2018 promises to be an interesting time, as the Chinese blessing (or curse) goes. Alabama and Birmingham, specifically, will be tackling many issues involving education and school management, jobs and the economy, the environment, crime and, of course, party politics and political leadership, to name a few.
BirminghamWatch asked community leaders and reporters to highlight one important matter they’ll pay attention to in 2018. Here’s what they had to say.”
Birmingham People for Birmingham Jobs
Developing the local workforce to fill jobs that are available, and to fill needs of businesses we want to recruit, will continue to be a challenge for the Birmingham region. Job growth is now flat; our growth and success will depend on whether we can put together a robust enough effort to address workforce skills.
Ann Florie, executive director of Leadership Birmingham
A Pivotal Year for Alabama Public Education
The state Department of Education continues to implement the new federal accountability law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the state school board will select a new student assessment tool. However, more long-lasting change likely will come when the board selects a new state superintendent, the third in three years. Meanwhile, legislators are discussing changes to the composition of the school board, and what role Alabama’s governor will play on the board remains to be seen.
Ryan Hankins, executive director of Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama
A Plan for Managing Alabama Waters
We are watching to see if a state agency that emphasizes business development can successfully compile a water management plan fair to all users, including agriculture, industry, recreation and public water utilities. Late in 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey disbanded a broad-based commission that was developing a plan and handed the project to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Office of Water Resources. The final reports assessing the state’s current and projected surface and groundwater usage are expected early this year.
Hank Black, reporter for BirminghamWatch
A New Approach to Violent Crime
Last year was Birmingham’s deadliest year in decades, with 114 recorded homicides — the most since 1995. “We’ve reached a tipping point where I’d define it as an epidemic or crisis,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said in November. He said he would have to address the issue in “unorthodox ways.” With the search for a new police chief underway, as well as Woodfin’s apparent plan to overhaul — if not outright replace — the Violence Reduction Initiative, the city’s approach to violent crime should undergo dramatic changes in 2018.
Sam Prickett, reporter for BirminghamWatch
A Way Forward for Birmingham Schools
Birmingham City Schools, with a new superintendent and mostly new school board, this year will continue to target academic improvement. The system has been working to lift 13 schools out of failing status.
Jackie Romine Walburn, reporter for BirminghamWatch
Supreme Court Decision on Partisan Gerrymandering
Alabama’s legislative districts have been cause for dispute and court cases for years, mostly because of questions about racial fairness. Now, a Supreme Court decision on districts drawn to favor one political party could upend power in Alabama and nationwide.
Carol Nunnelley, executive director of BirminghamWatch
Gardendale’s Effort to Form a City School System
Gardendale’s attempt to break off from the Jefferson County School System and form its own municipal system awaits the decision of three judges at the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorneys for the city contend they should gain control of all four schools in the city, not just the two elementary schools as ordered by the district court last year. Attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund argued the opposite, saying the schools should remain with the county system because the separation effort is racially motivated. A decision on the appeal is expected in the next few weeks. The losing side may seek a hearing before the full court. After that, the final course of appeal is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Robert Carter, reporter for BirminghamWatch
Elections on the Horizon (Yes, again)
After a long year of political debate, campaigns are starting up again for Alabama’s state elections. On the ballot are races for governor and other constitutional officers, legislators, a chief justice and multiple Supreme Court and appellate justices, state Board of Education members, and circuit and district court judges across the state. Primaries are June 5 with a July 17 runoff and Nov. 6 general election. Also on the schedule are several municipal elections, including for all Bessemer city offices and Mountain Brook’s city council. Those elections are Aug. 28.
Virginia Martin, editor for BirminghamWatch
What news are you watching for in 2018? Visit our Facebook post and tell us in a comment, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org ,and we might watch it, too. We always want to know what’s important to people in the community.