By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Education Association has formally waded into the fight between the Alabama State Department of Education and the Montgomery County School Board over the intervention in Montgomery’s school system.
A lawsuit filed in Montgomery Circuit Court, naming now-former state superintendent Michael Sentance and Montgomery Schools chief, Reginald Eggleston, claims the state has failed to uphold its agreements for a collaborative intervention and that it has repeatedly violated state law.
At a press conference outside of the MPS central office, AEA officials, led by attorney Theon Stokes, raised a number of issues, including that MPS has been blocked by the state from hiring its own in-house counsel and that Eggleston was never named superintendent and is performing the duties of superintendent illegally.
“This thing very quickly moved from a collaboration to a dictatorship in which the local school board had no input, no authority, no say in anything, but were still involved in running half the system,” Stokes said. “It is our contention that this takeover is illegal. The state does not have the authority to act the way it has.”
As part of their case, AEA requested a temporary restraining order blocking ALSDE officials from transferring MPS custodians from their current jobs. For several weeks now, following the letters from MPS announcing that transfers were coming, custodians have feared that state officials were on the verge of shuffling them to other schools in an attempt to force them out of their jobs.
ALSDE and MPS officials have repeatedly denied that claim, but they have said they want to centralize the custodians’ supervisors and better allocate their resources. And again, custodians and AEA attorneys believe that obviously indicates plans to transfer attorneys – a move that can’t be made without hearings, according to the Students First Act.
Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin, who stated he was troubled by MPS’s lack of in-house counsel, agreed with AEA and granted the TRO.
“This was an important step and an important win for these custodians today,” Stokes said. “Hopefully, now we can work out an agreement for these good people.”
For MPS officials, they hope the win on Wednesday is a sign of things to come.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of oxymorons from the state during this thing,” MPS board chairman, Robert Porterfield said. “They love to say one thing and then do the exact opposite. We can’t continue on like we are.”
Aside from Eggleston serving as superintendent, the MPS board’s main issues with ALSDE’s handling of the intervention mainly center on money. While denying MPS in-house counsel, Sentance awarded more than $1 million in outside contracts to administrators coming in to work with MPS. In addition, there were several hires of top-level administrators made. MPS will be on the hook for all of those salaries and contracts.