By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
In the past week Henry Mabry met with the ‘Gadsden Times’ in which he held for the status quo positions. I wanted to imagine what the interview might have been like if someone with a hint of the current realities were to answer the ‘Times’ questions.
So, I decided to cast myself as the new head of the AEA and reply to the ‘Times’ inquires as a man who understands what day and what time it is actually. I have taken the basic questions asked and provide what I believe are the best answers as a start to working with the Governor and the Legislator toward a solution to the education problem as well as the state’s other problems.
Times; The Governor has mentioned trying to divert funds from the state’s education fund to be used to bolster the shortfalls in the general fund?
Me: I understand that the state is in serious fiscal trouble and I can appreciated the Governor’s positions, however I am not convinced that un-earmarking items in the Education budget is the best path for the state to take.
I am reluctant to go down that path because the General Fund has been mismanaged over the years. Can we trust that the state will prove fiscally wise with more funds?
I don’t know all the answer to this situation and demands a great deal of consideration both pro and con. For now I am in the con camp.
But I commend the governor for his willingness to look at alternatives.
There are some very smart men in the new leadership in Montgomery and I would think we could all set together and look for ways to meet this crisis in a bi-partisan manner.
Times: The 2012 legislative session set to begin Feb. 7 will be tough. The state already is looking at a fifth straight year of budget cuts for education.
Me: We have been in a hole for awhile now, but I would like to let the Governor and the Legislators know that the AEA is in this fight to do what is best for education but this is not the past. I understand the problem and want to see how we can better offer education without crippling the state in the process. It is a new day.
Times: There are some who recommend increasing class sizes as a cost savings measure.
Me: I have to admit we have gone a little overboard with the class size reduction. Currently our K-3 have one teacher for every 16 students and 4-12 it is 18. This was a goal to offer more hands-on education to our children. I have looked at the situation and the truth is we have many assistants and teachers that are not doing what we have hoped with reduced class size. I am certainly willing to look at increasing the number of students in a classroom to help with this situation.
When I was a child in school we had as many as 30 students in a class, that was a bit high but you know I received a good education. Let me point out that we at the AEA know we have to do more and the teachers are going to have to do more for the sake of everyone.
Times: The Governor and the Speaker of the House have made Charter Schools one of their top legislative agendas for the 2012 session.
Me: It has been the past policy of the AEA to oppose Charter Schools, I think my predecessors had their reasons, but the new AEA is going to be more than a union, we are going to work for what’s best for education and if that means Charter Schools then that is one of the things we will work with the Governor and Speaker on.
We have to be honest about where we are today, we can’t keep our heads buried in the sand. Alabama has had failing schools for the last 40 years, and do you know how many we have closed? None. We can stay with the same failed policies and hope that things will change.
Times: There are calls for cuts in every direction how do you responded to that?
Me: I live on a budget, my family lives on a budget, the state lives on a budget. So, we are going to have to see how we can live within our means and still provide the best educational system we can.
I received a great deal of criticism for sending my children to private schools, that question came at me fast and hard and at the time I was not ready to answer it honestly, I think I should now. The fact is I have done well in my life, I can afford to send my children to private schools, this is America, where if you have the means you can choose to send your kids to whatever school you want. I would like to have a state where all children could have the type of education my kids do, but not every parent has been as blessed monetarily as I have, so, we need to look at a voucher program that gives parents more choice.
Times: As former finance director under former Gov. Don Siegelman you understand the problems facing the state’s general fund. Your thoughts.
Me: I was proud to have served the state during that time but this is a different era and the challenges are greater. The first thing most people want to do is bring in more revenue, this would be nice but the reality is no one is in the mood to raise taxes during this period, raising taxes is actually a killer in tough financial times.
What we need to do is find ways of cost saving, I frankly don’t know what they all are but if we put our heads together down in Montgomery rather than butting head.We are going to get more done.
But let me makes this clear the AEA will not be stream-rolled by anyone, that is why I am offering the hand of friendship and an olive branch toward the future.
We may have to increase class sizes, cut benefits and other things but we can do this together. I will want firm assurances of good faith on behalf of those who have in the past opposed us but for now we will trust first and verify later.
We have made great progress in education in our state, I don’t want to see that go backwards. But the AEA has not always been right on education it is time to admit that. But we will fight for our teachers and our children without hesitation.
I don’t want to make the mistakes of the past but work toward a brighter future for our children and our children’s children so that they too will know the full measure of success that their families have worked to give them.
Alabama is a great state and we all must work to make it even better.
I wish Mr. Mabry would be so reasonable.