The Senate Education Policy Wednesday approved a bill that would remove Alabama Education Association executive secretary Henry Mabry from the board overseeing the Teachers Retirement Systems and add two members representing four-year colleges.
The 4 to 3 vote split down party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it. Republican Sens. Dick Brewbaker of Montgomery and Trip Pittman of Montrose abstained.
The legislation would keep membership of the board at 14 members, but drop Mabry and one of the two members representing education support personnel, while adding two members from four year colleges. Eleven of the members would be elected from the the groups they represent, up from the current ten; the elections would be run by a third party. The state schools superintendent, state finance director and state treasurer would continue to serve as ex officio members of the board.
Members serve three-year terms on the board. If passed, one of the four-year slots would be filled this year, with the other filled in 2015.
The bill would also remove the board’s power to fill vacancies among the trustees by a majority vote, and give that power to the Governor.
Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, the sponsor of the legislation, argued that four-year college members deserved representation on the board. The system, according to information from the state Senate, has 127,623 current employees, with 84,000 of those employees in K-12 education, 34,000 in four-year colleges and 5,000 in two-year colleges.
“It’s one of those kind of things in Tuscaloosa where we have over 1,500 employees on our campus (The University of Alabama), who do not have anyone representing them on the retirement board,” Allen said at the meeting.
AEA claims nearly 100,000 members. The AEA executive secretary currently serves as an ex officio member of the board. In a statement last week, Mabry said the bill “continues the legislative leadership’s relentless and irrational attack on public school teachers, their jobs, and their future financial security.” No AEA officials spoke at Wednesday morning’s meeting, but Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, asked if the bill “was another stab at killing AEA,” saying four-year colleges could get additional representation by simply adding two members to the board.
“It would make more sense to add them to the board,” she said. “We’ve done that before.”
Allen denied the bill was an attack on AEA, saying it was targeted to increase representation for four-year institutions.
Jack Bradford, a five-time president of the UAB Retirees’ Association, spoke strongly for the bill.
“Currently, the situation is much like being from an Alabama county from which we have no senator, no representative,” he said. “We have to borrow someone else’s to have our thoughts expressed.”
However, Bradford also defended Mabry’s presence on the board, saying he brought a wealth of knowledge and financial expertise to the board.
“We need someone on that board of directors who is a representative of educators and has the power of the history of what’s happened,” Bradford said. “That person is Henry Mabry.”
– posted by Brian Lyman