By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
There is a misconception with the state takeover of Montgomery Public Schools.
Everyone seems to think that MPS officials don’t want it.
Board members made it clear this week that even those who are currently actively engaged in an ongoing AEA lawsuit against the intervention are open to it continuing after the resignation last week of Michael Sentance.
And that fact, probably more than any other, is a perfect example of the complicated chore an intervention – especially one in a large district – is, and how poorly Sentance managed the one in Montgomery.
To better understand this, we’ll have to go back to the beginning of the state takeover.
Rumors of the intervention began swirling weeks before it was officially announced, because Sentance – new on the job and needing allies – held a number of one-on-one meetings with Montgomery city officials and other politicos to lobby for support.
The intervention itself was a giant political ploy – a way for Sentance to garner favor from a powerful state school board member – Ella Bell – and simultaneously make a very popular decision.
Because no one was against a state takeover in Montgomery.
School officials in Montgomery wanted it because of the increase in money flowing into the district. Locals wanted it because they ignorantly believe there’s a magic Solve All The Problems button located in the MPS central office that the staff simply isn’t pressing.
But Sentance had a problem: He didn’t have enough staff.
Privately, he and other high-ranking officials in ALSDE told MPS officials that the state department simply didn’t have the personnel to facilitate an actual takeover of the state’s third-largest system.
In order to make it work, Sentance made his first misstep – he cut a deal with MPS board members.
The state would take over the district’s 27 under-performing schools. The MPS board would manage the rest. It would be, Sentance told the board, a “collaborative” takeover.
That move sent the lawyers and lawmakers into a tizzy. They believed – and many of them still believe – that by taking over only a portion of the district, Sentance ran afoul of the law and that the MPS takeover is technically illegal.
That’s important because it gave the MPS board a chip to play.
Essentially, if the takeover ever started to go a way they didn’t like, the MPS board could file suit and challenge its legality.
It started that awry quickly.
A few weeks into the takeover, out of the blue, Sentance announced that he was handing over 10-percent raises to the principals of the 27 under-performing schools.
MPS board members, other principals, lawmakers, city officials and teachers all heavily criticized the decision. And a few days later, Sentance amended it to include all MPS principals – a decision that did little to placate anyone, because those raises came with three-year contract extensions. That meant the intervention teams would be hampered in trying to shuffle those principals around.
While it seems like a minor mistake by Sentance, it’s truly hard to express the importance of that decision, and what a devastating effect it had on Sentance’s support, especially with lawmakers.
From that point forward, his days were numbered.
He lowered that number by signing several high-dollar consulting contracts, and contracts for other services as part of the takeover. Those included two contracts for more than $1.5 million for financial services and training.
Sources told APR last week that the Montgomery board and ALSDE officials plan to work on getting out of those contracts as quickly as possible.
In addition to those contracts, Sentance also hired more than $500,000 in permanent MPS administrators – salaries that MPS would be expected to pay long after the state department left.
Those decisions angered pretty much everyone, but they particularly angered the MPS board – because the board had no say in the matters. And when they raised objections, suddenly, the “collaborative” intervention was dead.
Because Sentance had no choice but to kill it. He was being pressured from all sides, and the people with the most sway – lawmakers and his state school board members – wanted him to stop pretending that the MPS board had a say.
Sentance complied. And then he took it a step too far.
Following the resignation of MPS superintendent Margaret Allen in June, Sentance told the MPS board that he would work with them to select a new superintendent. Then, a few hours later, he appointed Reginald Eggleston as the acting superintendent.
MPS board members felt betrayed, and they were angry. That night, board members mentioned for the first time publicly that they were considering filing a lawsuit to challenge the intervention.
Possibly to avoid that, or to simply avoid other legal issues, Sentance also blocked MPS from hiring a new in-house counsel, leaving the school board and system without a fulltime attorney to handle the numerous legal issues for the district.
And still, other problems continued.
Over the summer, there was a huge bill to clean the schools. There were talks of laying off custodians. There were more hires. An expensive audit resulted in the same old superficial conclusions.
Finally, last week, the MPS board members said they’d had enough. With AEA attorneys leading the way, the board filed suit against the intervention.
It wasn’t a popular decision, and since the MPS board is a favorite punching bag around here, board members have been heavily criticized for making it.
But it’s worth pointing out that the MPS board agreed to this takeover. Board members agreed to work with Sentance and to support him. And for the most part, they have.
They thought they were buying into a collaborative takeover that would see big administrative cuts and thousands of dollars flowing into the schools and classrooms.
Instead, they watched their budget swell, more administrators be added, not a dime go into the schools and their collaboration be denied.
That board has its faults, but this isn’t one of them.
This was the worst school intervention in history conducted by the worst school superintendent in Alabama history. Hopefully, both will be replaced.
Opinion | GOP Senate race decided
The much-anticipated battle between former U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville to capture the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate was the marquee event on Tuesday. Unfortunately, my column for this week had to go to press prior to the primary votes being counted.
Polls indicated that Tuberville would win for one reason and one reason only, Donald Trump endorsed him. President Trump is extremely popular among Republican voters in Alabama.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Trump does not like Sessions. Trump has tweeted negative comments about Sessions, not only during this race but consistently for the last three years. Therefore, the message was clear.
Tuberville to his credit ran a very simple campaign and said he is Trump’s man. He never deviated and never delved into the issues. He stayed the course and stuck to the script.
There is a tried and true adage in Alabama politics that more people vote against someone or something than for someone or something. If Sessions lost this race to recapture this Senate seathe held for 20 years, it is because Alabama GOP voters were so enthralled with Donald Trump that they voted against Sessions because Trump asked them to. It certainly was not because Coach Tuberville is more qualified to be our junior U.S. Senator than Jeff Sessions.
It really does not matter which one won. Either one, Tuberville or Sessions will win in November against liberal Democrat Doug Jones. It is almost comical that you have a liberal Democrat who has a three-year voting record of voting straight down the line with the Democratic leadership led by Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi representing one of the most Republican conservative states in America.
Indeed, Jones is the only Democrat in a U.S. Senate seat from the South. Jones has millions of dollars of left-wing California and New York money in the bank for his fall campaign, as well he should. Californians figure they have stolen our seat and have three senators. He has an identical voting record as the aforementioned liberals, but also identical to California’s two Democratic senators, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein. That is why I refer to Jones as the “California Kid.”
It really does not matter whether Tuberville or Sessions is the one that takes Jones out in November, either one will vote conservatively and straight down the line with the GOP Senate leadership. Both will be older freshman senators and will have very little power. The seniority system prevails in the U.S. Senate and House, which brings me to this point. Why in the world would Donald Trump spend precious time and energy getting involved in a U.S. Senate GOP Primary in Alabama, other than for spiteful vengeance towards a man who simply would not do his bidding and bend the law, his principles, and integrity.
Trump is in a very difficult uphill battle to win a second term as president. He should be focused on campaigning for his own re-election in the five pivotal, battleground states. Under the Electoral College System of selecting our president, these are really the only five to ten states that matter.
We in the Heart of Dixie are irrelevant in the election, as is California. As I have often said, if Mickey Mouse were the Republican nominee, Mickey would carry Alabama. Conversely, if Donald Duck were the Democratic nominee, Donald would carry California.
Folks, the election for president in November will be decided in the states of Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Under the Electoral College numbers, Trump must carry all five of these states. Currently, polling has him losing all five of these states. He is behind by double digits in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
On election night, as his advisors are lamenting a landslide massacre, they may pose this question to the egocentric, brash, New Yorker, “Why on God’s green earth were you campaigning in a Republican U.S. Senate race in Ruby Red Alabama rather than for yourself in the swing state of Florida?”
The media is one of the primary reasons the nation has become so deeply divided along partisan lines. Today, people vote for a party rather than for the individual candidate. You are either in the conservative Republican column or the liberal Democratic corner. CNN and MSNBC, and to a large degree CBS and NBC, are unabashedly the Democratic channels. Whereas FOX News may as well be broadcast from the Republican National Committee headquarters.
See you next week.
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.