By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The City of Montgomery is planning to study the idea of creating a city-operated school system, moving from the current county system.
It is nothing more than window dressing meant to appease the business community.
It is the latest in a long line of “fixes” for the troubled Montgomery Public Schools system, but like the rest of them – including the ongoing Alabama State Department of Education intervention – it ignores the root causes of the problems in favor of window dressing designed to fool outsiders that the school system is changing.
If anyone doubts the ineffectiveness of such a shallow approach to decades’ old issues, look no further than the ongoing intervention.
It has been handled poorly on every front, and because officials ignored the dynamics of the city, ALSDE officials, including State Superintendent Michael Sentance, cut locals out of the process. That has led to community mistrust and has led Sentance to cozy up to a Montgomery community organizer named Cubie Ray Hayes, a longtime and well-known community figure who often serves as a go-between for city officials and community leaders on sensitive matters.
But the intervention’s biggest issue is that it hasn’t gone as billed. When the intervention came to life, it was pitched as a means to pump resources into the system to help children – a goal supported by State School Board member, Ella Bell, who was the force behind getting the intervention off the ground – it has done little more than shuffle funds from one set of administrators to another set. And privately, Bell has told those close to her that she has felt let down and unhappy.
Much of her unhappiness – and many of the complaints from those around the city of Montgomery – can be traced back to a belief that Sentance and others had hidden objectives for the intervention. Those goals, put in place by Sentance, business leaders and lawmakers, see Montgomery as an opportunity to implement business-friendly ideas, such as expanded tech programs and “school choice.”
According to sources familiar with the plans, the school choice effort would include charter schools and more “community schools” – schools that offer a variety of services, such as health care, adult training, etc., in addition to academics.
While those ideas have their positive and negative attributes, what’s unclear is why either the city or ALSDE need such major upheaval to do any of them. And what makes no sense is the idea of moving to a city-run system – which would exclude just four schools from the new city system.
Strange has said numerous times that his primary reason for switching to a city system would be to eliminate the board-operated setup of the county system, which he believes is inefficient. Instead, he wants it to be run like a city, where the mayor operates the city day to day, makes personnel decisions and sets policy, and the city council handles larger policy matters.
But that’s only a solution to problems if the Montgomery County School Board is your biggest problem.
Sure, the board has screwed up plenty, and it has allowed race and pettiness to overshadow teaching and learning a number of times, but it is not the cause of MPS’s struggles.
Simple math is.
First and foremost, Montgomery has a large number of citizens, and school-age children, living at or below the poverty line. Poverty, no matter where you go or what race of people that poverty affects, is the one constant in under-performing school districts.
But Montgomery makes things even worse.
Starting just after the Brown v. Board of Ed. Decision in 1954, private schools started popping up all over Montgomery. At one point in the 1970s, Montgomery had more private schools than any other city in the country.
The white, wealthy people of Montgomery will tell you that these exist for some other reason than race. It’s an outright lie. Those private schools, in a city with a population that is better than 40 percent white, are 90-plus-percent white. The public high schools, except for one traditional and the magnets, are 98-plus-percent black.
There are thousands of white Montgomerians who, between the ages of 1 and 18, interacted regularly with no other black kids, and vice versa. Many of those people are in leadership roles in this city now, which helps explain how they can’t see the real problems in the school system.
With so many Montgomery families sending their kids to private schools, the economic demographics of the public school system take a nosedive.
And it doesn’t stop there.
On top of all of the private school students, the system also loses 7,000-plus of its best overall students to its magnet program. That’s one-quarter of the MPS student body – it’s brightest and most dedicated students – removed from the general student body. Additionally, the parents of those children – parents so involved they offered to donate land to build a new magnet high school and have raised enough to build an amphitheater – are also out of the traditional public schools.
And still, it gets worse for Montgomery.
Because Alabama’s Legislature is run by men and women who value wealth over providing education, we have the country’s worst education policy: the Accountability Act.
The AAA, as it’s known, essentially diverts money away from “underperforming” schools, such as the ones in Montgomery, by handing out tax breaks – tax breaks that are deducted from the allocations to the local schools – to parents who have moved their kids from an “underperforming” school to a private school.
In reality, very few people actually moved. Instead, the majority of the tax breaks went to people whose kids were already enrolled in private schools.
Which means that overnight, in Montgomery, thousands of tax dollars left the public schools and went into the pockets of people who didn’t have their kids in the system anyway.
This is the reality facing MPS and the Montgomery County School Board, which have both been cast as the villains of public education. Because it is easier for people to believe that a few ignorant decisions or odd meetings are more responsible for the ills of the MPS system than two generations of racism, white flight and indifference.
If you doubt this, consider that when the mayor and other Montgomery leaders speak of the “public education problem” in the city, it is most often within the context of how badly the poor schools are preventing economic development. Translated: having poorly educated black kids is messing with white people’s ability to make money.
And so, the school board and central office are cast as villains in this show, because it helps to sell patchwork, easy “fixes” that appease the businesses for a bit. Like a city-run system.
The problem is no one, including the man pitching it, believes a city system will solve any of the real problems.
Just a few years back, when a city councilman in Montgomery brought up the idea of exploring a city-run system, Strange was adamantly opposed, and he was opposed for exactly the same reason – it won’t solve the root causes of problems.
And what no one wants to hear is that solving those root problems will take bunches of time, money and dedication.
Here’s the roadmap:
- Hire a lot more teachers and counselors and put them in the schools where they’re most needed.
- Move the most experienced, highest qualified teachers to the schools struggling the most, and give them raises to go.
- Move the magnet programs inside the traditional high schools so the best students can be an influence on other students.
- Identify at-risk students who lack proper parental support early and provide extended hours and additional, focused instruction for those specific students.
- Expand pre-K to all Montgomery children.
- Hire more security guards.
- Provide the schools with proper supplies and technology.
- Fully fund and restore the middle school athletic programs.
If you do all of this, there is little chance that MPS wouldn’t be a turnaround story that would draw national attention.
But little, if any, of what’s on that list will get done. Because it takes money and it takes care and takes tough decisions.
And the reality of Montgomery is this: The “business community” here cares about education to the extent that it can blame the problems in it on anyone with black skin.
That is evidenced by the criminally-low millage rate in Montgomery and by the lack of concern so many city leaders have for any traditional school in the system.
It has left us with this sad reality: Thousands of kids each year graduate from MPS schools and we know – know for an absolute, drop-dead fact – that many of them are completely unprepared for the world.
That is criminal.
But it won’t stop until we no longer offer cheap, quick fixes, like city-run systems, in order to do the bare minimum.
It won’t stop until we actually fix the problems.
Opinion | We are like a petulant child
I guess we’re done. Despite a shutdown that lasted weeks, apparently state leaders were twiddling their thumbs, wishing, like Donald Trump, that COVID-19 would just magically disappear.
It isn’t, though, is it?
Here are the grim facts: We’ve got record numbers of new cases daily. Hospitalizations are also at record numbers. Health care workers are burning through personal protective equipment. Plans are moving forward to reopen public schools, colleges, and universities in August, only a few weeks away.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (the nation’s top infectious-disease official), says states with high and growing caseloads should consider shutting down again. As painful as that would be, it’s advice leaders in hotspots like Florida, Georgia, California, Texas, Arizona, and, yes, Alabama, must seriously consider.
For Alabama, though, don’t hold your breath. You’re going to need it to fight the virus.
What is the alternative? Allowing COVID-19 to infect most everybody in a particular area – in this instance, the entire stateof Alabama – and that means increasing deaths and permanent health problems, especially among the most vulnerable: our older populations and people with underlying health issues.
My wife is one of those people, with liver and heart deficits. Except for one trip to the veterinarian for one of our pups last month, Veronica has not been out of our house since March, except for doctors’ appointments and to have blood draws or COVID-19 tests.
She had a second COVID test this week, before a scheduled cardio ablation to try to get her heart rhythm calmed down. Her COVID test was negative and the procedure took place and, at least for now, is a complete success. Her heart is in sinus rhythm and her heart rate is around 55 bpm.
As hard as it was on Veronica Wednesday, at least she got Versed. I had to drop her off at University Hospital at 5:30 a.m. and drive away to my undisclosed location on UAB’s campus. I was not allowed to stay with her because of the high number of novel coronavirus hospitalizations at UAB. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a tube in an artery through her groin, much like a heart catheterization. She’s had two such procedures this year alone, and a couple others where the doctor went through a wrist and another through her neck.
I’ve been with her for those other invasive procedures, for her comfort and, frankly, for mine. I psychologically didn’t handle Wednesday’s separation well, but I had lots of close friends talk be back from the cliff. And even with everything going on at UAB, the health care workers communicated with me really well, and her cardiologist called shortly after he completed her procedure. Veronica’s recovery nurse was Preston, a former student of mine.
Still, it’s scary times, and I’m pretty protective of Veronica, just as she is of me.
So here we are, practically throwing in the towel on COVID-19. Doing what’s right is just too hard. The science guides us, and we ignore the guidance, like some petulant child. We turn our backs on what will keep us safe, because what will keep us safe is too hard for us. Even if we have to do it for just a few weeks.
We refuse to wear our masks and make scenes at stores that won’t let us in if we don’t. We take risks like having a big boat parade in Gulf Shores with thousands of people to honor Donald Trump, yet another petulant child.
The virus is a hoax, we’re told, but it’s one that has killed more than 130,000 Americans and permanently injured thousands and thousands more.
So let’s get back to work and open the schools and enjoy large gatherings at the lake without masks.
And, for some of us, let’s die.
Opinion | Senate and congressional runoffs next week
Believe or not, coronavirus notwithstanding, we have three important GOP runoffs next Tuesday. You will go back to the polls to elect two Congressmen and a United States Senator. That is assuming that you go vote and are not afraid of germs.
It will be interesting to see how the turnout is on July 14. Mostly older folks, like me, are the ones that vote in all elections and we have been told for four months not to congregate or get around other people. There could be some concern among older voters about getting out and going to the polls. Also, most of the poll workers are retired volunteers.
There is an open Congressional Seat in District 2. Dothan businessman, Jeff Coleman, is the favorite. He garnered close to 40 percent of the vote against a large field of candidates including former Attorney General Troy King, who finished fourth. Former Enterprise State Representative, Barry Moore, finished second with 20 percent and will face Coleman in the runoff next week. This seat is comprised of the Montgomery, Autauga, Elmore River Region area coupled with the Wiregrass. The seat has been held by Montgomery Republican, Martha Roby, for 10 years. She chose not to seek reelection. It is surprising that the two combatants who made the runoff, Jeff Coleman and Barry Moore, hail from the Wiregrass and most of the people are in the River Region.
Coleman has had a substantial campaign dollar advantage over Moore and the entire field running for this open seat. However, Moore has received a $550,000 gift from an innocuous Washington political action committee that has pummeled Coleman with negative ads. This contribution may make this race close.
The 1st District Mobile/Baldwin area seat is also up for grabs, literally. This is the seat open by the departure of Bradley Byrne, who opted to run for the U.S. Senate. The two aspirants who wound up in the runoff, are veteran Mobile County Commissioner and businessman Jerry Carl and former Mobile State Senator Bill Hightower. They finished in a dead heat with Carl getting 39 percent and Hightower 38 percent of the vote on March 3. This one will be close and interesting. My guess is that Jerry Carl wins this runoff. He received some late important endorsements in the waning days.
The marquee event will be the GOP runoff for the U.S. Senate between former Senator Jeff Sessions who sat in this seat for 20 years and former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville. This one will also be close. The two conservative gentlemen finished in a virtual tie on March 3.
The winner may be the one who took the best advantage of the three-and-a-half-month hiatus. They each could have and should have simply used the phone to call every single potential Republican voter in the state.
They could have taken a page from the playbook of the most prolific politician in Alabama history, one George C. Wallace. He would keep the telephone glued to his ear. Wallace would constantly call people on the phone 8-10 hours a day. He would call you at all hours of the day and night. Tuberville and Sessions should have used this method of campaigning without getting out of quarantine mode. One-on-one old-fashioned campaigning and asking people for their vote goes a long way in Alabama politics. It always has and it always will. Folks like to be asked for their vote.
Tuberville has outworked Sessions in old fashioned one-on-one campaigning. Although Tuberville is a novice to Alabama geographically and politically, he has traversed the state and met a lot of folks in a grassroots campaign style. He is a very likeable fellow and sells well personally. He did well in the rural areas in the first primary. It helped him immensely, probably more than he realized, with the endorsement and full support of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
If Tuberville wins, he needs to ask for a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. We have not had a senator on the Ag Committee since the late Howell Heflin, who was Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. By the way, this seat that Sessions held for 20 years and is running for again and Coach Tuberville is aspiring to, is the seat held by the late Senator Heflin for 18 years.
This runoff has the potential to have a low turnout due to trepidation from older voters and it will be hot as blazes in mid-July.
Y’all vote. See you next week.
Opinion | The clumsier, dumber George Wallace: Donald Trump
Be afraid, white people. The Blacks and Hispanics are coming for you. Coming for your children. Coming for your wives. And now, the police are being prevented from protecting you. They’re going to take your statues. They’re going to take your jobs. They’re going to take your rights.
This is the message that the Trump re-election campaign will push.
It is the only message they have left, as their candidate has so royally screwed up everything else he has touched.
His precious economy is in shambles — a result of his botching the response to the coronavirus pandemic so spectacularly. There is unprecedented civil unrest — a result, in part, of his overbearing and callous attempts at “law and order” while ignoring the pleas of Black Americans seeking equal treatment. And there is a seemingly endless barrage of embarrassing news, mostly stemming from Trump’s Twitter feed and the bumbling group of imbeciles and racists that make up his cabinet and closest advisors.
So, a culture war is all they have left. And dammit, they plan to play it like a fiddle at a bluegrass festival.
Trump began his march down this pathway in earnest on Saturday, delivering a disgusting and divisive speech aimed at stoking fear and playing up the Black-v-white culture war.
On Monday, after a day of golf on Sunday — because even racists rest on the sabbath — he was back at it, attacking, of all people, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. Reviving an old story for no apparent reason, Trump called the noose left in Wallace’s garage stall a “hoax” — an outright lie, since there was, in fact, a noose in the garage stall — and asked if Wallace had apologized. Of course, Wallace has nothing to apologize for, since he didn’t report the noose, didn’t investigate it, didn’t ask the FBI to look into it and generally handled himself with grace and dignity throughout the ordeal.
Unlike the president. On any given day.
But we weren’t finished. By late Monday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was on the channel your grandparents claim tells them the truth about stuff, and was sending the scared whites into full-on panic. Meadows, without an ounce of shame or the intelligence to know he should have some, exclaimed that Trump is “the only thing that stands between a mob and the American people.”
(And by “American people,” he means white people.)
“First, it’s the statues. Then, it’s the businesses. Then, it’s their homes,” Meadows said.
It’s like a dumber, clumsier, less articulate George Wallace campaign.
But then, the entirety of Trump’s presidential run and presidency has essentially been a slightly updated, less polished George Wallace campaign. Leaning on thinly-veiled racism, stoking racial anger, massaging the fear that so many white people have of anyone who looks slightly different.
Now, they’re going full-Wallace. Because it’s all they have.
Trump has proven that he doesn’t care about anything or anyone, and will put his interests above the American people and the security of the country. Hell, he sold out American soldiers without batting an eye.
So, he will burn this place to the ground, if he must. And 30 percent of the country, at least, will follow along. Happily holding tiki torches and chanting that the Jews won’t replace them, like the very fine people they are.
That hateful rhetoric and the regression it represents — after all this country has gone through, after all the growth and all the progress — is what we should all fear the most.
Opinion | A search for the American conscience
Our response to the immediate crisis will surely determine our long-term destiny, and the collective conscience of “we the people” can be the moral force that brings about needed change.
A seemingly unstoppable virus, a sputtering economy and a cry for equal justice for Black citizens are trying the very soul of our nation. We stand at a time when the very conscience of our county and state is being tested in ways perhaps unimaginable just a few months ago.
Is there an American conscience?
Our government, our institutions and even who we are as a people are in question, and as with life in general, there are no easy answers.
Nearly 130,000 in the U.S. have lost their lives to COVID-19. In Alabama, almost 1,000 souls, and yet some of our citizens don’t even believe the virus exists, and if it does, some think it is not as bad as health professionals say.
Hospitals are being pushed to the brink, both physically and financially. While unemployment numbers are improving, there is a yet a steep hill to climb before fiscal solvency is restored to all Alabamians.
There are arguments over masks, fights over monuments and some are corrosively dismissive of the social injustice that disproportionately targets Black citizens.
The winds of change are blowing seeds of renewal; will they find a fallow ground or fall among the weeds and rocks?
Many of our citizens want the nation to remain in the past, a past that, for the most part, never existed. Others desire that the country move forward and fulfill its greatest promises.
Can a house divided stand?
This national crisis of moral conscience is where the dividing line is drawn.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.”
In this rendering, it is as if an unseen umpire sits somewhere in our minds and judges our actions.
But if the conscience is formed from birth and as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, “is like an empty box that can be filled with any type of moral content,” then our learning and understanding is the umpire and not some innate righteous force.
Is this why seemingly reasonable people see things so differently?
Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement. According to a recent CBS/YouGov poll, a majority of the American public, including more than half of white Americans, say they agree with the Black Lives Matter movement’s ideas.
The June CBS/YouGov survey also found a partisan divide exists on the issue with most Democrats and Independents supportive while a “large majority of Republicans say they disagree with the ideas expressed by the Black Lives Matter” and most Republicans also oppose the protests—though “one-quarter of Republicans join that majority of Democrats in supporting them.”
The poll is neither startling nor unimaginable and only confirms a divided nation.
The same schism can be found when individuals are polled about the new coronavirus and monuments.
Since individuals see things through entirely different apertures, is it possible to turn to a national conscience for resolution?
On December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Paine was rallying the people of the American colonies to a revolution that would form a new nation with an aspirational promise of equality and unalienable rights, “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
America just celebrated its 244th year of independence and the principles of the new nation were well-defined — even if not universally applied.
For Black Americans, the promise of the founding principles is yet unfulfilled.
Yes, the laws changed in the 60s, but there is still a long way to go in practice. Laws in themselves do not alter hearts and minds.
Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was written to deny equal access to justice for Black and poor Alabamians by keeping Montgomery as the power center from which all money and rights would flow. There have been changes but none so great as to amend the wrongs written into the state’s founding document.
A few short years ago, the state government passed a law that protected Confederate monuments that state lawmakers thought should be preserved as part of Southern heritage.
What monuments are revered speaks to national and local character. Is our character one that says we should honor those who sought to ensure the continuance of human bondage?
Should we honor those who preached and enforced segregation for political gain?
There is another way to look at statues and that is to realize that they are more reflective of the thinking at the time than the shrine itself.
If monuments are artifacts of the moment and not truthfully to honor history, then what they mean today is an open subject for debate.
Is the statue of Jefferson Davis on the Capitol grounds in Montgomery a symbol of who we are now or a reminder of who Alabama citizens were at the time it was erected?
This is not about erasing history but about recognizing monuments for what they are and acknowledging their meaning to all citizens.
The fact that most world religions warn against idols shouldn’t be lost in the moment either. Statues are tricky because heroes are almost always redefined by present events.
While nations should be built on laws alone, they are also made on myths and legends. But history has a way of exposing myths and bringing legends low.
Washington could tell a lie, Honest Abe was not always truthful, and under our current law application, some people are more equal than others. Should their memorials be removed because they were flawed? No
In his work “Adam Smith on the nature and authority of conscience,” Albert Shin argues, “there is a need to cultivate our conscience. We do so; I will argue, primarily through encountering diversity, which leads to disagreements, which prompt us to reevaluate how we judge others.”
Again the Catholic Church finds, “Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.”
Are we more divided than ever? Probably not.
Is there a way out of the present threefold dilemma? Yes.
Returning to our founding principles while understanding that they are for everyone is a start. But principles shouldn’t change with every election or be sacrificed to win one.
Indeed, King George III thought those who staged the Boston Tea Party were thugs and looters, set to overthrow the government.
No, they were ordinary citizens who saw injustice and launched a revolution.
Today, we do not see so much a call for revolution but a demand for evolution across a broad front of problems.
There is now a need for better respect for health and science, for our neighbors of all skin colors and a rethinking of the inequities of poverty.
Our response to the immediate crisis will surely determine our long-term destiny, and the collective conscience of “we the people” can be the moral force that brings about needed change.