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Opinion | Another abnormal Alabama superintendent search


Why can’t we just do normal stuff?

What is it about government in Alabama — from the governor’s office to the state Legislature to probate judges to boards of education — that requires off-the-wall insanity at every turn?

I ask these questions as Alabama’s state school board prepares to select a new state superintendent of education on Friday — in a process that is guaranteed to be just this side of a three-ring circus.

Going in, one of the finalists is suing one of the board members and a lawyer for the State Department of Education office. And the board member, Mary Scott Hunter, has no plans to recuse from the proceedings, even though she 100 percent should recuse from the proceedings.

That lawsuit stems from what has to be the dumbest, most obvious smear attempt in history, when Hunter and some others at ALSDE fast-played a bogus ethics allegation against Craig Pouncey to keep him from landing the job.

Pouncey, who is the superintendent in Jefferson County and being paid like he’s the Emperor of Jefferson County, is back in the Final Four again this year, even with the pending lawsuit.

You see?

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What other state does stuff like this?

And of course, the ignorance doesn’t stop there.

While there are technically four candidates, everyone knows there are really just two — Pouncey and Eric Mackey, the current head of the School Superintendents of Alabama.

Pouncey is the choice for the entrenched ALSDE executives who would welcome a calm, steadying hand after a year of Michael Sentance setting fires around the office and then setting fire to the firetrucks.

Mackey is the choice of the Business Council of Alabama crowd, and according to several ALSDE sources, he’s being pushed hard by former superintendent and current double-dipper Joe Morton. Morton serves as a paid consultant for ALSDE currently, and he’s also being paid by the BCA’s education arm, BEA.

If all of that is confusing, don’t worry about it. Just assume it’s all a little shady and you’ll be on the right page.

Mackey and Pouncey are both likeable enough fellas, as far as I know. But maybe that’s not enough.

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I know Pouncey got hosed last time around — and if all was fair in the world, some people would be fired and a school member would’ve been booted — but I’m not sure that’s enough to override the sense of blah that comes with him.

The people who put Sentance in place last time weren’t totally wrong. If you’ve been doing things a certain way for years and it’s just not going so swell (and Alabama’s public education system is the definition of “not swell”), maybe you should try something different. Not Michael Sentance-level different. But different.

Craig Pouncey ain’t different.

As for Mackey, we’ve seen what happens when we put business interests at the forefront of education policy. We end up with Alabama’s education system — the 49th or 50th system in the country, depending on whether Mississippi got new textbooks this year.  

Maybe Mackey could balance the business and education interests and be OK. But given who’s pushing him, and how hard those people are pushing, I doubt it.

Which leaves us in a bad spot, again.

Except, there is one other option out there. And no, I’m not talking about the guy from Texas who was Rick Perry’s education guy. If you are ever labeled “Rick Perry’s education guy,” I wouldn’t hire you to clean my gutters.

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I’m talking about Hoover superintendent Kathy Murphy.

I’ll be honest and tell you I couldn’t pick Murphy out of a lineup with The Beatles, but I’ve followed her fairly closely from afar because of two situations: the paid busing proposal and Hoover’s rezoning plans.

She navigated the system through both controversies with surprising grace and has remarkably-high approval scores from her board and the community.

She doesn’t appear to be crazy. She talks to people. She’s upbeat. And she’s apparently pretty good at this superintendent gig.

Plus, she’s a she. Which, after however many decades now of only men not exactly knocking this thing out of the park, it’s long past time to give a woman a few swings.


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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