By Larry Lee
In the waning days of the Presidential election we heard Donald Trump talk a lot about a “rigged” election. We have now learned that he may have been describing the state board of education’s recent search for a new state school chief.
After two days of asking questions, the legislative committee trying to find out how an anonymous “smear sheet” got from members of the state board, to the Ethics Commission and then a letter naming Craig Pouncey as the object of this attempt fell into the hands of the media has shed light on what took place.
We know that board member Mary Scott Hunter made sure the info got to Juliana Dean, legal counsel for the state department of education. and that she contacted Tom Albritton, head of the Ethics Commission to tell him about the bogus “complaint.” The fact that a member of the state board was actively trying to discredit a candidate for state superintendent is mind-boggling to say the least.
But Hunter was not the only board member involved in this effort to tilt the table. So was Matt Brown, the board member from Fairhope who was appointed to a vacancy on the board in 2015 by Governor Robert Bentley.
Brown sent an email around the state (apparently to tea party supporters) on Aug. 10 (the day before the school board vote on Aug. 11 for a new superintendent) in which he tried to discourage support for Pouncey.
He said in part, “I have heard a disturbing rumor for the past month. The rumor is that some of the tea party supported members of the State Board of Education are planning to support a pro-Common Core superintendent! I had initially disregarded the rumors, but I am hearing from more and more people and am now quite concerned.
“Unfortunately, some of the tea party members on the Board are supposedly pledging their support for pro-CC candidate, Dr. Craig Pouncey.
“Shockingly, the State Board members who have been supported by the Tea Party and have been vocally opposed to CC are now the swing votes for us bringing in an anti–CC superintendent. They will decide the outcome. I hope and pray that the rumors I am hearing (that these Board members may support a pro-CC superintendent, Dr. Pouncey) are false.”
Brown’s insinuation is clearly that he too must be supported by the Tea Party since he is so concerned about Common Core.
But the truth is that he WAS NOT supported by the Tea Party when he ran for election last spring. They whole-heartedly supported his opponent Jackie Zeigler who beat him handily and will replace him on the state board in January.
Here is the back story that shows how disingenuous Brown’s email was.
Baldwin County had a vote on a school tax in the spring of 2015. Brown was very active opposing this vote. (Which made his selection by Governor Bentley all the more unbelievable by Baldwin County educators.) A Tea Party group in Baldwin County was also a strong opponent to this tax.
So when Brown was appointed to the state board, these Tea Party folks assumed that he would work hard to oppose Common Core. But to their dismay, he did not. Instead, he became an ally of the Business Council of Alabama which is the umbrella organization for the Business Education Alliance.
Here is what BEA’s web site says about the state’s new standards:
“BEA supports the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards adopted by the State School Board.
“The standards will help ensure that Alabama’s public schoolchildren receive the proper focus in areas like mathematics, reading, writing, language, comprehension, and cognitive skills. They will also keep Alabama competitive with our sister southeastern states and the rest of the nation in preparing our children to one day enter the 21st Century workforce.
“BEA joined with other like-minded groups to promote the adoption of the standards, and we continue working to make sure these benchmarks are fully embraced, adopted and implemented in each of Alabama’s school systems.
This stance is the polar opposite of what the Tea Party believes.
And when Brown’s election rolled around, BCA stood by their man by giving him $149,000 in campaign funding.
So BCA supports Alabama College and Career Ready Standards and they support Matt Brown, yet here is Brown sending an email to Tea Party folks the day before a vote implying that he strongly opposes Common Core.
Can you say, “Talking out of both sides of your mouth?”
The legislative committee has learned that of the eight elected school board members, only two gave any credence to the smear sheet by their own admission. While other members stated they paid little attention to the anonymous information, Brown and Hunter said they were very concerned.
And what do they have in common? The Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Farmers Federation come quickly to mind. As just stated, BCA gave Brown $149,000 for his 2016 campaign and gave Hunter $75,000 for her 2014 campaign. The Farmers Federation contributed $15,450 to Brown in 2016 and $19,527 to Hunter in 2014.
Stay tuned. The fat lady is yet a long way from singing about what happened last summer, why it happened, and who was behind it all.