By Chris Woods
In Birmingham, we currently face a crisis in regards to how to stabilize, repair, and strengthen our school system. The sad truth is that our school system has been viewed as sub par for decades and we as a city have not taken adequate corrective action. The latest data from USA.com lists the Birmingham city school district as number 113 out of 142 school districts in Alabama. Birmingham is consistently in the bottom 10 percent of all school district rankings. This is unacceptable.
As a business minded individual, I cannot help but to look deeper into the issues than what is visible on the surface and what I see is not pretty. Last year alone, 700 students transferred out of the Birmingham city school system. This means that the $5000 in state funding associated with each student also left the school system; this translates into a loss in funding of $3.5 million in one year alone. Did the school system leadership adjust overhead to reflect the $3.5 million in lost revenue? The continual trend of students leaving the school system is the major reason that the Birmingham school board has had to close several schools leaving the buildings unused, deteriorating, and draining life from the community.
Why is providing a great public education in Birmingham so important? It is extremely important, because of what an inadequate education creates. There is a direct correlation between education and crime. In other words, if you are not educated nor possess a skilled trade you are statistically more likely to participate in or become a victim of crime.
I strongly feel that increasing the quality of education will be required in order to realize a long term sustainable reduction of crime in Birmingham. Another important issue that I feel has a direct correlation to the quality of our school system are our property values. When families move out of Birmingham or never move into the city to avoid the school system it causes our property values to remain stagnant or even decline. The quality of education is often the major factor in where parents decide to raise their families.
The school system was previously controlled by the state and recently there have been discussions of more interventions by the State of Alabama. With intervention looming and charter schools gaining approval to operate in the city, we must make immediate changes in order to reverse the trend of students and families flowing out of the Birmingham city school system in search of better educational opportunities for their children.
I understand that the responsibility of the schools falls on the superintendent and school board, but now more than ever, because of the seriousness of the situation that we find ourselves in as a city, Birmingham needs a Mayor that is willing to do what needs to be done for our children. I feel that it is our responsibility to ensure that our children have a rock solid foundation to launch from as they go out into the world. I fear that the biggest problem that we have in our schools is that our children do not see themselves as being successful in the future.
As Mayor, I will fight to change that. I plan to work with the school board to return the “Industrial Arts” program to the Birmingham city school system. The industrial arts program will pave the way for students to learn a trade. This will give our children an opportunity to develop a skill that will allow them to make a livable wage after graduating high school. I personally benefited from this program while I was in school at Parker High School and many of my friends used the skills they gained in high school to go on to long careers with Alabama Power and Alagasco. Furthermore, many students went on to successful careers in the auto industry, construction industry, graphic arts, etc. Many used the skills they acquired to start their own businesses. The average annual salary for a plumber is $40,000, electrician $45,000, mechanic $45,000 and carpenter $35,000. On the campaign trail, I met an electrician who stated he earns $60,000 a year working eight months a year and could earn more if he wanted additional work.
I can see great possibilities, as I look around the country and see the millions of jobs that continually remain unfilled, because the work force lacks the adequate skills to fill them. It is abundantly apparent to me that there is an excellent opportunity for our children if we can adequately equip them. In my opinion, we must bring back the trade schools to give all of our students options and to ensure a future for our children that don’t desire to go to college immediately after graduating high school. Many of the available jobs in trade and industry start at around $40,000.00 per year. Birmingham, I ask that you dream with me for a moment and imagine our children being able to take advantage of these opportunities. I have a plan to make this dream a reality.
My plan will go further than simply introducing skills and trades to students, but my plan will give students the opportunity to achieve certifications that are recognized by employers. If we continue to push our children thru school without ensuring they have a solid foundation and a plan for their future then we are not only failing our children, but we are also weakening the future of our city. One thing is certain, if city hall continues to invest so little into the education of our children, then we will continue to get the same results. I am Chris Woods Birmingham, Change Has Come!
Chris Woods, owner of a construction management and general contracting firm, is a candidate for mayor of Birmingham.