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The Montgomery schools con game

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

There’s a con taking place in Montgomery.

OK, maybe I should be more specific, since cons aren’t exactly rare in this town.

Ed Richardson and the Alabama State Department of Education are conning you. The interim state schools superintendent has you watching the exploding card trick over there as he takes your watch over here.

Actually, it’s worse: He’s taking classroom teachers and school buildings over here — from a school district that is struggling and barely surviving and watching kids fall through the cracks every single day.

He’s taking the only lifeline they’ve got. A hundred lifelines.

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Why?

Because Richardson — at the encouragement of city officials and other influential people around Montgomery — has decided that a state law requiring that school systems maintain one month’s reserves in savings is more important than those teachers and those drowning kids.

It is a law numerous other systems are currently violating.

It is a law that has never been enforced, because how in the world would you enforce it?

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But suddenly, in Montgomery — and ONLY IN MONTGOMERY — this state law has become of utmost importance. More important than children learning. More important than teachers losing their jobs. More important than a school system failing.

MPS must have $19 million in reserves. It only has $11 million.

So, let’s burn it to the ground.

Look, I get it, reserves are important. For example, let’s say you’re in a situation where your system is drastically underfunded and you’re in desperate need of educating children the best way you can.

In such a situation, you might have to dip into your emergency reserve fund.

Which, of course, is exactly what MPS officials have been doing for the better part of the last decade.

They are the lowest funded school system in the state — and the state funds its schools at one of the lowest rates in the nation — and are overrun with deteriorating buildings and understaffing. School systems in much, much better shape — both from a funding standpoint and a facilities standpoint — are routinely missing the one-month reserve rule.

And yet, not a peep from Richardson and ALSDE.

But then, this isn’t really about having one month’s reserves on hand.

It’s about charter schools. And about outsourcing. And about figuring out ways to divert public tax dollars into the pockets of private business owners. And it’s about getting white people to move into Montgomery, because the city is so heavily in debt that its only hope of avoiding serious financial meltdown in the future is to up the tax base.

We have been playing this con game for a long time here — the white people pretending that there’s a problem within MPS that is different from the obvious problem.

They have blamed it on everything under the sun, and they’ve usually settled on vilifying the county school board. The board, which is elected by the people of the county, has been the problem for 20-plus years.

Not the extreme poverty. Not the racist funding structure. Not the legislature siphoning tax dollars to pay for private schools. Not white people fleeing to Pike Road and then immediately paying three times the tax rate to fund their schools. Not the idiotic decision to suck 30 percent of your best students out of every school and congregate them in magnet schools.

Spare me the con game. I know how this ends, because I’ve been here watching this charade for a long time.

City and county leaders, like state lawmakers, have been dancing around the primary issues for years, trying desperately to come up with some way to avoid addressing a history of awfulness that has come home to roost. They know the real problems, but correcting them will take too long, and they’re so overextended financially — mostly from financing their previous quick-fixes — that they can’t wait.

And so, here’s my prediction: Next year, after this massive cut and more talk about how lowly and pathetic MPS is (mostly because of the board, you know *wink*), there will be more cuts next year, thanks to the county commission pulling nearly $3 million. Those cuts will involve consolidating schools and booting poor ol’ janitors off the payroll in favor of outsourced contracts.

That’ll leave quite a few open school buildings that can be snapped up on the cheap by a new crop of charter schools, whose lobbyists and executives may or may not have been spending quite a bit of time in Montgomery lately.

None of this will do a damn thing to fix the education problems or crime problems or workforce readiness problems in this city. But it’ll allow the city to promote its new schools to would-be residents, promising yet another pathway for well-to-do kids to get a quality education while we pretend that the poverty-stricken kids will just vanish into thin air upon leaving school.

That’s the way it’ll go. There’s likely nothing that can stop it.

Just don’t fall for the con along the way.  

 

EDIT: An earlier version of this column stated that MPS would be cutting 100-plus teachers from the district. That plan was rejected by Richardson, according to sources, and MPS officials are now awaiting his preference on a plan for raising the reserve cash, which will likely include heavy cuts at the MPS central office and school consolidation. He’s also asked the board to provide a clear plan for using money saved by staff cuts.

 

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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Opinion | What in the world are people thinking?

“Some of us don’t take the virus seriously. Until it directly impacts us. And then we speak with regret.”

Joey Kennedy

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Here some of us are, waiting fearfully for the Thanksgiving surge of the coronavirus. Hospitals are full. New cases are setting records. Deaths are soaring. And then, Christmas is coming. What a holiday season, right? But it’s our own fault. We’re impatient. Some of us don’t even take the virus seriously. Until it directly impacts us or a family member or a friend. And then we speak with regret.

I’d rather regret a disturbed holiday season than regret losing my wife, who has underlying health conditions that could make a bout with COVID-19 deadly.

I was on the Next Door website the other day, and I saw somebody asking for recommendations for a personal chef who can cook a Christmas dinner. At her home. For her family and 10 to 12 other couples. That’s more than 20 people, gathering inside a home, at dinner, on Christmas.

Don’t do it, I wanted to respond. But I didn’t. If that person wanting a Christmas dinner is planning a meal for two dozen people, a suggestion that she postpone wasn’t going to do anything but make her angry.

I get plenty of pushback already because I always wear a mask outside my home or car, or when I’m at a drive-through, or when I meet a delivery person at my porch. I hear from readers who, after one of my columns warning of the consequences of letting down our guard during the pandemic, tell me I shouldn’t be afraid of a virus that the vast majority of people recover from.

Yeah, that’s true. And it’s also true that the virus kills at higher rates than the flu or many other diseases. Yeah, no need to be afraid. Unless it’s you who brings the disease into an environment where at-risk persons live. Or unless it’s your wife or mom or dad or brother or sister or good friend or another relative that gets sick. And dies.

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I have a close friend who is about to enter her fifth semester of nursing school, and she’s already told me, with resignation, that she expects that she’ll get COVID at some point. And she’ll be in line for an early vaccine.

Why are we so impatient that we cannot bear to postpone big Thanksgiving Day lunches or Christmas night dinners? What is it about us that we refuse to look ahead, knowing that if we do contract the virus, we could beat it and still have chronic health problems that dog us for the rest of our lives?

Why aren’t we more afraid? So afraid that we don’t look at wearing a mask as giving up some constitutional right, even as we wear shirts and pants and shoes every day?

As of this writing, the virus had claimed more than 271,000 lives in the United States. It has killed more than 3,630 in Alabama. In the state’s largest population area, Jefferson County, more than 500 people have died.

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Does that matter to the great majority of people? You wouldn’t think so by looking at how our national and state leaders are handling things.

Children tend to recover quickly from the virus; well, at least those who it doesn’t kill. But pushing to keep schools open during a huge surge without the proper PPE, social distancing, and safety measures in place, isn’t going to protect the teachers, janitors, school nurses, and administrators who have to be there with those kids.

Yeah, I miss going out to eat, watching UAB play basketball, visiting with friends, and going to a play or movie. But I don’t miss them enough to give in to my wishes because I’m just tired of the pandemic.

Holding classes on Zoom is exhausting. Attending classes on Zoom isn’t the best way to learn.

But you can’t learn anything if you’re dead or, even worse, you get the disease and kill somebody else because you’re careless.

A personal chef for 10 to 12 couples at a Christmas dinner? What in the world are people thinking?

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Opinion | COVID killed the Don

“The March invasion of the coronavirus derailed the Trump Train,” columnist Steve Flowers writes.

Steve Flowers

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President Donald Trump speaks during the Republican National Convention. (VIA RNC)

Around Labor Day when this year’s presidential campaign was beginning to heat up, I wrote a column about the classic 1960 presidential contest between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. This pivotal presidential race marked the beginning of television as the premier political medium. The first televised presidential debate that year was the turning point of that campaign. Kennedy won the White House with his performance, or, as some would say, Nixon lost by his appearance on TV that fateful night in October of 1960.

A lot has changed in the past 60 years, America was a more Ozzie and Harriet, Andy Griffith Mayberry America. There was not a lot of difference, philosophically or ideologically, between a Republican Kansas farmer and a blue-collar Democratic factory worker in Pennsylvania. They both believed in American values of decency and hard work. Even though the Pennsylvanian was a union man who tended to vote Democratic and was probably a Catholic, and the Kansas farmer voted Republican and was a protestant, they both were Christian conservatives.

The country was more homogenous and amicable. This America lent itself to a close presidential contest where 40 states were in play in the Electoral College and only 10 predetermined. Today, it is just the opposite, 10 states are in play and 40 are predetermined.

The country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. You are cemented into either a conservative Republican tribe or a liberal Democratic tribe, and there is no peace pipe to be smoked. There are very few independent voters in the middle. It is these truly undecided swing voters that decide the presidential race. Also, it is even a further defined swing voter who resides in a swing state — primarily the states of Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Georgia.

Both parties got their bases out to the maximum. Democrats hated Donald Trump. Republicans loath Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders. They stoked every fire possible, and the two tribes almost broke about even.

Trump lost the middle of America swing voter in the key battleground states and he lost them overwhelmingly. Why? You ask: It is simple, the COVID pandemic.

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It would have been impossible for any humble, genuinely caring, kind and compassionate president to overcome a pandemic that has killed over 250,000 people and annihilated the economy. A legendary, revered leader like Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan would have had a hard time surviving the epidemic destroyed our economy.

It is always about the economy. Trump’s administration was the overseer of the most robust economy in years. He could have possibly won re-election with this rosy economy. However, the March invasion of the coronavirus derailed the Trump Train. There is an old political adage that says, “If you claim credit for the rain, you got to take blame for the drought.”

Any presidential election campaign where there is an incumbent president up for re-election is a referendum on that president. Therefore, this presential race was all about Trump. He would have had to have been an FDR or Reagan to have survived the events of this year. Folks, Trump is no FDR or Reagan.

To win a presidency, people have to like you. Very few people genuinely like Trump. All exit polling revealed that even the most ardent Republicans disliked Trump the man. They were only voting for him because he was a proven true-blue, hardcore conservative. Even evangelical conservatives voted for him knowing his personal and business life was not exemplary of a practicing Christian, but he was the vessel for conservative Supreme Court Justices.

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However, key swing voters, primarily suburban women, just did not like a brash, irreverent, egocentric, irrational, narcissist as their president. They had seen the sideshow on television and Twitter for over three years, and they had had enough. There is another tried and true maxim: “More people vote against someone than for someone.”  This played out to the nines on Election Day. Very few people voted for Joe Biden. They voted against Donald Trump.

See you next week.

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Opinion | The blackest Black Friday ever

“The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.”

Joey Kennedy

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(APR GRAPHIC)

Thursday was Thanksgiving, and it’s understandable that many people didn’t have a lot to be thankful for. More than 260,000 people are dead because of the COVID-19 pandemic that Donald Trump simply ignored. Around 3 million people have been infected, with many of those suffering lifelong health complications from the virus.

A first Thanksgiving without loved ones. A first Christmas without loved ones bearing down.

Millions of people lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands are in danger of being evicted from their homes. Many don’t have water or power or heat as the winter settles in.

Thanksgiving? Really?

Except …

Yes, there are many things to be thankful for. Our families, if we have them. Our friends, and we all have them. Our animals, and many of us have them.

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We can be thankful that the long, horrible tenure of Donald Trump is nearly over. It’s the end of an error.

We can hope that racism will be wrong again. That homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and cruelty will fall from the everyday ordinary to the awful extraordinary. Kids in cages, separated from their parents, no more. Chaos in government simply an anomaly at last.

We can hope. That alone is something to be thankful for.

The year 2020 has been a hot mess. Masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing are the norm now. They may be forever.

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We should be thankful that COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon. But that’s a strange thankfulness, and we cherish a vaccine for a disease that didn’t have to spread as far and wide as it did. It was mismanaged as badly as a crisis can be mismanaged.

There still are people out there who refuse to wear masks or who believe the virus is a hoax. A doctor described people she was caring for who were dying, and all the time denying the virus existed, even to their last breaths.

That’s certainly nothing to be thankful for.

Our health care workers, those on the front lines, deserve our thanks and our love. As do grocery store workers, first responders, teachers, and delivery people. Heroes work there.

I’m personally thankful for my wife of 41 years. My daughters in San Diego. My friends here and elsewhere. My pugs and other dogs and animals. I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, when we pare life down and don’t expect so much.

The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.

Too many people traveled this Thanksgiving, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are making plans for Christmas, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are planning New Year’s Eve celebrations, and there’s going to be a price to pay.

Oh, I’ll have some champagne and stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, if only to witness that this damn year doesn’t hang around for one second longer than is allowed.

Perhaps we can see a light at the end of this 2020 tunnel. Maybe by spring, we’ll all be vaccinated, and this pandemic will be at the beginning of its end.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t count on, yes, anything.

This is Black Friday. The blackest Black Friday ever. Be careful out there. Wash your hands and wear a mask. Take care of each other. Believe in science. Don’t trust a reality show president who, fortunately, finally has been fired.

Do your best to do your best. Let’s have a new year that at least promises hope.

Dig deep and find what you’re thankful for. Then hug it close with all your might.

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Opinion | The emperor has no votes

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest example of just how far they’ll go.

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two-and-32. That’s the record of the super-fantastic “strike team” of “elite” attorneys representing the Donald Trump campaign in various lawsuits around the country that contest the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

For a refresher: Joe Biden won that free and fair election in a landslide and will be the next president of the United States. The end.

In case after case after case, despite what the president has tweeted and despite what enablers and spineless politicians have helped him push, the Trump elite attorney strike team has failed to offer even the slightest bit of proof of the grand fraud that Trump has repeatedly claimed on Twitter or that his “dye hard” personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has screeched about during insane, “Veep”-like press conferences. (Have you ever witnessed a stranger, more disturbing image than that of “America’s mayor,” wild eyed and ranting, with his cheap hair dye running down his face as if his ears were bleeding?)

In fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases filed by strike team Trump, the team has been forced to admit to judges that they have no evidence of fraud or that they’re not able to claim fraud.

It’s pathetic that we’re still doing this — that the transition to a new administration is being held up by this band of grifters looking to squeeze one last drop of donations from the marks who have already forked over so much to this long-running American con.

That’s all this is.

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The entire Trump presidency has been exactly this — a con game to enrich him and his closest business partners. To that end, it has been highly successful.

It has also been successful in turning seemingly rational people into googly-eyed yes men willing to sully themselves for a taste of the political fortune or fame that comes with being near the presidency.

It is, to be honest, shocking the ease with which so many in the highest offices of our federal and state government have been convinced to denounce reality and make fools of themselves to ensure they either benefit from being in the cult’s favor or at least not being a target of the cult.

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest and most horrific example of just how far they’re willing to go and how little of America they truly hold sacred.

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Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill, for example, has given media interviews in which he willingly passed along wild, long debunked conspiracy theories of Biden getting thousands of votes at once, and how there’s no explanation for it. And yet, there was an explanation — one that had been given over and over and over.

Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, a man who so frequently buys into rightwing conspiracies that he almost certainly has purchased an extended warranty for all of his cars, sent a bat-guano insane letter to a constituent this week in which he laid out how “socialist Democrats” were able to “steal” the election through massive fraud and how Republicans in Congress can steal it back.

One of the means by which this election was stolen, according to Brooks, was by excluding Republican poll watchers. None were excluded. And the strike team has now dropped that line of attack altogether.

Brooks and Merrill aren’t alone, however. Up and down the line, Alabama GOP officials and the media mouthpieces they pay to amplify their idiotic ideas have gone full in on this idea of fraud, even when other Republicans — like that poor secretary of state in Georgia — were trying desperately to tell them it wasn’t real.

Honestly, it’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being played out in real life, right in front of us. Only, the swindlers became the emperor.

Trump and his minions continue to walk around stark naked while insisting that he has on the most beautiful, perfect clothing in the whole world. And there’s this one group of people who are buying it. And then there’s this whole other group who know full well that this guy is buck naked but they’re too afraid of alienating the first group, even if it means undermining the cornerstone of American democracy.

In the meantime, the swindlers just keep sending out fundraiser emails. Because, again, that’s all this is.

Look at the frivolous lawsuits and how thoroughly Trump’s strike team has been embarrassed in every courtroom so far. This isn’t about winning or about massive fraud or about correcting problems in the election system. It’s about money. Pure and simple.

Finally, late Thursday, two influential Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, said what we all know.

Sasse said the lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud.” He was also critical of the strike team’s tactics.

Romney said Trump was trying to “subvert the will of the people.” And he said he couldn’t imagine “a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”

Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for a river of sanity and basic common sense. Because the longer this goes on, the more likely it is something catastrophic takes place.

It’s not too late yet for the president to put some clothes on.

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