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State School Board cancels meeting, “circus” work session to be held instead

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Michael Sentance survives – again.

A majority of the Alabama Board of Education couldn’t agree to attend a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning, following a letter late last week from Gov. Kay Ivey’s legal advisor. That letter warned that the meeting might have been improperly called and that any action taken at it could be deemed illegal.

So, that meeting was officially cancelled late Tuesday afternoon, and a work session will be held instead. Board members can’t take official actions at a work session, so the scheduled review of Sentance’s contract, which was on the agenda for the cancelled meeting, will have to wait.

“We couldn’t reach an agreement on the meeting with all board members, so it was my preference to have a work session instead so we can discuss a number of items,” board vice-president Stephanie Bell said.

Those discussions promise to be lively.

Bell said the work session will include detailed discussions of Sentance’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan and the department’s FY2018 budget, including line item discussions of certain salaries and contracts.

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The ESSA plan discussion could become particularly heated, since a number of education groups around the state are angry with Sentance and say the superintendent won’t communicate with them. Those groups have, of course, turned to relaying their concerns with the plan to State School Board members.

In a letter sent by Sentance to all State School Board members and obtained by APR on Tuesday, Sentance attempted to head off those questions by turning Wednesday’s work session into a simple presentation. In that letter, Sentance says it’s best to not have a Board meeting and then seems to threaten litigation.

“The prudent thing is not to have a Board meeting,” Sentance wrote to all board members. “It is the path which exposes the board members to the least level of any risk of litigation.”

The only possible litigation that could have arisen from the cancelled meeting would have come from Sentance, since his contract discussion was the only controversial entry on the agenda.

Sentance also proposed in his letter that the Board not hold a work session to discuss the ESSA plan, but instead allow ALSDE staff to present the different aspects of the plan at a presentation, where board members would sit in the audience and possibly ask questions.

“This is truly a circus,” said a board member who asked to remain anonymous. “It just never ends.”

Wednesday’s meeting starts at 10. Bring popcorn.

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Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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