The Birmingham City Council is divided in its support for a Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) bailout, even as Gov. Kay Ivey, state legislators and a Jefferson County commissioner have already expressed disinterest in forking up money for the private school.
Birmingham-Southern is a private Methodist-affiliated college. Late last year, the college requested a $37.5 million bailout from local, state and federal taxpayers. The bailout has also garnered the support of State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestvia Hills) and State Rep. Jim Carns (R-Vestavia Hills).
The college asked for $12.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds and $17.5 million from the state education fund. It also requested a $5 million contribution from the Birmingham City Council and $2.5 million from the Jefferson County Commission (JCC).
JCC president Jimmie Stephens warned 1819 News last year that bailing out a private college could be a "slippery slope."
In January, BSC officials asked alums to lobby state and local elected officials for a $37.5 million bailout from the government.
However, State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said in February that it was not likely that the state would pursue a bailout for the college.
Earlier this month, the Alabama Legislature appropriated money from the Americana Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and did not include any to help BSC with its financial woes.
The Birmingham City Council discussed a resolution to support BSC financially if it were to gain support from the state and county levels at its meeting on Tuesday morning.
“This resolution really spells out the [college’s] economic impact to the City of Birmingham with 300 direct employees … as well as 1,200 indirect employees that are not employees of Birmingham Southern but still work at the campus with almost a $100 million economic impact to our metro area annually,” said City Councilman Hunter Williams. “I think that this institution does bring a lot in terms of economic development to the City of Birmingham.”
“Birmingham Southern is the giant in my neighborhood where I live,” said Councilwoman Carol Clarke. “... The school is old. It was here before Birmingham was incorporated, and, in my opinion, it has been a mighty force for good in my community.”’
Clarke and Williams brought the resolution to the council, but they were not alone in their support for the bailout.
Councilwoman Valerie Abbott, who received her master’s degree from BSC, also argued in favor of the resolution.
“Somebody said, ‘Well, it’s private,” Abbott began. “Well, thank goodness. Just think of another school asking for money from the state to try to keep operating. So, thank goodness there are lots of people willing to pitch in … I commend my colleagues for coming forth with this because it is overdue.”
Other council members voiced reservations about the resolution.
Council President Pro Tempore Crystal Smitherman questioned whether or not the resolution had a purpose since the state had already declined to give BSC money.
“I’m not anti-Birmingham Southern,” said Smitherman “[T]he state did not approve [BSC] for ARPA funding. I don’t think it’s fair that we haven’t had an opportunity to ask [BSC president Daniel Coleman] questions.”
Councilman Clinton Woods expressed concern about BSC’s “sustainability” and “diversity.”
Due to the disagreement, the council postponed action on the resolution until its meeting on April 19.
The resolution did not include a dollar amount that the city would be willing to offer BSC. Nor does it go into detail about where the city would get the money. A spokesperson from Ivey’s office told WVTM that the governor had no plan to bail out the private school.
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