By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The State intervention into Montgomery’s public school system is a go.
State School Board members approved a plan from State Superintendent Michael Sentance on Thursday to take over the troubled system. That plan, for now, will essentially split the system into two districts, giving the Alabama State Department of Education control over Montgomery’s most troubled schools and leaving the Montgomery board and superintendent Margaret Allen with some control over the remaining schools.
Sentance said Thursday that the number of schools the State will take over has not yet been determined, because the State has just recently started its assessment of the MPS schools. That assessment focuses on more than simply student grades.
Sentance and the State Board also put in place a chief administrative officer for MPS. Barbara Cooper, who currently serves as the chief academic officer for the State, will take over a role – at least temporarily – that puts her in charge of MPS. The State plans to hire another person to handle that role on a more longterm basis.
Sentance said he also plans to appoint “a financial person” to get the MPS books in order, and called that task “arduous.”
Several MPS board members attended the State School Board meeting to show support for the plan, which both sides have labeled “a collaborative effort.”
“I’m very optimistic that this will be a success,” MPS vice-president Lesa Keith said. “They’ve talked the talk and now it’s time to see if the State, and all of the rest of us, can walk the walk.”
The takeover does have its detractors. A group of Montgomery pastors attended the meeting and voiced their concerns and opposition to the media. They are skeptical because, they say, the State is bringing little additional funding to fix Montgomery’s problems.
However, Sentance said there are some real problems within MPS that don’t require more money to fix.
For example, he said data shows that there is “a $20,000 gap between high-spending schools and low-spending schools” in terms of teacher and administrator pay. That gap is often reflected in the success of the schools: Higher paying schools are performing better and attracting better, more experienced teachers while underpaying schools are attracting teachers with fewer certifications and less experience.
Sentance said he and his office are exploring ways to correct those issues, including examining State funding models and proposing changes that base per-student funding on need.
Both Sentance and Cooper, a former deputy superintendent in the Huntsville system, said takeover in MPS will not be brief. They placed the timetable at 3-5 years.
Sentance also said that Montgomery’s takeover will mark the beginning of a push by the State department to intervene and turn around several underperforming districts in the State. Sentance said he plans to create a special office in the State Department that will be tasked only with that job.