By Larry Lee
Most educators agree that the recent process the state school board went through to replace state superintendent Tommy Bice was more like an episode of the Keystone Kops than anything else. During my career I had five jobs where I reported to a board of directors. Thank goodness they all conducted themselves with far more professionalism than we just saw from the state school board.
One of the more egregious episodes was the attempt to make sure Craig Pouncey, Jefferson County school superintendent and former chief of staff for Tommy Bice, did not get the job. Someone even reached into a political “dirty bag of tricks” and came up with a smear sheet in an attempt to discredit him.
The anonymous info accuses Pouncey of not writing his own doctoral dissertation and having state employees do much of the work. This charge has been vigorously denied by both Pouncey and his major professor who oversaw his graduate work.
Still, the stain remains and Pouncey has retained Montgomery attorney Kenny Mendelsohn to represent him in an effort to find out who was responsible for the smear campaign and why.
WSFA television in Montgomery reported this story on Oct. 5, 2016. You can read about it here. Here are excerpts:
“Certain people did a horrible thing by providing information and accusing him of unethical, and basically an unconscionable conduct,” Mendelsohn said. “All based on some anonymous letter that I believe was fabricated.”
The letter claimed Pouncey cheated and plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, and used state resources, something he flatly denies.
“They have defamed him and accused him of this conduct,” Mendelsohn said. “It affects any job opportunities in the future, it could affect his job now. He did not plagiarize anything, he did not lie about his dissertation, he did not use state resources in it or anything like that. The accusations were totally false, it accomplished what these people wanted.”
The anonymous letter was also submitted to the Ethics Commission, something Mendelsohn feels strongly about.
“The Ethics Commission doesn’t investigate anonymous complaints,” added Mendelsohn. “Nothing should have been done with this; if someone won’t sign their name to it, they shouldn’t look into it. And somebody in that department had to have contacted the Ethics Commission, there’s a letter back from the Ethics Commission saying they complied with statutory reporting. There’s obviously interplay between.”
“We’ve requested opportunities to clear it up, and nobody wants to talk to us,” said Mendelsohn. “What I am probably going to do is have to file a lawsuit and getting people under oath. And then get to the bottom of it.”
“There are people at the State Department who don’t want this all to come out,” Mendelsohn said. “Part of the solution is whoever did this, doesn’t need to be associated with education, whether it’s an employee, board member or a secretary; those people need to be exposed for doing something like this.”
At the Sept. 8 board meeting, vice-chair Yvette Richardson wanted to put a resolution on the agenda calling for an internal investigation into the smear sheet episode. This was voted down, 5-4.
We put up a survey on this site shortly after the Aug. 11 vote on the new superintendent. More than 1,250 people responded. Go here to see all responses. After watching this all unfold, it is little wonder that 91 percent of respondents opposed the hire and that 64 percent gave the state school board a failing grade of D or F.
One of the more bizarre parts of all of this is looking at how the board members voted on Aug. 11. There were six candidates. Three were Alabama local superintendents, one was a member of Governor Bentley’s cabinet and two were from outside the state, neither with experience as a superintendent at either the local or state level.
So there were clear differences among the choices. And one would expect that board members would have had a clear understanding on Aug. 11 of what they were looking for. And in most cases this was true. For instance, Matt Brown only voted for Mike Sentence. Yvette Richardson, Jeff Newman and Ella Bell only voted for Craig Pouncey.
But Stephanie Bell voted for Bill Evers, Mike Sentance and Craig Pouncey Mary Scott Hunter outdid her. She voted for four different candidates. Mike Sentence, Dee Fowler, Janet Womack and Jeana Ross.
So there are six candidates and you think four of them are equal? You vote for an Alabama superintendent with 30+ years experience at all levels of education and you also vote for someone with no education credentials which means you think their backgrounds are similar?
And when it is all over the public is told by state school board members that this is “all about the children.” Anyone who believes that needs to call me about some beach front property my family has in Covington County.
I wish Craig Pouncey and Kenny Mendelsohn well.
The 740,000 students in Alabama public schools deserve some answers.