By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The search for a new state superintendent of education was met with concerns that the final candidate would step into a highly political environment with the Alabama State Department of Education and the Legislature clashing over ideals of education reform.
The State Board of Education met on Wednesday to finalize plans to search for a new state superintendent. At the meeting, the hired firm presented details of their plan.
Some school board members also expressed concerns that the Legislature’s new education bills will cast the new state superintendent into a chaotic political situation.
Board Member Ella Bell lamented one bill that would add non-elected positions into the board. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Montgomery, would add two positions for Teachers of the Year and two students from the Alabama Boys State and Girls State programs.
“There’s no respect on that side of the fence,” E. Bell said of Legislature-BOE relations.
Other legislation includes bills that would abolish the elected school board all together and replace it with an appointed school board overseen by the Governor’s Office. State Sen. Gregg Albritton, who sponsored the bill, said the current system is not working and expressed doubts that it ever would.
The Board was entangled in a scandal in 2016 when they were searching for another state superintendent after Tommy Bice retired from the position.
Michael Sentance became the superintendent by a narrow vote after favored candidate Craig Pouncey was not considered after an anonymous ethics complaint alleged he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. Pouncey was cleared of the charge in 2017.
In a report authored by an ALSDE staff attorney Michael Meyer, Board member Mary Scott Hunter would be implicated in a conspiracy to undermine Pouncey’s candidacy by working to expedite the anonymous ethics complaint to the Ethics Commission.
Hunter denies the charge and called the report a “coordinated scheme” at a June Board meeting.
It would only be a short while after that doubts on Sentance’s job performance would come from the board. In a sudden move, the board called for an evaluation of Sentance’s job performance in July. Many believed the move was a pretense to fire him after less than one year on the job.
The meeting where they presented Sentance’s review was characterized with gavel banging and board members protesting the move, citing the brief time notice they were given to evaluate Sentance. It would take an unexpected turn when the meeting turned into an executive session as Sentance’s evaluation was about to take place.
Despite the chaotic time, Board Member Hunter said at the work session on Wednesday that the board members had a good working relationship with one another.
It would only be a short while later in September that Sentance would submit his resignation to Gov. Kay Ivey. Since that time, Ed Richardson, a veteran of the ALSDE, would serve as interim state superintendent.
Board members at the work session on Wednesday were aware of the Sentance impact by specifically requesting that the new candidate by thoroughly vetted by the firm searching for the candidate.
According to the firm searching for the new state superintendent, finalists for the position would come about mid-April.