Connect with us

Featured Columnists

Opinion | The Montgomery takeover continues to fail

Josh Moon

Published

on

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

A scam.

That’s what the Alabama State Department of Education’s intervention into Montgomery Public Schools is.

Advertisement

From the outrageous hires made by former superintendent Michael Sentance — almost all of whom have now been pushed out, but not before costing the state and the cash-strapped MPS system hundreds of thousands of dollars — to the ignoring of state laws and basic decency by current interim superintendent Ed Richardson, the “takeover” has been an unmitigated disaster that, while plenty costly, has done nothing to better the lives of a single MPS student or teacher.

For the second time during this fiasco, the Alabama Education Association has filed a lawsuit over this boondoggle. The latest one came Friday, and it challenges Richardson’s authority to force MPS to sell Georgia Washington School to the Pike Road school system.

It is a power that Richardson clearly does not have under the law.

And that says nothing of the simple indecency of it.

Let me sum up the forced Georgia Washington sell in one long and awful sentence: A white man who once “consulted” with a startup school district that broke away from a minority-heavy district, which has struggled mightily because of a history of racial issues, is attempting to force that minority district to sell a school started by a former slave, and formed to educate black children who were being ignored by the state, to a mostly-white school district.

And it gets worse.

Not only is Richardson demanding that MPS sell that school to Pike Road, he is also making the return of $1.4 million — money from the state that should have gone to MPS but was wrongly sent to PRS — contingent on that sale.

It is deplorable.

Of course, deplorable isn’t a legal argument. But property rights are, and that’s why AEA is likely to prevail in court.

Following the death of Georgia Washington, the school grounds were conveyed by the trustees to the Montgomery County School Board. Washington is buried on the property.

In the meantime, there is nothing within the school takeover law, aside from broad language that allows the state superintendent to take corrective actions to alleviate financial issues, that provides Richardson with the authority to force MPS, or any other school system, to sell off property. Especially if the county board specifically votes not to sell off that property.

And that brings up another point: MPS is not in some dire financial mess.

For years, the school system has operated without having a month’s reserves in the bank. No one cared.

No one from the state ever called over to warn MPS. There were no letters asking why. There was zero concern.

Until, it seems, the state wanted to intervene.

Yet, the first move by ALSDE under Sentance was to make numerous hires of administrators, placing many of them on the MPS payroll.

No extra teachers. No extra books. No extra security officers. And no payroll cuts.

Then Richardson lands in the seat, and suddenly, there are DIRE financial issues of … not enough in reserve. So, the MPS board proposes a few budget cuts to make up the shortfall. Richardson responds by telling them that they’ve reworked the numbers and the shortfall is actually bigger. So, they need to make more cuts.

And then he drops this nugget of nonsense: MPS will need to cut 200-plus teachers.

It’s complete and utter BS.

Yet, this threat — this “we’ll have to cut 200 teachers” farce — has become Richardson’s answer to every challenge, as though it’s true.

In order to save the 200 teachers and get those reserves in the bank, MPS needs to consolidate, Richardson says. Sell off Georgia Washington to PRS, close a few other schools, too, and trim central office staff.

It’s a mere coincidence, of course, that this is all occurring at the same time that there’s a big charter school push in Montgomery, when charter schools need cheap school buildings in which to operate. What luck!

However, before you hit your knees to thank God for the arrival of charter schools, you should know that we absolutely plan to Alabama the hell out of this process.

Montgomery’s first charter was approved a couple of weeks ago. The LEAD Academy. The Charter School Commission that Richardson used to head approved it.

Small problem: the Commission approved it after ignoring the advice from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, one of the foremost authorities on charter schools and the authority that the Alabama Commission pays to review charter applications.

The NACSA, in its report to the Commission, said LEAD “does not meet the standard for approval,” because it failed to fully meet minimum standards in all three subject areas. Among other problems, LEAD’s application failed to provide a clear and comprehensive education plan, the board lacked k-12 leadership experience and its financial plan contained assumptions that didn’t appear reasonable.

But never mind all of that. Montgomery needs charter schools to sell to a fleeing public so it can pay its bills. So, APPROVED!

Because the answer to Montgomery’s failing schools is obviously a charter school that failed the application process.

Look, let’s be clear: the Montgomery system has serious problems — problems that have been created over decades because of abuse and neglect and mismanagement and racism and greed. It needs help.

But this takeover, it’s just more of the same.

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Judicial races highlighted – June 5 primary

Steve Flowers

Published

on

This is not just a gubernatorial year in the Heart of Dixie.

We have every constitutional office up for election which includes Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Agriculture Commissioner.

We also have a good many of the State Judicial races on the ballot. We have nine seats on our State Supreme Court. We have five judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, as well as five seats on the Court of Civil Appeals. All of these judicial posts are held by Republicans. Therefore, it is more than likely safe to assume that the winner of the Republican primary will be elected to a six-year term and can be fitted for their robe, at least by July 17. In fact, Democrats usually do not even field candidates in state judicial races.

Advertisement

Over the past two decades, a prevailing theme has been that women have become favored in state judicial races. In fact, it was safe to say that if you put two candidates on the ballot for a state judicial position, one named John Doe and the other Jane Doe, and neither campaigned or spent any money, Jane Doe would defeat John Doe.

However, for some inexplicable reason, this prevalence reversed itself on June 5, in the Republican primary. In the much-anticipated race for the extremely important Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, position two of the sitting members of the Supreme Court were pitted against each other. 

Justice Lyn Stuart, who is the longest serving member on the State Supreme Court, had moved into the Chief Justice role after the departure of Judge Roy Moore. She was running for Chief Justice for the full six-year term. Justice Tom Parker was Roy Moore’s closest ally and is now the most socially conservative activist on the court. Parker and Moore dip from the same well.

Parker chose to challenge Stuart for Chief Justice. The Lyn Stuart vs Tom Parker contest was billed as one of the Titanic battles of the Primary season. Stuart was the darling of the business community. Parker openly was carrying the banner of the social conservatives. Parker bested Stuart 52 percent to 48 percent. Most of Parker’s financial backing came from plaintiff trial lawyers. Parker does have Democratic opposition from Birmingham attorney, Robert Vance, Jr. However, he should win election in November.

Judge Brad Mendheim was facing two prominent female Circuit judges, Debra Jones of Anniston and Sarah Hicks Stewart of Mobile, for Place 1 on the State Supreme Court. Mendheim has been a longtime popular Circuit Judge in Dothan. He was appointed to this Supreme Court seat by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year.  Mendheim decisively outdistanced his female opponents by garnering 43 percent of the vote. He is expected to win election to a full six-year term on the high tribunal on July 17.

Another example of the male uprising in the court contests occurred in the race for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. Judge Terri Willingham Thomas, who has been on this court since 2006 and has served with distinction, was shockingly defeated by her unknown male opponent, Chad Hanson.

Pickens County Prosecutor Chris McCool forged to the front in the race for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. He led 43 to 35 over Rich Anderson from the Montgomery/River Region.

In the other court races, the candidate who raised the most money and was able to buy some TV time prevailed.

In the State Supreme Court race in Place 4, two Birmingham attorneys, John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, were pitted against each other. Mitchell significantly outspent Bahaked and won 73 to 27.

Christy Edwards of Montgomery and Michelle Thomason of Baldwin County are headed for a runoff for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals.

Richard Minor defeated Riggs Walker overwhelmingly 66 to 34 for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the seat for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals there was yet another display of male dominance in the court races. Bill Cole bested Donna Beaulieu 60 to 40. 

On Saturday before the Primary, legendary Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Clement Clay “Bo” Torbert, passed away at 88 in his beloved City of Opelika. His funeral was on Election Day. Judge Torbert served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for 12 years, 1976 to 1988. He had previously served two terms in the State Senate prior to his election as Chief Justice.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | We could do worse than John Merrill

Josh Moon

Published

on

I’m going to do something that my progressive friends will mostly not like.

I’m going to say nice things about Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

I know. I know.

Advertisement

But hear me out.

Because part of the reason that I’m doing this is I believe politics at every level has devolved into such a scorched-earth, I-hate-everyone-on-the-other-side sort of spectacle that we’re no longer willing to say any person from the other team is doing anything good. Even when they are.

And Merrill is.

Yes, I know he’s blocked several dozen people on Twitter, and I find that silly and pointless and illegal.

And yes, I know he has been snarky and sarcastic to some of you. And to me.

But even so, we’re lucky we have Merrill.

Because it could be so much worse.

If you doubt this, I would like to point you to news stories from other states with Republican-dominated legislatures. Like Ohio, where they’re booting active voters off rolls for missing a single election. Or North Carolina, which implemented the most unreasonable voter ID law in the nation to prevent minorities from going to the polls.

Alabama has one of those voter ID laws, too. And it has the right now to kick voters off the rolls for missing an election.

But what you don’t have in Alabama is anywhere near the level of disenfranchisement of voters. Even a federal judge agreed, when upholding Alabama’s ID law.

That’s mostly due to Merrill’s work.

When Alabama’s legislature passed its voter ID law a few years ago, it placed very few requirements on Merrill’s office for how to go about making those IDs available. It was a stupid, pointless law that in no way deterred voter fraud, but it was a law that Merrill’s office had to deal with.

Instead of taking the usual Alabama path and doing the absolute bare minimum required in the job, Merrill went the other way. In the years since that law was passed, his office has put a mobile ID unit on the street, they’ve coordinated with various groups to set up registration drives in underserved areas, they’ve actually visited the homes of people to issue voter IDs and they’ve implemented electronic registration.

That last one has been the biggie, with more than 60 percent of voters registered during Merrill’s tenure coming since the electronic registration went live a little more than a year ago. That electronic rollout also included an app — an app built by the staff of the Secretary of State’s office.

They’ve tried to work with the county Boards of Registrars to get registration info into the communities and schools. They’ve pushed registration through an ad campaign. And they’ve been willing to travel to pretty much any festival, ball game, bake sale or other community function to set up a registration drive.  

And let me repeat: None of this was required of the Secretary of State’s office.

At the same time, Merrill took a different approach from Ohio to cleaning up the voting rolls (removing deceased voters, people who moved, etc.). Instead of labeling voters who fail to return a verification card as “inactive,” the SoS office implemented a two-step process that began when only if the Post Office returned a notice for a voter.

And even if the two notices were somehow missed, if a voter shows up to the polls and finds themselves on the inactive list, the fix is simply updating the SoS address card at the polling place and then voting a regular ballot (not a provisional one).  

Again, this wasn’t required. And a much more mean-spirited, onerous process is now perfectly legal, according to our Supreme Court.

The decision to make Alabama’s process reasonable and fair was Merrill’s.

And look, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merrill and his staff shouldn’t get huge praise for doing the job they should be doing. After all, voter registration is the top priority in that gig, and there’s not a close second. So maybe we shouldn’t be handing out cookies for stuff the Secretary of State is supposed to do.

But that line of thinking ignores the reality of Alabama politics and the reality of the politically polarized country in which we live.

Because you just know that nine out of 10 Republican politicians wouldn’t have done half the things Merrill has. They would’ve offered a Jeff Sessions, little-kid-burning-ants, evil grin and hid behind the law and the lack of funds and the indifference.

That’s the norm.

So, yeah, Merrill loves the spotlight and camera lights. He has weird, right-wing beliefs that I wholly disagree with. And he has not always done enough to protect voter rights.

But man, things could be so much worse without him.

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | State schools chief backtracks, Montgomery schools mess grows

Josh Moon

Published

on

Never mind.

That’s essentially what state schools superintendent Eric Mackey told parents, business leaders, school system employees and everyone else on Tuesday, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that he — the top executive in all of Alabama public education — might have been mistaken when he talked about the effects of Montgomery’s public schools potentially losing accreditation.

Oops.

Advertisement

A little more than a week ago, a few days before school board elections in the county, Mackey stood before the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and Montgomery County Commission and told a dire tale of hardship that was certain to set upon the poor children of Montgomery if board changes were not made.

No out-of-state colleges.

No private colleges.

No federal aid.

The effects would be devastating, driving people from the capital city at a pace faster than they’re currently leaving.

Small problem: None of that was true.

I called Mackey on it. I asked his office to provide evidence that it was true, because the Federal Student Aid office told me it wasn’t and two college presidents said it wasn’t.

But that was prior to the elections still, so the best I could get from Mackey was a garbled statement explaining that a loss of accreditation was very bad, which, of course, no one was arguing. But it’s one thing to say it’s bad and quite another to have the state schools superintendent stand before you and say your kids won’t be able to attend college unless you make changes to the school board.

That last part is what Mackey did. He was flat wrong.

And now he’s saying so. But he’s blaming it on an unnamed source. Because apparently Alabama’s superintendent of schools needs to be told by someone else what accreditation loss means.

Mackey wouldn’t tell the Advertiser who the source was, but he insisted that the source was “reputable.”

You’ll have to decide whether, at this point, Mackey is reputable enough to be believed.

Because that’s not all Mackey was apparently wrong about. During that speech to the County Commission, Mackey was discussing an accreditation report on MPS from the district’s accreditation agency, AdvancED. The report was, to put it lightly, not good.

But to hear Mackey and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange talk, unless those board changes were made — changes that were being pushed by a political action committee tied to the mayor and his consultants — well there was just no way to avoid a loss of accreditation.

Fast forward to the same Advertiser interview: Mackey now says not to sweat that loss of accreditation, because MPS was forced into selling off Georgia Washington Middle School and because it’s operating a summer reading program that was already scheduled when the accreditation review took place.

Read that again. Let it sink in.

MPS losing accreditation, according to Mackey and other city leaders, rested on the sale of a middle school building and a summer reading program. Oh, and don’t let me forget those terrible board arguments — the ones that never rose to the level of formal complaints, rules violations or violations of state open meetings laws.

If all of that is true, AdvancED accreditation is worthless.

But slightly less worthless than the opinion of anyone from the state department of education on the operation of a local school district. Because if the state’s operation of Montgomery’s school district is any indication, they have no idea what they’re doing.

MPS was better run by MPS.

In the year and a half or so that ALSDE has been in charge of MPS, they have overspent on administrators, overspent on an odd cleaning contract instead of allowing already-employed custodians to do it, gave out raises to failing school principals, then had to give out raises to all principals, forgot to get their expensive administrators certified (some still aren’t), hired a guy who was barred from all of New York City’s schools and had to quietly run off most of the administrative hires it made.

But here are the two kickers: 1. After all of the money that has been spent, there hasn’t been a single additional teacher, aide, coach or book purchased to help improve the learning environment of a child in MPS, and 2. After all the complaints of mismanagement, not a single principal was removed.

Now, look here, MPS has serious, serious problems, and there isn’t a soul alive who would deny that. But what’s taking place in Montgomery right now isn’t an effort to better anything for those poor kids. It’s an effort to protect the pocketbooks of a few wealthy businessmen.

It’s an effort to simply change the image of MPS, instead of its culture and basic operation. It’s yet another attempt to educate the advantaged at the expense of the disadvantaged.

It’s wrong. As wrong as the state superintendent.

 

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Opinion | The Montgomery takeover continues to fail

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
0