By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama State School Board has voted to extend Interim State Superintendent Ed Richardson’s contract until the end of June. According to the timeline adopted by the board at its last meeting, the next state school superintendent will not be selected until April at the earliest.
“The Alabama State Board of Education voted last week to extend Interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson’s contract until June 30, 2018, or until a permanent state superintendent is seated. We appreciate Dr. Richardson’s long and continued service,” state School Board Member Mary Scott Hunter wrote in an email to constituents.
“The State Board also approved a resolution to retain an executive search firm to select the next State Superintendent,” Hunter wrote. “Once the firm is chosen, the State Superintendent vacancy announcement will be advertised, and in March, the search firm will review applications and present candidates to be interviewed by the State Board in April.”
Mary Scott Hunter is not seeking another term on the school board and instead will be running for state Senate in the June 5, 2018, Republican primary.
In March 2016, State Superintendent Tommy Bice retired just before news of a federal investigation revealed that Alabama was overstating its high school graduation rate, which had soared from 70 percent to one of the highest rates in the nation under Bice’s leadership. The state’s elected school board had a bitterly contested search for Bice’s replacement.
It appeared that the Board was going to hire veteran Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Craig Pouncey, until it was discovered that there was an outstanding complaint to the Alabama Ethics Commission about Pouncey.
Michael Sentance, an attorney, who had once been the Secretary of Education in the state of Massachusetts, was a finalist for the position but had withdrew from the search in a formal letter on June 27, 2016, when it appeared that Pouncey was going to get the job, citing family issues.
State Department of Education General Counsel Julianna Dean, allegedly at the urging of Hunter, called Sentance and urged him to reconsider. He did and was then selected to be superintendent.
Sentance had never been a superintendent before, nor was he ever a classroom teacher. He was a controversial hire that angered many in the education community, who second guessed many of his decisions and hires. The Ethics Commission complaint against Pouncey then was revealed to be spurious, and some evidence has been presented to a state Senate investigatory committee that Ms. Hunter may have been involved either in the complaint itself or in the complaint’s existence being released to the Board prior to the superintendent vote. Craig Pouncey has filed a lawsuit.
Sentence quickly lost favor with the Board and resigned on Sept. 13, 2017, after just over a year on the job.
Alabama is one of only seven states with an elected state school board. Eight members are elected from districts and serve four-year staggered terms. The governor chairs the board by virtue of their office.
State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, has introduced two pieces of legislation, SB25 and SB26, which would abolish the elected Board and replace it with an appointed board. Under the Albritton plan, the Superintendent of Education would be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor.
Original work by Larry Lee was consulted for this report.