Alabama school employees in limbo with PEEHIP lawsuit

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A lawsuit between the Alabama Education Association and PEEHIP is moving forward with the hopes of getting some extra cash to Alabama teachers.

In 2016, the Alabama legislature passed a raise for teachers and school employees across the state; four percent for anyone making less than $75,000 and those making more than that would receive a two percent raise.

“When they saw that employees were getting a raise, they decided they wanted it,” said Beverly Sims, a representative for the Alabama Education Association.

PEEHIP, or the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan, then voted to increase their rates even though the legislature had fully funded what PEEHIP asked for.

“Some of our employees were actually bringing home less on their paychecks after they got a raise and then had to pay for those increases,” Sims said.

AEA sued PEEHIP saying their vote was illegally done because the meeting discussing these raises was closed; according to the Open Meeting Act, what the PEEHIP board talked about should only be discussed in an open meeting, and the first court ruled in AEA’s favor.

“The first judge ordered PEEHIP to put all of these increases in escrow. They could not spend the money, so if the ruling is in our favor they will have to return that money to all of the employees,” Sims said.

PEEHIP has filed an appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court.

The court held verbal arguments for the appeal on Wednesday and now everyone is in limbo until the court makes their decision.

“It’s been so long since they had a real raise that they could really make a difference in their pocket, so if they get that money back as a lump sum I cannot even explain to you how happy they will be,” Sims said.

The court did not give an expected date for when they’ll have their decision. Sims says the employees would love to have that money for the holidays, but they’re not hopeful the court will make up their mind before then.

Community closet helping Huntsville students in need

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Imagine going to school hungry because you didn’t have any food at home or not having a coat to help you stay warm waiting at the bus stop. For many Huntsville students, that’s a reality , but one woman is trying to change that.

The purpose of the community closet is simple: helping students and families who may need a little bit of help.

If a student needs a new pair of shoes, they’re in here. If they need any hygiene products, the closet has those too. The hope is that no students or families are going to need this kind of help, but the reality is that some of them might, so the closet is stocked and ready for anyone who needs it.

“It immediately meets the needs of the kids right away,” said Audrey Crutcher, vice principal at Riverton Intermediate School.

From school supplies to snacks and warm clothes for the winter weather coming in, this closet has it all.

“It changes their whole spirit for the rest of the day, you know. They go on and I give them their high fives and thumbs up and like you look good, and that’s what all of this is here for,” Crutcher said.

The closet gives supplies to students at six schools in Huntsville; all the students have to do is ask a counselor or teacher for help and their need will be met, no questions asked.

“You know, we don’t think it’s in our neighborhood. We never think it’s in our neighborhood that kids are in need or that families are in need. You walk around your neighborhood and see that everybody has things,” said Shelly Aultman, founder of the community closet. “So to know that the classmate of my son might need food or shoes or a pencil, I just couldn’t let that happen.”

Aultman wants all students to succeed in life and in the classroom and she says this closet is helping to make that happen.

If you’d like to donate to the community closet, items can be dropped off at Riverton Intermediate School.