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What happens when politicians forget about children

By Larry Lee

At best, it was a shotgun wedding. A contrived affair with reason thrown to the wind and political outcome the only thing that mattered. A crudely manipulated process with ethics casually tossed aside. A shameless example of blind ambition being the one constant.

The result was the installation of Mike Sentance as the Grand Poobah of all of k-12 public education in Alabama. A decision that months later still leaves Alabama educators shaking their heads in dismay and became so sordid five people have been called forth by a law suit to defend their actions.

And even in a state that has become a national punching bag for jokes about political chicanery and mischief, the fact that the simple process of finding the most qualified person to lead a school system of 730,000 results in legal action is an indictment of how we conduct the public’s business.

My God. We’re talking about CHILDREN. About the sons and daughters of this state. Four year olds in Pre-K. Sixth grade boys looking at girls for the first time ever. High school juniors getting ready for their first prom.

This is not world peace. This is not about a maniac in North Korea with a nuclear bomb or global warming or international finance. This is about doing what is best for our children, not setting up pieces of a puzzle so that someone’s cronies may profit some day from millions of education dollars intended to help classrooms or that someone’s political fortunes may be enhanced.

And try as some might, the selection of Mike Sentance to come to Alabama can not be justified. Not even a little bit when you look at the facts.

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An attorney with ZERO practical education experience. Never worked as a teacher, a principal or a local superintendent. Has no understanding of how schools actually work or empathy for the challenges teachers, principals and superintendents face daily.

Appointed as Secretary of Education for Massachusetts by the governor and served for one year in 1995-96. More than 20 years ago. This is purely a policy position. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education is the Massachusetts equivalent of Alabama state superintendent of education. When Sentance tried to get that position in 1998 he was rejected.
Last worked in Massachusetts education in 2001. More than 15 years ago.

Worked for U.S. Department of Education from 2001-2009 as a regional rep for New England. No direct input on any local education decisions.

According to his resume’, he “Established the regional office as a significant advocate for school change in New England.” You spend more than seven years in one job and you sum up your accomplishments in 14 words?

From January 2009 until starting in Alabama in September 2016 Sentance worked for eight months for Tribal Group (USA). in 2011. He was fired from that job.

From 2009 until he was hired by Alabama, Sentance applied for at least nine different jobs as a superintendent., (Kentucky, Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Nashville, Ohio, Georgia) He was rejected by all.

Most amazing is that he applied in 2011 when Tommy Bice was chosen as State Superintendent. He did not get an interview. Five of the nine on the state board in 2016 where also on it in 2011. Did they even know he was a former applicant?.
Was Sentance properly vetted and all information presented to the board? It is hard to believe that it was. How do you review all of this and come to the conclusion the he was the most qualified candidate?

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Section 16-4-1 of the Alabama Code says: “The Superintendent of Education shall be a person of good moral character, with academic and professional education equivalent to graduation from a standard university or college, who is knowledgeable in school administration and has training and experience sufficient to qualify him to perform the duties of his office.”

This is state law. Nothing in Sentance’s background shows administrative experience. But we ignored it, just like we ignored requirements created by the state board itself saying a candidate had to have “Experience in working with elected or appointed education boards,” or “Experience in successfully managing a large organization as a superintendent or other educational leader,” or “Experience in administering large budgets.”

Why have job requirements if they mean nothing?

In 45 years of observing state politics I do not recall a process as illegitimate as this one. It is shameful that some of those involved insisted on using our children as the rope in a political tug of war.

They deserve full credit for the total train wreck Mike Sentance is now responsible for.


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