By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama State Department of Education is poised to take over the Montgomery County school system, numerous sources, including Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and a Montgomery County school board member, have told The Alabama Political Reporter.
Montgomery officials are scheduled to meet with new State Superintendent Michael Sentance on Jan. 9 to hear details of the plan, the sources said.
Strange said he met personally with Sentance multiple times, including at least once with MPS Superintendent Margaret Allen in attendance, over the past two months and said he was told some movement would occur in early January, although he said he wasn’t sure of the specific plans.
Strange also said the move to take over Montgomery’s system comes after city leaders requested the State to consider some action with MPS. That request was precipitated by a number of the system’s schools slipping onto the “priority schools” list.
“We have met a number of times with the Montgomery school board and talked about a number of different alternatives for ways to improve the system,” Strange said. “At the end of the day, we now have 23 schools classified as priority and possibly as many as 47, depending on the definition you use. That’s not something we can withstand as a city any longer. Something has to be done.”
While the failing schools are what prompted action by local officials, they likely won’t be the basis for the State takeover. School officials – both in Montgomery and at the State level – said the takeover will be based on MPS’ poor financial standing. Under State law, ALSDE can take over any school system that doesn’t have a month’s operating expenses in reserve. MPS is one of many systems that is short.
School Board Vice President Lesa Keith said Allen informed county board members of the State department’s intentions during the executive session of a board meeting prior to the Christmas break.
“It was tough to hear,” said Keith, who has at times advocated for a State department takeover of MPS. “I honestly don’t know how I feel about it right now. I just want what’s best for this system and the people in it.”
A State takeover means, essentially, just that: State department of education officials seize operations from the local school board and implement their own plans for the system.
In most recent takeovers, ALSDE has implemented new financial and operational guidelines, and it has shuffled personnel. Takeovers allow the State to inject significant financial resources into a system and also provide leniency in moving personnel.
Sentance and Allen did not respond to requests for comments by publication time.
Strange said he views a State takeover as a better option to the city starting its own school system – an option he and city council members have kicked around for several years now.
“It’s immediate – that’s the most important thing about this,” Strange said. “Starting our own system in the city would take at least two years to get going. That’s not fast enough. Plus, the State can provide many more resources. If you look back at the history of these takeovers, every school system that they’ve gone into has been better off in the long run. That’s what we want.”