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Josh Moon

Opinion | Why is the state takeover of Montgomery’s schools so shady?

Josh Moon

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There was much hand-wringing inside the Gordon Persons Building in downtown Montgomery on Wednesday, as interim state superintendent Ed Richardson and — for some reason not fully explained — Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange held a press conference to discuss the “dire state” of Montgomery’s public schools.

They might as well have been selling special skillets with non-stick surfaces.

It was that sort of press conference.

For an hour, they droned on and on about the pitiful state of Montgomery’s schools — a state that both of them have more than a small hand in, I’d like to point out — and how the evildoers at AEA — and when he mentioned AEA, Richardson put on a face most Americans reserve for ISIS — are just holding up real and true progress. The progress that he and Strange could make within Montgomery — by way of charter schools operated by people with no experience operating schools of any kind — if only the mean ol’ AEA would stand aside.

To drive home his point, Richardson mentioned numerous times an accreditation review that is due to happen at Montgomery Public Schools next year. It was supposed to happen this year, the interim superintendent said, but it was delayed.

Why was it delayed?

Richardson never really came right out and said it, but he strongly hinted that the delay came at the request of MPS personnel because they knew the review would be bad. Because, again — and Richardson can’t stress this enough — MPS is in terrible shape because of the board and teachers and principals.

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Except that’s not why the review was delayed.

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According to several sources with direct knowledge of the accreditation review process, the request to delay the MPS accreditation review was made by Dr. Reginald Eggleston, the man who was brought in by the Alabama State Department of Education to help lead the failed intervention into MPS, and he made it because his intervention team included so many non-certified teachers and administrators that he and others within MPS feared it might cost the district its accreditation.

Oddly, that wasn’t mentioned by Richardson or Strange.

They also didn’t mention that when the accreditation agency initially rejected the request for the delay that then-state superintendent Michael Sentance got involved and was able to get the review pushed back, according to those same sources.

Weird how that fell through the cracks.

But then, it doesn’t fit the narrative that Strange and Richardson are trying desperately to paint: that the downfall of MPS is related only to the failure of the school board and MPS leadership.  

Smart people know better.

I’ve explained until I’m blue in the face the racial, social and economic issues that have combined to cause harm to MPS, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who has spent a day in Montgomery disagreeing. To be fair, there’s also no doubt that part of the mix of problems is mismanagement by the various incarnations of the county board and the people that board has selected to run MPS.

But the current vilification of the board by Richardson and Strange is a straight up scam designed to carve out an easy pathway to smearing lipstick on this pig.

They’re dying to get charter schools in Montgomery.

So they can sell to white business owners the idea of schools operated by other white business owners. So, people will stop fleeing Montgomery in droves, and the city can pay off its massive debt.

But like every other solution to “fix” Montgomery’s schools, this one maintains one of the biggest problems: some kids will be left behind in poor, dysfunctional schools.

But they don’t care. Not really.

The goal is business. Not education.

Because if it were truly education, no education-minded superintendent in the world would stand in front of a camera and promise to cut 200-plus teachers and outsource 400 staffers because the reserve budget isn’t high enough.

But that’s what Richardson did on Wednesday, as he’s done in the past. Hell, MPS has operated with the same reserve shortfall for most of the last 10 years and no one called from ALSDE to even chat about it.

Now it’s worth cutting 200 teachers? Stop it.

Richardson needs his plan to go through, because his plan includes closing four schools — two of which can be used for charters and a third that can be sold to Pike Road, which employed Richardson as a consultant when the idea to buy that school first popped up.

And so, yeah, AEA sued on behalf of the board, because state law doesn’t give Richardson the right to just come in and start selling off school buildings. It also sued so the board could name a new superintendent and hire an attorney.

The reason Richardson is so angry with AEA is because they continue to be right. Each time they file a suit, the courts end up agreeing with them.

Which, along with all of the exaggerations and sky-is-falling scare tactics at Wednesday’s press conference, should probably raise a serious question: if you’re really trying to do the right thing, why are you being so shady?

 

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