technology in Motion and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative together under a newly-created unit called Professional Learning to be led by Dr. Jeff Langham.

The full organizational chart is embedded below.


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