By Larry Lee
Just a month ago the Alabama political landscape was turned upside down and you suddenly found yourself moving from the State House to the Governor’s office. I have been praying that you meet each new day with clarity of purpose and resolve to make lives better.
You are carefully weighing appointments made by Governor Bentley and putting your own team in place. Our state department of education should be a top priority.
Governor, there is no other way to say it–we are in a mess. A situation created in large measure by Governor Bentley. While he talked about his support for public education, his actions betrayed his words. You don’t sign bills into law creating a needless A-F school grading system, huge tax breaks for business under the guise of helping failing schools and charter school legislation and support public schools.
You don’t vote to hire a state superintendent who lacks the credentials to be a teacher, principal or local superintendent in Alabama.
So when Governor Bentley showed his true colors by declaring that Alabama “education sucks,” why was anyone surprised? Just as they should not have been surprised that Mike Sentance did not defend our schools.
Governor, more than 50 years ago we were two college kids from rural Alabama at Auburn University. And I have to believe we were both there because of our backgrounds and that we knew we would be among many kindred spirits. People from Leroy (Billy Powell); Beatrice (Phil Hardie); Ashland (Lee Sentell); Grove Hill (Jerry Brown); Opp (Bobby Wiggins) and Florala (Jim Yeaman).
We have “skin in the game.” Places like Pine Hill, Sunny South and Pineapple are not names on a map. They are places we know. When they hurt, we hurt.
Mike Sentance cannot relate. Which is why he did not defend our educators when Robert Bentley attacked them. Which is why he has been quick to denigrate our teachers and our universities.
His eight month tenure has been one blunder after another. He released a grad rate report to the world that was full of errors and did not show local systems the courtesy of advance warning. He decided the principals of Montgomery’s 27 weakest schools would get a 10 percent raise, while ignoring the principals of top-performing schools.
He spent more than $500,000 to hire consultants from Massachusetts from a company he once was involved with. He spent $750,000 on a no-bid contract to hire a CFO for Montgomery when retired and tried and true CFOs were available for a fraction of the cost.
It is no surprise educators in Alabama have little confidence in him.
Governor, long ago an inner voice directed you to work with young people. Auburn trained you to be a teacher and you became one. Your work with Girl’s State for many years is testimony to this early calling.
Ninety percent of all the school kids in Alabama attend public schools. They need you.
They need a clear VOICE to speak out for them. They need someone who understands the challenges they face and will lift them up, not tear them down. Our teachers need someone who has walked in their shoes and appreciates their efforts.
You are now chair of the state school board. The first ever teacher to occupy this position.
You impressed the education community when you spoke at the first board meeting after you took office. For the first time in forever, they saw a ray of hope.
And for the sake of those youngsters who stand beside a country road at 6:30 on a November morning waiting for the school bus to take them to a school that may be their only hope for a better tomorrow, we beg you for help.
All of Alabama suffered because of Robert Bentley’s foolishness. It’s now time to lift this burden from the backs of our 730,000 public school students.
Larry Lee is a public school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. [email protected]