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Birmingham City Council President Opposes Up to $5 Million For Area College

Birmingham City Council President Wardine Alexander

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Council President Wardine Alexander said on Tuesday she would rather spend up to $5 million on neighborhoods and city school students than on Birmingham-Southern College, which is seeking financial commitments to reach a $200 million fundraising goal over the next several years.

The Council voted 6-1 to approve a resolution of intent to provide funding for BSC as the institution works its way back from a period of financial uncertainty. Alexander was the lone no vote, with Councilors Darrell O’Quinn and Clinton Woods absent.

“If [between] $2.5 or $5 million is available for use, I would ask that we use it towards paving more streets, adding more grocery stores, helping our students overcome challenges posed by the Alabama Literacy Act and expanding broadband access to our citizens,” Alexander said before the item was passed.

At the end of this school year, third graders not reading at grade level will not move on to fourth grade, unless administrators can document their progress through good cause, due to the Alabama Literacy Act, passed in 2019 to help improve reading in the state’s public schools, which takes effect this year.

“If we consider this money, I would like for us [councilors] to truly consider what we give to our neighborhoods when it comes to road improvements, when it comes to blight, when it comes to weed abatement,” said the council president.

The next steps will be for the mayor to draft an agreement, which will include the funding source, the amount of funds to be provided, as well as conditions that must be met by BSC. That will then come before the Council for final approval.

Tuesday’s vote signals the council’s “intent” to provide BSC with somewhere between $2.5 and $5 million, an amount which takes almost $600,000 per council district, said Alexander, who pointed out that in her own District 7, West Brownsville, for example, “there are streets all grown up with grass and weeds,” she said, “…you’re living next to a lot that is terribly overgrown, you have to wait, but today, we have this opportunity again to help Birmingham-Southern.”

City Councilor J.T. Moore

Councilor J.T. Moore, chair of the Council’s Education Committee, said he would like to see BSC “become a part of the Birmingham Promise network of schools. We want to increase the access that our students have to this institution, and create a more robust partnership with BSC, especially as we look to improve our reading levels in city schools. Their service-based learning model has been a great resource, and we’d like to build on that moving forward.”

Birmingham Promise is a nonprofit, initially a city initiative but now operating independently, which provides scholarships, internships and apprenticeships to Birmingham City Schools students and graduates.

Moore also said “there are those who feel as though we don’t want to end up with another situation where we have another Carraway property or vacancy in our city,” referencing Carraway Hospital, which stood vacant for more than a decade and the possibility of BSC being vacant.

Councilor Carol Clarke said she was happy to support BSC, which is in her District 8, which she represents.

“I feel like it’s really critical for District 8 that this very stable and productive use of 200 acres, that’s sort of like the pinnacle of our area, remains,” she said.

One thing that BSC should have learned about public support is to better “tell its story,” Clarke said.

“I feel like I’m close enough to the school to see their good works in the community, but maybe the broader community doesn’t get to see that, so if there’s a fault, it’s not tooting your own horn,” Clarke said.

Since the end of 2022, BSC been asking for both private and public support to help keep the school, which has been operating since 1856, open. The initial ask from BSC President Daniel Coleman, included $30 million from the state of Alabama, as well as $5 million from the city of Birmingham and $2.5 million from Jefferson County.

It is yet to be determined whether Jefferson County will provide any funding for the school, and the city of Birmingham must now develop the specific terms of whatever support they offer.