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Opinion | Montgomery’s charter school mess

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Good charter schools exist.

This is a fact. An undeniable fact.

There are good charter schools out there doing fantastic work, filling a void that a public school simply cannot.

The problem is there are also a lot of bad charter schools and even more just plain ol’ average charter schools — that mostly do a worse job educating kids, even when compared to schools in districts that struggle badly.

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There are horror stories from multiple states now of charters operated by scam artists, opening their doors, hauling in tax dollars, and then closing just as quickly, leaving the kids and the communities out of luck and the taxpayers on the hook. But don’t take my word for it, Google up “Charter school scam” and read through the stories.

Alabama officials swore things wouldn’t go that way in this state when they introduced legislation a couple of years ago allowing for charters.

There would be a commission. There would be some local control. There would be a set of guidelines to follow and we’d get help from people who know what they’re doing.

That help came in the form of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which was cited in the legislation allowing for charter schools as the organization that would aid Alabama in ensuring would-be charter schools complied with the basic rules and laws required to operate a successful school. The state signed a contract with NACSA, paying it nearly $70,000 to review charter applications in FY2017.

It was apparently money wasted.

A few weeks ago, the Alabama Charter School Commission approved the very first charter school for Montgomery, LEAD Academy. In doing so, the Commission flatly ignored a report from the NACSA recommending that LEAD not be approved and stating in detail how the school’s application failed to fully meet any of the three standards used for approval.

It’s even worse than it sounds.

LEAD didn’t simply forget to dot an i or cross a t. The public report from the NACSA stated that LEAD’s board lacked any experience in leading a k-12 school, that it failed to provide a clear and comprehensive program plan and that a number of items in its proposed budget were not reasonable.

But wait, it gets worse.

The NACSA report also raised questions about LEAD’s facility plan, which seemed suspect since it relied heavily on financing from a potential vendor — something NACSA considered a potential conflict of interest — with an extremely high interest rate (21.65 percent). The report also states that LEAD’s board members couldn’t answer basic questions about their plans for purchasing a building and renovations of that building.

So, NACSA considered that a potential problem.

And it was.

On Monday, LEAD announced that plans to purchase a building in Montgomery had fallen through. The search is currently on to find a new location and the school’s leadership team is unsure if the setback will delay the projected August start date.

What a mess.

And you know why it’s a mess? Because LEADs wasn’t approved because it deserved to be or because it will bring a quality school to Montgomery or because it will fill a gap that’s going unserved in Montgomery.

It was approved because of money.

The City of Montgomery desperately needs some. It desperately needs businesses to relocate to the city, bringing in families with disposable incomes to help offset the financial obligations required to fix up downtown, and it can’t do that currently because 60 years of ignoring its segregated school system has caught up to it.

And the people in suits are in a panic.

Now, we could tell people the truth: That the decades of segregation and underfunding have left Montgomery with a dire problem that will require significant resources to correct, that taxes have to be raised, that new school programs for both adults and children must be implemented and that the magnet program can no longer be segregated.

But no one wants the right way.

They want the cheap and easy way.

So, charter schools are the answer this year.

And the scheming to make sure it happens has been dialed up to 11. Just consider the coincidences.

The former head of the Charter School Commission, Ed Richardson, is now serving as interim state superintendent at a time when the state is in the midst of a takeover of Montgomery’s school system, and he couldn’t be happier to tell you about how just dadgum awful the public schools are in Montgomery.

In the meantime, Richardson’s former board votes 5-1 to approve LEAD’s application, which doesn’t seem odd until you remember that there are 11 members of the Charter School Commission. According to the bylaws posted on the Commission’s website, a majority vote of the commission is required to take action. That, by my math, would mean six votes.

But bylaws, shmylaws, amirite?

Montgomery needs a charter school by any means necessary. And it doesn’t matter, apparently, if that charter school has failed the application process, has a board staffed with people ill-equipped to operate a school, has an unreasonable financial plan, no clear program plan and has budgeted for one — ONE! — special ed teacher to teach over 100 special ed students.

None of that matters. Money does.

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Opinion | The plan to kill public education in Alabama is succeeding

Josh Moon

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Put the flashlights away, Jason Taylor has been located.

Maybe.

The Alabama State Department of Education’s $700,000 accountant is still working for the state, just not doing much — or anything, depending on who you ask — for the Montgomery Public Schools.

Instead, according to ALSDE spokesman Dr. Michael Sibley, Taylor is spending the majority of his time working with other school systems in the state, in an attempt to be more proactive and avoid issues like the ones plaguing MPS.

At least, that’s one story.

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A state school board member recently said that Alabama state superintendent Eric Mackey told the board earlier this month that Taylor was spending most of his time working in MPS.

This was news to the MPS system’s new CFO, Arthur Watts, who told his own board members that he speaks with Taylor a couple of times per week but has no idea what Taylor is working on.

You know what? I don’t even care who’s right or what the truth is.

Because at the end of the day, here’s all that matters: The Montgomery intervention has been a complete and utter dumpster fire.

Take the $700,000 being paid to Taylor, add it to the multiple six-figure contracts awarded to wholly unqualified and now-departed administrators, add that to the raises to every principal, the legal fees out the wazoo and a ridiculous cleaning bill, and you know what you get?

You get a seven-figure tab paid out by one of the brokest state departments of education in the country and by the brokest school district in that state, and somehow, someway they have failed to help one single child.

There has been no purchase of additional supplies or books. There have been no additional teachers hired. There has been not one advancement of school safety equipment, whether a security officer, a metal detector or just a damn floor mat to keep kids from slipping down on a rainy day.

Nothing.

Zip. Zero. Zilch.

And you know why this travesty has occurred?

Because somewhere along the way, like with everything else in this state, public education was hijacked by greed and self-interest and, ultimately, corruption.

That’s how we ended up with Mike Sentance in the first place — a corrupt search undermined by a state board member (who lacks self awareness to such an astonishing degree that she’s writing blog posts bemoaning corruption) and steered to land a pro-business candidate. Instead of, you know, the candidate who was best qualified to fix education.

None of the people behind that ruse cared about teaching and learning.

They cared about training kids to work in the factories of the companies to which they have given ridiculous economic incentive packages. Because teaching students to read and write and do complicated equations is hard damn work and just takes too much money. Lots easier to just train ‘em for the job you want them to have instead of producing well-rounded citizens with career options.

This has been the dream of the business class in this state for years.

Montgomery was to be the first test in this plan — a combination of trade schools and charters and conversion charters.

But like all things done in Alabama, it turned into the powerful white men trying to force a system change on everyone else. Instead of doing things the right way and presenting well-meaning, well-intentioned ideas to the general public and building support for a comprehensive plan that benefitted all students, ALSDE and Montgomery leaders went with the we-know-what’s-best-for-you-so-shut-up approach.

And it has been an unmitigated disaster.

Which is how you end up with a $700,000 accountant who isn’t accounting. And a superintendent who lasts a year. And your third largest school system in, astonishingly, a bigger mess than it was before the state intervened and spent millions.

What’s happened, and continues to happen, in Montgomery is a microcosm of the failures in public education around Alabama.

Greedy people making selfish decisions, with the best interest of educating ALL children near the bottom of the priority list, and lining their pockets and the pockets of people like them at the very top of that list.

From the AAA to charter schools to pathetic funding to phony “failing schools” lists to ignorant rants over Common Core, these people have been hell bent on ruining public education in Alabama for decades.

And it’s the only thing in education at which they’re succeeding.

 

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Opinion | Men are pigs; yes, they are

Joey Kennedy

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So it’s happening again.

A woman accuses a man of sexually assaulting her many years ago, this time while she and the man were in high school, and the voices, mostly those of men (but a few women, too) declare openly that she should have come forward earlier.

Why wait years, even decades, before making such damaging accusations? If it’s true, she should have come forward right after the assault took place. Right?

Federal judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominated to fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is being accused by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of sexually assaulting her while they were at a party in high school. As usual when a woman comes forward with such accounts, the men – in this case, Kavanaugh and those supporting him – lash out at the accuser and deny anything ever occurred.

We’ve seen this many times before: Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, CBS boss Les Moonves, former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore, Fox News chief Roger Ailes, television journalist Charlie Rose, comedian Louis C.K., even our notorious president Donald Trump and many others, including Anniston Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers.

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The Ayers case is especially close to me, because Ayers assaulted my wife, Veronica, by striking her 18 times on her butt with a metal ruler in the Star newsroom more than four decades ago, even as she fought and yelled at him to stop. In Veronica’s case, another Star reporter witnessed the assault.

Veronica only went public earlier this year, but I knew about the assault before we were engaged to be married more than 40 years ago. Throughout our marriage, I’ve seen first-hand how that abuse altered her outlook and left scars on her confidence. After Veronica went public, other women who had been assaulted by Ayers came forward.

Veronica had many good reasons not to go public at the time, not the least of which was that Ayers controlled her newly burgeoning journalism career.

At first — like just about every other man accused of similar disgusting behavior — Ayers denied anything happened. “I have no memory of the alleged incidents,” Ayers said when first contacted by journalist Eddie Burkhalter, who resigned from the Star because the newspaper would not pursue the story.  Ayers then said he regretted some things that occurred when he was younger (he was in his 40s). Finally, Ayers admitted to spanking one woman and, about Veronica’s assault, said: “Let the accusation stand.” Ayers then resigned as chairman of the company that publishes the Star.

The #MeToo movement gave Veronica the final bit of courage she needed to go public, and let me tell you, Veronica already was a brave, strong, independent woman.

Amazing Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporting by The Washington Post exposed Roy Moore for the stalker and assaulter he is. Other stories in many different publications, from The New York Times to New Yorker magazine, exposed so many other cads.

So I understand why Christine Blasey Ford kept quiet for so long. She told her husband and her therapist a number of years ago, but only went public after the allegation was revealed as the Senate considers Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Dr. Ford has nothing to gain by making a false allegation, and from my reading of news sources, her allegation comes off as credible, like so many others we’ve heard.

The Senate, controlled by Republicans, has tried to ram Kavanaugh’s nomination through without proper vetting. The vast majority of documents the Senate needs to understand what kind of candidate Kavanaugh truly is was withheld from the Senate. Even this latest allegation was deemed confidential by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But it’s out now, and it’s possible, if Republicans go forward with a vote on Kavanaugh, we could have two known sexual assaulters on the Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas, remember, was credibly accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill after he was nominated to the court in 1991.

A lot of men, mostly old white men, just don’t see anything wrong with such misbehavior. These are the same men who want to tell women what they can do with their bodies. But because Dr. Ford went public, she and her family have been forced to leave their home, her email has been hacked, and she has received death threats.

When Burkhalter and I wrote about Veronica’s assault by Ayers, comments from some readers were typically misogynous. The women stalked and assaulted by Roy Moore have experienced threats of violence and worse. Men don’t like to be called out for their sexual misdeeds. And when they are, their accusers, no matter how credible, have to pay a high price.

Just the fact that Dr. Ford stepped forward publicly and stands by her account shows there’s more here than Kavanaugh cares to “remember.”

To go forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination would be a travesty. But, sadly, we live in a time of travesties.

Folks, this is not just “boys being boys,” but rather, men being pigs – and a whole lot worse.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Maddox is right: The state shouldn’t pay for Bentley’s attorneys

Josh Moon

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Should the state be footing the bill for attorneys to defend former Gov. Robert Bentley in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier?

Gov. Kay Ivey says it should, that the state has an obligation to do so under the law.

Her challenger for the seat she currently holds, Walt Maddox, says no, and that Ivey is wrong about the state’s requirement to do so.

The war of words about the lawsuit started last week, when the Maddox camp questioned why the state was still footing the bill — a bill that’s surpassed $300,000 so far — to defend Bentley. Ivey responded to questions about the payments to Bentley’s attorneys over the weekend, saying it was appropriate to pay the bill, because the law requires it.

On Tuesday, the Maddox campaign issued a press release saying Ivey is mistaken about the law.

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And so, here we are.

First things first, let’s back up and explain just what’s going on.

Near the end of his tenure as governor, Bentley had a falling out with Collier over a request the Alabama Attorney General’s office was making of Collier. Basically, the AG’s office wanted Collier to file an affidavit about an investigation that was sort of related to the Mike Hubbard prosecution.

Bentley ordered Collier not to provide an affidavit and to instead tell the AG’s office that the investigation was ongoing.

Collier was concerned that lying to the AG’s investigator would violate the law. (It definitely does.) So, instead, he worked with Bentley’s legal advisor and issued a watered-down affidavit. When Bentley discovered what had been done, he fired Collier.

Collier, in his court filings, claims Bentley then set out to destroy him professionally through an investigation into misappropriated funds in ALEA and a smear campaign that, among other things, alleged that Collier was a drug addict.

So, Collier filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Ordinarily, such lawsuits would be kicked quickly by judges because state employees, such as the governor, enjoy immunity from lawsuits that arise from official acts. And in this case, Judge Greg Griffin agreed and dismissed most of the counts in Collier’s lawsuit.

But he also found that some of Bentley’s actions — specifically, the parts in which he retaliated against Collier — fell outside of his official duties. And so, he allowed the lawsuit to move forward. 

You should also know just why we, the taxpayers, are paying for Bentley’s defense in the first place.

The State of Alabama has an insurance program known as the General Liability Trust Fund that is used to pay for the legal defense of state employees who are sued as a result of incidents that occur while these employees are doing their state jobs. It also is used to cover any settlements stemming from lawsuits against state employees.

The official wording from the Code of Alabama says the GLTF will be used to cover “acts or omissions committed by the covered employee while in the performance of their official duties in the line and scope of their employment.”

And that brings us back to the argument between Ivey and Maddox.

Ivey claims that the law says Bentley should be covered. The Maddox camp says that was true up until the point the judge in the case found that Bentley’s actions fell outside the scope of his official duties.

After speaking to a few attorneys, it seems that the Maddox camp is right.

Griffin’s decision to allow the case to move forward, and specifically rejecting the defense’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Bentley was immune from prosecution, recast Bentley’s position. His actions had to fall outside of the scope of his official duties in order for the lawsuit to proceed, which means the state has no responsibility to cover him.

Of course, there’s one other option here: Ivey could simply settle the lawsuit.

Collier was clearly wronged, and the state has all but admitted as much. The guy nearly went broke because our former governor lost his mind. To continue on with this lawsuit and the defense of Bentley is not just a monumental waste of money, it’s an embarrassment.

And it’s one more example of the political elite in this state operating a system that ensures they’re protected no matter the crimes they commit or the egregious nature of their behavior.

Collier didn’t deserve what happened to him and the rest of us don’t deserve to watch our hard-earned dollars be squandered on Bentley’s high-priced attorneys.

 

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Opinion | 1986 Governor’s race

Steve Flowers

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Since this is a gubernatorial election year, allow me to share an epic Governor’s Race with you.

The 1986 Governor’s race will be remembered as one of Alabama’s most amazing political stories. In 1978 Fob James sent the Three B’s, Brewer, Beasley and Baxley packing. Brewer and Beasley had been permanently exiled to Buck’s Pocket, the mythical destination for defeated Alabama gubernatorial candidates. However, Bill Baxley resurrected his political career by bouncing back to be elected lieutenant governor in 1982, while George Wallace was winning his fifth and final term as governor. Another player arrived on the state political scene. Charlie Graddick was elected as a fiery tough lock ‘em up and throw away the key attorney general. Graddick had previously been a tough prosecuting district attorney in Mobile.

When Wallace bowed out from seeking reelection in 1986, it appeared the race was between Bill Baxley, the lieutenant governor, and Charlie Graddick, the attorney general. It also appeared there was a clear ideological divide. The moderates and liberals in Alabama were for Baxley and the archconservatives were for Graddick. Baxley had the solid support of black voters, labor, and progressives. Graddick had the hard-core conservatives, including most of the Republican voters in Alabama.

The Republicans had gone to a primary by 1986 but very few Alabamians, even Republicans, participated. It was still assumed that the Democratic Primary was tantamount to election. The Democratic Primary would draw 800,000 Alabama voters while the GOP Primary might draw 40,000, so most Republican leaning voters felt that in order for their vote to count they had to vote in the Democratic Primary.

Baxley and Graddick went after each other with a vengeance in the primary. The race was close. Graddick came out on top by an eyelash. He encouraged Republicans to come vote for him in the Democratic Primary. They did and that is why he won. This was not something that had not been happening for decades. Brewer would have never led Wallace in 1970 without Republicans. Fob would have never won the Democratic Primary and thus become governor in 1978 without Republican voters. Basically, Alabama had been a no party state. We still have no party registration law. So how do you police people weaving in and out of primaries without a mechanism in place for saying you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?

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After Graddick defeated Baxley by less than 25,000 votes in the runoff primary, the Democratic Party did the unthinkable. They convened the hierarchy of the party, who clearly favored Baxley, and declared Baxley the Democratic nominee because they guessed Graddick had won the primary with Republican crossover voters. They paraded experts in front of their committee to testify that Baxley should have won if just Democrats had voted. They boldly and brazenly chose Baxley as the nominee in spite of the fact that Graddick had clearly gotten the most votes.

This move went against the grain of the vast majority of Alabama voters. They felt that Graddick, even if they had not voted for him, got the most votes and should be the nominee. The Democratic Party leadership sloughed it off. They assumed that the Democratic nominee would win regardless. After all, there had not been a Republican Governor of Alabama in 100 years. In addition, the Republicans had chosen an unknown former Cullman County Probate Judge named Guy Hunt. Hunt had no money and no name identification.

The Democratic leaders guessed wrong. The backlash was enormous. The bold handpicking of a nominee who had not received the most votes was a wrong that needed to be righted. Baxley did not help his case any by ignoring Hunt and dismissing him as a simpleton. He mocked Hunt saying he was unqualified because he only had a high school education. Baxley, as politically astute as he was, should have realized that he was insulting the majority of Alabama voters who themselves only possessed high school educations. This created a backlash of its own.

When the votes were counted in the November general election, Guy Hunt was elected Governor of Alabama. This 1986 result gave new meaning and proof to the old George Wallace theory that more Alabama voters vote against someone than for someone. Alabama had its first Republican governor in 100 years. The 1986 Governor’s race will go down in history as a red-letter year in Governor’s races. It was truly historic and memorable.

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.

 

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Opinion | Montgomery’s charter school mess

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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